Czech government orders out two Russian embassy staff

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government has declared two staff at the Russian Embassy in Prague persona non grata and ordered them to leave, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives for a European Union summit meeting in Brussels, Belgium, February 20, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

He said the decision came after what he called infighting among embassy personnel that led to false allegations about a planned Russian assault on three Czech politicians.

“The entire case came into being as a result of internal feuding among workers at the embassy... with one of them sending made-up information to our (counterintelligence service) about a planned attack on Czech politicians,” Babis said in a statement carried live on television.

“We are interested in having good relations with all countries, but we are a sovereign state and such actions are unacceptable on our territory.”

Three politicians including the mayor of Prague were given police protection after reports that a Russian man who could be a threat to them had arrived to Prague.

The Russian Embassy denounced the decision announced by Babis as a “fabricated provocation”.

“This unfriendly act, based from the start on unfounded allegations in the media, attests to Prague’s lack of interest in normalising Russian-Czech relations, which have deteriorated lately, and this has not been our fault,” it said.

Russia’s foreign ministry said Prague’s move “(will) not only receive an adequate response but will also be taken into account when shaping the Russian stance towards the Czech Republic.”

“Someone must be held responsible for such provocations,” it said in a statement.

Czech President Milos Zeman has warm personal ties with Moscow but overall bilateral relations have turned frosty amid several politically charged rows.

Prague City Hall angered Moscow earlier this year when it renamed a square outside the Russian Embassy after murdered Russian politician Boris Nemtsov, a prominent opponent of President Vladimir Putin.

Another spat occurred when authorities in a Prague district removed a statue of Soviet World War Two Marshal Ivan Konev dating back to the Communist era of former Czechoslovakia.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones