Saturday

8th May 2021

Czech leader downplays Russian bomb attack

  • Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš

The Czech government has downplayed the significance of Russia's lethal attack on a Czech weapons depot in 2014, but further retaliatory measures, including at EU level, could follow.

"It was not an act of state terrorism. [Russian] agents attacked the goods of a Bulgarian arms dealer, who probably sold them to parties fighting against Russia. The ammunition was to explode along the way [to the warehouse]," Czech prime minister and business tycoon Andrej Babiš said on TV on Monday (19 April).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"But it is, of course, unacceptable that they carried out this operation here, which they messed up," he added.

He spoke following a government meeting in which he shared classified evidence from a recently completed investigation into the incident seven years ago, which killed two Czech citizens.

The pro-Russian Czech president, Miloš Zeman, a political ally of Babiš, has said nothing.

Earlier the same day, speaking at an EU foreign affairs ministers' video-conference, the Czech Republic's acting foreign minister, Jan Hamáček, did brief his peers on the attack.

He asked for EU "solidarity", which was duly expressed in two brief statements, one by EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and a second one by a European Commission spokesman.

But according to diplomatic sources, Hamáček did not ask for any concrete actions, such as coordinated expulsions of Russian diplomats by other EU countries.

"They called for solidarity in general, not for specific measures", an EU diplomat told EUobserver.

When asked why the EU reaction had been so muted for now, the diplomat added: "Because common sense is not common practice [in Europe]".

Prague has so far expelled 18 Russian diplomats over the affair, prompting Russia to expel 20 Czech ones in revenge.

But the actions were disproportionate, given that Russia had over 120 diplomats in the Czech Republic, while the Russian move left just a handful of Czech ones in Moscow.

And for some commentators, Babiš and Hamáček's manoeuvring on Monday was because they were taken aback by Russia's firm response.

"It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise that they decided to do so [expel the 18 Russians]. And now it seems as if they are afraid of their [Russia's] vigorous approach," Petr Kolář, the Czech Republic's former ambassador to the US, told Czech media on Monday.

"I think that the way we are approaching this now embarrasses not only me and some colleagues, but also allies abroad. I think they [EU and Nato allies] expected a much more emphatic continuation of how we started," he added.

"The Czech public must also be confused," Kolář said.

The Czech side is to brief Nato ambassadors at a meeting of the allies' North Atlantic Council on Tuesday.

And for one EU diplomat, further reactions, both in the Czech Republic and in the West, could still follow.

"I have a feeling that this is just the beginning," the diplomat said.

For its part, the foreign policy committee of the Czech senate asked the Czech government, also on Monday, to reduce the number of Russian diplomats in the country to just one - the Russian ambassador himself.

The Czech trade minister, Karel Havlíček, also indicated that Russian firm Rosatom will be excluded from a tender to build a nuclear power plant.

But for some Western allies, the 2014 incident should be treated at least as gravely as Russia's attempt to assassinate a former Russian spy in the UK in 2018, when Europe and the US collectively expelled over 300 Russian diplomats.

The Czech explosion "was a direct attack on a Nato-member country", Tom Tugendhat, a British MP who chairs the UK parliament's foreign affairs committee, told the Sky News broadcaster over the weekend.

"If this was not an act of war, then I have trouble understanding what should be considered as one," he added.

EU Parliament probes Czech MEP on China ties

The European Parliament has launched an internal probe into the conduct of Czech MEP Jan Zahradil over his dealings with China and a so-called 'friendship group'.

Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line

Ukraine has invited EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell to visit its front line with Russia, in what one EU diplomat said would be his "best revenge" for his recent humiliation in Moscow.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Czech minister plotted to bury evidence on Russian attack
  2. Putin promotes Russia's 'Kalashnikov-like' vaccine
  3. Coronavirus: Indian variant clusters found across England
  4. UN report encourages EU methane cuts
  5. EU court upholds ban on bee-harming pesticides
  6. Israeli tourists welcomed back by EU
  7. EU duped into funding terrorist group, Israel says
  8. Brussels prepares portfolio of potential Covid-19 treatments

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. MEPs win battle for bigger citizens' voice at Conference
  2. Hungary gags EU ministers on China
  3. Poland and Hungary push back on 'gender equality' pre-summit
  4. EU preparing to send soldiers to Mozambique
  5. EU now 'open' to vaccine waiver, after Biden U-turn
  6. EU mulls using new 'peace' fund to help Libyan coast guard
  7. Poland 'breaks EU law' over judges, EU court opinion says
  8. 11 EU states want to cut fossil-fuels from cross-border projects

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us