Czechs Expel 18 Russian Embassy Staff Over 2014 Arms Depot Explosion (File)

Czech authorities on April 17 announced the expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats over an explosion at an ammunition depot in the Vrbětic, Zlín region, on October 16, 2014, citing “reasonable suspicion” that it was caused by Russian agents.

The National Center Against Organized Crime (SKPV), a branch of the Czech police service, simultaneously issued a statement saying it was searching for two Russian nationals who arrived in the country on October 11, 2014, and departed on October 16. Those Russians were named as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the same men accused of poisoning former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, in March 2018, following an investigation by Bellingcat.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš thanked Czech security services for uncovering what he said was an “unprecedented and scandalous action.”

The explosion of the site, which held 50 metric tonnes of ammunition, killed two men who worked there, shattered windows in nearby homes, and prompted evacuations of local buildings, including a school with 150 students and 20 employees, according to contemporaneous local news reports.

Due to the threat of unexploded ordnances strewn across the area by the explosion, Czech authorities spent more than five years clearing the site and demolishing the remains of burned-out structures.

This footage from Czech police shows clearing operations at Vrbětic between February and October 2019. The still images were released by police in the days following the blast in 2014. Credit: Policie ČR via Storyful

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