Salisbury Novichok poisoning suspects linked to 2014 Czech explosion, police say

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Andrej Babiš the Czech prime minister | Omar Marques Getty Images By Siegfried Mortkowitz

The Czech weekly Respekt reported the two Russian agents, named as Anatoly Chepig and Alexander Mishkin, were in the Czech Republic and probably on the site of the ammunition depot in October 2014 when the deadly blast took place.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek on Sunday announced plans to discuss the 2014 explosion of an ammunitions depot in Vrbetice during a Monday meeting of European Union foreign ministers. The men are wanted for their potential role in the 2014 explosion, the organised crime squad (NCOZ) said on its website.

The pair then switched to one Moldovan passport in the name of Nicolai Popa, born July 18, 1979 and a Tajikistan passport in the name of Ruslan Tabarov, born October 23, 1975.

"There is well-grounded suspicion about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU, unit 29155, in the explosion of ammunitions depot in the Vrbetice area", Babis said.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, who is also serving as the foreign minister, said the Russian embassy staffers were clearly identified as Russian military spies.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the move is based on "unequivocal evidence" provided by the Czech intelligence and security services that points to the involvement of Russian military agents in the massive explosion in an eastern town that killed "two innocent fathers".

The two were using Russian passports and were identified as Alexander Petrov, 41, and Ruslan Boshirov, 43. Now Czech authorities believe the same men were involved in the bombing of a warehouse in Vrbetice, in the east of the country.

The explosions killed employees of a private company that was renting the depot from a state military organisation.

The crisis has already had a wider impact of Czech-Russian relations.

'We are in a situation similar to that in Britain following the attempted poisoning in Salisbury in 2018, ' he said, referring to the case of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal who survived a nerve agent poisoning in Britain.

Russian Federation denied involvement but some 300 diplomats were sent home in subsequent tit-for-tat expulsions.

Following Babis's announcement, the U.S. Embassy in Prague tweeted that "the United States stands with its steadfast ally, the Czech Republic".

A diplomatic source cited by Interfax suggested the expulsions could prompt Russian Federation to shut the Czech Republic's embassy in Moscow.

Salisbury poisoning agents 'linked to Czech blast'