Slovakia's highest state officials expressed their support for Czechia following the allegations of Russian involvement in the 2014 deadly explosion in a Czech ammunition depot.
The president, the prime minister, the foreign minister and others have condemned the recent reported activities of the Russian intelligence services in the Czech Republic, stressing that Czechia is Slovakia's closest neighbour and ally.
The Czech Republic announced on April 17 that it would expel 18 Russian diplomats on suspicion that the Russian intelligence services were involved in the 2014 explosions in the Czech ammunition depot in Vrbětice, a village near the Slovak border. There has also been talk of closing the Czech embassy in Moscow or excluding the Russian company Rosatom from the major tender concerning the Dukovany power plant.
The Czech government suggested that the officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU, involved in the explosions, were the same people who tried to poison Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal in the UK in 2018. Russia has meanwhile denied the accusations and announced on April 18 that it would expel 20 Czech diplomats in return.
“These events confirm the revelations of our intelligence services that our countries are a target of operations aimed against their safety and stability,” Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Ivan Korčok (SaS nominee) wrote, following a phone call with Jan Hamáček, who is acting as a temporary Czech foreign affairs minister. He reassured the Czech minister that Slovakia supports the diplomatic actions they have taken.
Some coalition members have even called for a Security Council meeting, and the Slovak intelligence agency has also taken some measures.
Our closest ally
Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová also expressed her support for the Czech Republic, adding that the country “is closely following the suspected foreign-led subversive actions that resulted in a loss of life and massive damage in Vrbětice.”
PM Eduard Heger (OĽaNO), who has recently returned from the Czech Republic, said he made it clear during his visit that the country is Slovakia’s closest ally in the EU and NATO, and that Slovakia will stand by Czechia whenever necessary.
Defence Minister Jaroslav Naď called the expulsion of Russian diplomats “one of the clearest signals” that can be sent in bilateral relations.
“It is not easy to make such decision, even if one person is involved,” he wrote on Facebook. “The decision to expel 18 diplomats is a clear signal from the Czech government that Russia had crossed all limits of standard cooperation and had seriously interfered against the interests of a sovereign country.”
He went on to say that the activities of foreign services on Czech territory prove that Russia does not have an honest interest in mutual cooperation with central European countries.
If the suspicions that the Russian intelligence service was involved in the explosions are confirmed, it will be a sign that another limit has been crossed, said former ambassador to NATO Tomáš Valášek, who recently left the Za Ľudí party and joined Progressive Slovakia.
“I don’t know about any similar case when Russian military intelligence placed a bomb that destroyed a military facility of a NATO member on its own territory,” Valášek commented on Facebook.
The actions of the Czech Republic have also been supported by Peter Bátor, permanent representative of Slovakia to NATO, and ex-PM Mikuláš Dzurinda, who now acts as a president of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies think tank.
Calls for Security Council meeting
The coalition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party meanwhile called for a meeting of the Slovak Security Council.
“The decision of the Czech Republic to expel 18 Russian diplomats due to the suspicions of the involvement in the ammunition depot explosion in Vrbětice is the right response to the activities of Russian intelligence services,” the party wrote in a statement, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
The coalition party Za Ľudí expressed hope that the Slovak intelligence services would assure the public that they have the activities of Russian diplomats in Slovakia under control.
“We also expect more detailed information about what had happened from our Foreign Affairs Ministry that is in close touch with our partners abroad,” the party said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
Former PM Igor Matovič, now the finance minister, recently travelled to Moscow to discuss the Sputnik V vaccines. He has not commented on the situation yet.
Meanwhile, the Slovak Information Service (SIS) intelligence agency has said that they adopted necessary measures related to the developments in the Czech Republic, adding that they cooperate with the partners in other countries.
“SIS has been constantly monitoring the activities of foreign intelligence services in Slovakia,” its spokesperson Simona Svítková said, as quoted by SITA, adding that SIS has increased the protection of Slovakia’s interests in connection with the activities of foreign secret services in the past.
She noted that one of the results was the expulsion of three Russian diplomats from Slovakia in August 2020, following the information that their activities were at odds with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.