Moscow made good on its promise to respond to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia's move to expel Russian diplomats on Wednesday, accusing the three countries of pursuing an "overtly hostile course" in relations vis-a-vis Russia.
The expulsions come in the wake of the summoning of diplomats from the three Baltic nations to the Foreign Ministry building, where the Russian side expressed its "resolute protest" to the respective heads of each country's diplomatic mission about their "provocative and groundless" decision to expel Russian diplomats last week.
Two workers of Lithuania's Embassy, one employee of Latvia's Embassy, and one diplomat from Lithuania's Embassy have been ordered to leave Russia in seven days' time, with the expulsions mirroring last week's actions by the three countries.
Also Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry announced that it has declared three staff of Slovakia's Embassy personae non gratae, and ordered them to leave Russia, again in a tit-for-tat response to Bratislava's move to expel Russian diplomats a week prior. The diplomats have until the end of the day on May 5 to leave Russia. The announcement about the expulsions came after the summoning of Slovakia's ambassador to Russia earlier in the day.
Russia Doesn't Understand What Goal Czechia is Pursuing With Ammo Depot Blast Claims
In an interview with Sputnik on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the Czech government's claims of Russian involvement in the deadly 2014 ammunition depot blasts in Vrbetice, eastern Czech Republic "pure schizophrenia" and said he does not fully understand what Prague is hoping to accomplish.
"I cannot talk about it because I do not understand, cannot understand at the intellectual level, what they actually want. One can look at this like a not very refined tv series featuring many schizophrenic components in the story," Lavrov said.
Lavrov also defended Czech President Milos Zeman, who has been accused of "treason" after questioning the official narrative and suggesting that the Vrbetice blasts could have been an accident. "When President Zeman says 'we need to figure this out', he does not rule out the possibility that this could have been sabotage by some foreign agents. He just proposes taking into account the version raised by the Czech leadership, including current Prime Minister [Andrej] Babis: they said in 2014 that this happened because of negligence on the part of the warehouse owner."
"President Zeman just suggested considering this versino of events, that has never been refuted in these past seven years. Now he is accused of treason, and the chairman of parliament has claimed that...he has revealed a state secret. is this not schizophrenia? In my opinion, this is pure schizophrenia," the Russian top diplomat added.
The scandal prompted Prague to expel 18 Russian diplomats, and to remove Russia's Rosatom from the list of contenders to build a new reactor at the Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant. Along with Rosatom, US nuclear power corporation Westinghouse, France's EdF and South Korea's Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power were selected to take part in the pre-qualification round for a tender to construction of the new reactor unit. The reactor contract is worth 6 billion euros. All four of the plant's existing reactors were built in the 1980s with Soviet help.