"We are not interested in escalating relations. Russia is an important European player and will remain such in the future. We have opposite interests in some areas. We're in favour of a pragmatic settlement of our relations, but this is difficult. This requires both sides' [effort]. Czech-Russian relations are entering a difficult phase. But I believe that this will be resolved and we will have mutually beneficial relations. However, this requires mutual respect," Kulhanek said in an interview with the Slovakian newspaper Pravda.
"I take note of Russia's statements, most importantly the quite categorical statements of the foreign ministry. I am a realist. I expect us to negotiate some technical issues in the coming months, for example the operation of our embassy in Moscow and the Russian embassy in Prague, at least in some limited mode," the foreign minister continued.
On 17 April, Prague announced that 18 Russian diplomats would be expelled from the country over suspicion that Russian military intelligence officers were involved in the 2014 explosions in arms depots in Vrbetice, which killed two Czech nationals.
Moscow called the accusations absurd and retaliated by expelling 20 Czech diplomats, prompting Prague to order more diplomats out in response.
In turn, Czech President Milos Zeman said that the country's counter-intelligence had not mentioned anything in its reports about possible involvement of Russian agents in the 2014 explosions. The president also lamented the tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats by the Czech Republic and Russia, which he called "mutual cannibalism".