Romania says it is expelling a Russian diplomat, the latest European country to do so amid a diplomatic dispute between Moscow and Prague over Russia’s alleged role in a deadly 2014 explosion at a Czech arms depot.
The Foreign Ministry decided to declare Aleksei Grichayev, the deputy military attaché at the Russian Embassy in Bucharest, persona non grata “in view of his activities and actions contrary to the Convention of Vienna on diplomatic relations,” it said in a statement on April 26.
The statement said that Russian Ambassador Valery Kuzmin was summoned to the ministry to inform him of the move.
Kuzmin later described Bucharest’s decision as “hostile,” and said that Moscow reserves the right to “take relevant measures in response.”
The was no immediate comment from Russian officials.
Prague accuses the Russian secret services of being behind an explosion that killed two people at a Czech arms depot in October 2014.
Moscow has denied any involvement in the 2014 blast, with Kremlin spokesperson Dimitri Peskov telling reporters on April 26 that “any accusations of Russia in the context of the various events in the Czech Republic is completely unfounded.”
After the Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian diplomats over the allegations last week, Moscow retaliated by kicking out 20 Czech Embassy staff in what is considered to be the worst spat between the former Cold War allies since communist rule ended in Czechoslovakia in 1989.
Seven other former Warsaw Pact countries in Central and Eastern Europe, all of them members of the European Union and the NATO security alliance, have expelled Russian diplomats in recent weeks, triggering reciprocal measures by Moscow.
In a joint statement on April 26, the prime ministers of Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia expressed “full solidarity” with the Czech Republic, and condemned “this yet another deplorable act of aggression and breach of international law committed by Russia on European soil.”
On April 23, Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said the number of people allowed by the Czech Republic and Russia at their respective embassies would be limited to 32. The Czech Foreign Ministry has given Russia until the end of May to cut the number of its personnel at its embassy in Prague by 63 people.
The explosion on October 16, 2014, in the Czech town of Vrbetice set off 50 metric tons of stored ammunition. Two months later, another blast of 13 tons of ammunition occurred at the same site.
Czech media have reported that the ammunition and weaponry destroyed in the first explosion was intended for Ukrainian forces fighting against Russia-backed separatist troops in eastern Ukraine.
The two Russian intelligence officers sought by the Czechs in relation to the incident are the same alleged members of Russian military intelligence accused of a nerve-agent poisoning in England in 2018 that targeted former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal.
Skripal and his daughter survived the attack, which was carried out with what British investigators determined was the Soviet-engineered nerve agent Novichok.
A British woman who accidentally came into contact with the substance died.