Czechs to Russia: Let our diplomats back or more of yours go

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Czech Republic's newly appointed Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek addresses media at the Cernin's Palace in Prague, Czech Republic, Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Kulhanek was appointed during a Czech Russia diplomatic crisis over the alleged involvement in a fatal ammunition depot explosion in 2014. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

PRAGUE – The Czech Republic demanded on Wednesday that Russia should allow its expelled diplomats to return to Moscow, threatening that otherwise more Russian diplomats would be asked to leave Prague.

The Czech request looks set to further escalate a diplomatic conflict with Russia over the alleged involvement of Russian spies in a massive ammunition depot explosion. Moscow called Prague's tone “unacceptable while talking to Russia.”

The demand came after Russia ordered 20 Czech diplomats to leave the country on Sunday, in retaliation for the Czech government’s expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats it identified as spies from the GRU and the SVR, Russia’s military and foreign intelligence services.

The new Czech Foreign Minister, Jakub Kulhanek, summoned Russian ambassador to Prague Aleksandr Zmeyevsky to protest what he called Russia's “inappropriate reaction.”

Kulhanek said that because of the high number of staffers at the Russian embassy in Prague, the Czech action “by no means” threatens its normal functioning.

But for the Czechs, the Russian move “paralyzed" their Moscow embassy.

Kulhanek gave the Russians a Thursday noon deadline “to enable the return of all (Czech) expelled diplomats to the Czech embassy in Moscow.”

If not, he warned, “I will decide tomorrow afternoon to reduce the staff of the Russian embassy in Prague so their number equals the current number of staff at the Czech embassy in Moscow.”