Allegations of a Russian poisoning plot against the mayor of Prague were invented by Russian diplomats during an internal feud, the Czech prime minister said, as he expelled two Russian embassy officials.
In April, Prague’s mayor, Zdeněk Hřib, said he was under police protection after reports surfaced of the alleged plot against three Czech politicians. Czech media reported that a Russian diplomat had brought a suitcase of ricin into the country to carry out the assassinations.
In a statement on Friday, Andrej Babiš, the prime minister, said the whole plot had been invented. “The entire case came to being as a result of internal feuding among workers at the [Russian] embassy,” he said. “One of them sent false information about a planned attack against Czech politicians to our counter-intelligence service.”
Babiš announced that he was expelling two Russian diplomats, saying: “We are interested in having good relations with all countries, but we are a sovereign state and such actions are unacceptable on our territory.” He gave no more details about the new information.
The Russian embassy called the decision a “fabricated provocation” and was expected to respond by expelling Czech diplomats from Moscow.
Russia has been angered by a number of measures by Prague municipality in recent months, including the renaming of the square outside the Russian Embassy after Boris Nemtsov, a prominent Russian opposition politician who was shot dead outside the Kremlin in 2015.
The Russian foreign ministry also responded furiously to the removal of a statue to the Red Army commander Ivan Konev. The mayor of Prague 6, the district of the capital where the statue had been located, was another of the politicians said to have been targeted in the ricin plot.
Despite this, there had been scepticism over the ricin allegations. While Russian intelligence agents have been accused of carrying out assassinations across Europe, the targets are usually defectors from Russian intelligence or Chechens who have fallen foul of the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Going after foreign politicians would mark an escalation of Moscow’s tactics abroad.
However, there are also questions about Babiš’s new version of events.
“The government has offered an explanation, but we still don’t see the full picture,” said Ondřej Kundra of the Czech weekly Respekt, the journalist who broke the original story about the plot. “It’s hard to imagine the government would expel two Russian diplomats just because they said nasty things about each other.”