Czechs order Russia to pull out most embassy staff in worsening spy row

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MOSCOW/PRAGUE (Reuters) -The Czech Republic on Thursday ordered Russia to remove most of its remaining diplomatic staff from Prague in an escalation of the worst dispute between the two countries in decades.

The spy row flared on Saturday when Prague expelled 18 Russian staff, whom it identified as intelligence officers. It said two Russian spies accused of a nerve agent poisoning in Britain in 2018 were also behind an explosion at a Czech ammunition depot in 2014 that killed two people.

Russia has denied the Czech accusations and on Sunday ordered out 20 Czech staff in retaliation.

Thursday’s decision, announced by Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek, requires Russia to have the same number of envoys as the Czech Republic has in Moscow. That means Russia will have to withdraw 63 diplomats and other staff from Prague, although Prague gave it until the end of May to do so.

Together with the initial step, this will greatly reduce what has been by far the biggest foreign mission to Prague and much larger than the Czech representation in Moscow.