Russia has ordered two Czech diplomats out of Russia, Interfax news agency reported on Tuesday, in a spying row between two countries at odds over U.S. plans to install an anti-missile system in Europe.
The expulsion follows Czech media reports on Monday that two Russians have been ordered out of Prague, including a deputy military attache. Prague has previously complained about an increase in Russian spying that it linked to the U.S. plans.
Formerly part of the Soviet bloc, the Czech Republic is now a NATO and a European Union member state. Prague’s relations with Moscow have cooled over its interest in hosting a U.S. radar base and its support for Georgia during last August’s war.
“This unfriendly act by the Czech side, which declared two of our diplomats persona non grata, could not be left without a response,” the Russian official told Interfax. “Two Czech embassy workers in Moscow were told to leave Russia.”
“It is surprising that this information became public knowledge despite the fact that the Czech side itself proposed not to allow any leaks,” the Russian official told Interfax.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry routinely uses Russian news agencies as its main channel to distribute information.
Russia has also been involved in the reciprocal expulsion of diplomats in recent months with both Ukraine and NATO.
The unconfirmed reports on the Czech expulsions was first reported by the website www.idnes.cz said late on Monday.
When asked about the initial report, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was “another provocation” but did clarify if he was referring to the report or actual expulsions.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry declined repeated requests by Reuters for comment, including a written question on Monday.
The Czech Foreign Ministry and the Czech embassy in Moscow both also declined comment.