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Prague expels two Russian diplomats over fake mayor murder plot claim

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By Alessio Dellanna  with AFP
Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis talks on the phone as he leaves after a meeting in Beja, Portugal, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020
Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis talks on the phone as he leaves after a meeting in Beja, Portugal, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Armando Franca

An alleged Russian plot to murder mayors in Prague is false, according to the Czech Republic's prime minister.

In April, local media reported that the country's intelligence services suspected a Russian who arrived in the Czech capital on a diplomatic passport was sent to poison Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib and Prague 6 district mayor Ondrej Kolar with ricin.

But PM Andrej Babis said on Friday that “the whole case was a result of infighting between staffers at the Russian Federation Embassy in Prague.”

“One of them sent to our counter-intelligence service false information about a planned attack against Czech politicians,” he said.

Babis said that as a result of the investigation by Czech intelligence services two Russian diplomats had been expelled from the country. 

“We have an interest in having good relations with all countries, but we’re a sovereign state and such actions on our territory are unacceptable,” the prime minister said.

Russia's foreign ministry said the move would draw a "response in kind" from Moscow and help shape policy towards the Czech Republic. 

“By taking that unfriendly step, the Czech side has acted indecently and unworthily,” the Russian ministry said. “The Czech authorities have inflicted serious damage to the Russian-Czech relations without any reason whatsoever. It will be necessary to respond to such provocations.”

As a result of the claims in April, Kolar, Hrib and the mayor of Prague’s Reporyje district, Pavel Novotny, all received police protection.

In February, a Prague square in front of the Russian Embassy was renamed after slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, with Hrib unveiling the new nameplate.

In April, Kolar’s district removed a statue of Soviet World War II commander Ivan Stepanovic Konev, whose armies completed the liberation of Prague from Nazi occupation.

The statue’s removal caused outrage in Russia, which has angrily lashed out at any attempts to diminish the nation’s decisive role in defeating the Nazis.

Novotny provoked Moscow’s ire with plans to build a monument to the soldiers of Gen. Andrei Vlasov’s army. Over 300 of them died when they helped the Czech uprising against Nazi rule and contributed to Prague’s liberation. Their role is controversial for Russia, however, because they previously fought against the Red Army alongside Nazi troops.