The foreign minister of the Czech Republic demanded on Wednesday that Russia allow its expelled diplomats to return to Moscow or face further tit-for-tat expulsions.
The new Czech Foreign Minister, Jakub Kulhanek, summoned Russian ambassador Aleksandr Zmeyevsky to Prague to protest what he called Russia's “inappropriate reaction".
It 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 had identified as spies from the GRU and the SVR, Russia’s military and foreign intelligence services.
"I informed the ambassador of the following," Kulhanek told reporters on Wednesday. "The Russian Federation has until 12:00 tomorrow to allow all the expelled diplomats back to the Czech Embassy in Moscow.
"If the diplomats are not allowed to back to Moscow then immediately tomorrow afternoon, I will decide on a reduction of the numbers of employees at the Russian Embassy in Prague, in a way to match the current state of the Czech Embassy in Moscow.'"
The Czech Republic is locked in a diplomatic conflict with Russia over the alleged involvement of Russian spies in a massive ammunition depot explosion in 2014.
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 - while, he said, Russia's move had "paralyzed" its embassy in Moscow.
Kulhanek gave Russia a Thursday afternoon deadline “to enable the return of all (Czech) expelled diplomats to the Czech embassy in Moscow.”