In Prague, they lost the document that caused a scandal with Moscow six months ago: then dozens of diplomats were expelled, and Rosatom lost a major contract. The secret report on the Vrbetica bombings was accidentally destroyed in the office of President Milos Zeman. The opposition demands an investigation. How this will affect relations between the two countries – understood RIA Novosti.
Destroyed by mistake
“The administration of Czech President Milos Ze-man mistakenly destroyed a secret document about the explosions at military warehouses in the village of Vrbetice, which the Russian secret services suspected of organizing,” Czech Radio reported.
According to journalists, the police requested this material from the authorities for verification.
The experts wanted to find out if the pages contain fingerprints and DNA of persons who were not admitted to classified information. But they received an answer: along with other papers, the report was accidentally destroyed. In total, 500 documents were disposed of in November last year because the retention period had expired. This was followed by a special commission.
The Zeman administration assures that those who did not have access to classified information did not see the report. Members of Parliament demand to understand the situation. Now the police will check whether the office of the head of state has violated the laws of the country.
The shadow falls on the president himself – he initially did not believe in Russia’s involvement, allowing other versions. In addition, just the day before, a new figurant was reported. The investigation believes that former Rus-sian soldier Nikolai Shap-oshnikov, now a Czech citizen living in Greece, collaborated with the commercial company Imex Group, which rented ammunition depots. According to investigators, he was in contact with two Russian intelligence agents suspected of planting explosive devices. Shaposhnikov himself refutes this.
Scandal that was not expected
In mid-April last year, a diplomatic row erupted between the countries. Andrej Babis, who served as prime minister, accused Moscow of involvement in the events in the village of Vrbetice at the end of 2014. 50 tons of ammunition exploded, killing two employees of the Imex Group, which rented the storage facility. The second explosion thundered a mo-nth and a half later – in a w-arehouse where there were 13 tons of explosive. The tenant is the same company.
According to the police, the incident happened by accident: the Russian special services allegedly planned a sabotage in Bulgaria, from where the ammunition was supposed to get to Ukraine. The explosions could have been organized by alleged GRU officers Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin (Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov).
Following the accusations against Moscow, the Czech authorities expelled 18 Russian diplomats. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested. Twenty employees of the Czech embassy in Russia were declared persona non grata. Further – more: in Prague, they dec-ided to send sixty employees of the Russian diplom-atic mission to their homeland, and also demanded that Moscow return the Czech diplomats. The Russian authorities refused, published a list of unfriendly foreign states, which included the United States and the Czech Republic.
At the end of June, Prague announced that it was waiting for compensation from Moscow for damages in the amount of 25.5 million euros in connection with the explosions in Vrbetica. The Russian Foreign Ministry called this extortion, noting that with such statements the Czech Republic only confirms the status of a country included in the black list.
In the heat of the scandal, Rosatom was suspended from participating in a tender for the construction of a new power unit for another nuclear power plant, Dukovany. And the Czech energy company CEZ (CEZ) has decided for the next ten years to choose another supplier of nuclear fuel for the reactors of the Temelín nuclear power plant instead of the Russian company TVEL (the fuel division of Rosatom).
The relationship was already cracking at the seams. In Prague, a monument to Marshal Ivan Konev was dismantled, which irritated Moscow. The Czech media wrote about a spy who allegedly arrived in the country with a diplomatic passport and poison. The parties periodically sent employees of diplomatic missions.
But the scandal that flared up in the spring of last year struck many, journalist Natalya Sudoenkova notes. “The Czech authorities did not provide any clear evidence of the involvement of the Russian authorities,” she explains. “There were only biting, unsubstantiated reproaches. The Czech special services wanted to be taken at their word.”
Experts then explained the behavior of the authorities by the proximity of parliamentary elections: anti-Russian rhetoric helps to win votes in large cities, where hostility to the Kremlin is especially strong.
Everyone will play this card in their own way
The disappearance of documents from Zeman’s administration office was reported as interaction between Moscow and Prague seemed to be on the mend. The new government of the Czech Republic, while declaring an unequivocal orientation towards the EU and NATO, also spoke of the need to reset ties with Moscow. “Let’s see how to raise the level of Russian-Czech relations,” promised Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky. According to him, the situation when representatives of the two countries do not talk is “very uncomfortable”, because contacts can be “substantive, normal.”
“We only exchange diplomatic notes. Foreign ministers and prime ministers have not met for more than ten years,” he said. Speaking about Russia’s security requirements in relation to Washington and the North Atlantic Alliance, he emphasized that “a unified position of NATO and the EU, which will be respected in Moscow,” is necessary. At the same time, he explained: “I’m not saying that it must necessarily rely on force.”
Now it is hardly possible to find out what happened and who is to blame, says Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council. “The issue is very politicized,” the expert is sure. “Obviously, each of the political forces in the Czech Republic and in Europe as a whole will present the situation in a favorable light. Moscow’s critics will urge to look for a “Russian trace.” found convincing evidence of Russian involvement and therefore destroyed the documents so that no one would expose the organizers of the falsification. Both Zeman and his supporters will be blamed.”
At the same time, according to Kortunov, ordinary negligence cannot be ruled out. One thing is clear: the documents have disappeared and this makes it possible to interpret what happened in different ways. And for now, you can forget about the normalization of relations.