The suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack on the Russian former spy
Sergei Skripal reportedly visited the Czech Republic in 2014 at the time
when Skripal himself was in the country, allegedly helping the Czech
counter intelligence service uncover Russian spies. The flagship news
channel of Czech Radio, Radiozurnal, broke the story on Wednesday, citing
Czech intelligence sources.
The two men, who are believed to work for the Russian intelligence service GRU, arrived in the Czech Republic in mid-October 2014, using the same cover names as they did in Britain -Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – just days before Skripal’s scheduled visit to the country.
This suggests that Skripal was being followed by the two men long before the attempted poisoning. The Czech Intelligence Service has said it will not comment on the case.
A lower house debate on statements made about Novichok by Czech President
Miloš Zeman ended before it began on Thursday. Only 40 deputies declared
themselves present for the Christian Democrat-tabled discussion. As the
quorum for the lower house is 57 declared MPs, the speaker abandoned the
Other deputies were actually in the chamber but had declined to place their voting cards in their voting devices. The Mayors and Independents Vít Rakušan described the situation as a new level of obstruction.
Critics were angered after Mr. Zeman claimed that a small amount of Novichok had been produced and tested in this country. The nerve agent was in the news after the poisoning of two Russians led the UK and other states, including the Czech Republic, to expel Russian diplomats.
A move to hold a lower house discussion on President Miloš Zeman’s
comments about the nerve agent Novichok was rejected on Tuesday by MPs from
ANO, Tomio Okamura’s Freedom and Direct Democracy and the Communists.
Members of the opposition say they will now attempt to push through a
special session on the matter.
The Christian Democrats’ Jan Bartošek said President Zeman had harmed the Czech Republic internationally and served Russian propaganda by suggesting that a small amount of Novichok had been produced and tested in this country.
Communist leader Vojtěch Filip said the debate call was a move by those who were offended because their presidential candidate had been defeated.
The head of the state’s Military Research Institute, Bohuslav Šafář, was sacked on Monday by Defence Minister Karla Šlechtová. While no reason for his firing was given online, it is not completely a bolt from the blue: Šafář had gotten into hot water for his words about the so-called production of the deadly nerve agent Novichok in the Czech Republic.
A nerve agent such as Novichok was neither produced nor stored in the Czech
Republic, according to conclusions reached by the lower house of
parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
The conclusions were communicated by defense minister Karla Šlechtová after attending the committee session on Thursday. It was also attended by the head of the civil intelligence service and by the head of the authority for nuclear security, which is also responsible for oversight of chemical weapons.
Confusion about whether the Czech Republic has produced the type of nerve agent used in the attack on a British-based Russian double agent was sparked by Czech president Miloš Zeman. He said last week that a report by military intelligence suggested a small amount of the nerve agent had been produced for testing before being destroyed.
The prime minister and defence and foreign ministers have disagreed with Zeman’s interpretation of the report. Some of the arguments have centred on semantic interpretations of what ‘produced’ actually meant.
The discrepancies in intelligence reports regarding the testing of the
nerve gas Novichok in the Czech Republic should be addressed at a meeting
of the National Security Council, the deputy chairs of ANO and the Social
Democrats, Petr Vokřál and Martin Netolický, agreed in a Czech TV debate
They said the intelligence services should explain why the president and prime minister had received different reports on the matter and the president should be invited to the meeting to explain why he had revealed classified information in an interview for a commercial TV station.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said earlier he would demand an explanation as to why the Military Intelligence Agency and the intelligence agency BIS had provided conflicting information on the matter.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has ruled out the possibility that the nerve
agent tested in the Czech Republic could have been used in the attack
against Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain.
The Foreign Ministry issued the statement in response to President Zeman’s claim that a minute amount of the nerve-gas Novichok had been produced and tested in the Czech Republic. The president was citing a military intelligence report.
The Foreign Ministry said that a few millilitres of a nerve gas of the Novichok family labelled A-230 was produced, tested, and destroyed by the Czech Military Research Institute in Brno. “The nerve-paralysing poison used in the U.K. attack is called A-234 and is therefore a different variant than the one tested by the Czech military institute for purposes of defence" the ministry statement said.
It moreover stressed that the substance tested in Brno was immediately disposed of by the laboratory and is not stored anywhere, as was the case with the A230 substance. The Brno institute functions with the approval of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Meanwhile, President Zeman has come under fire for disclosing classified information from a military intelligence report. According to Czech law this is punishable by up to three years in prison, but the president has immunity from prosecution and can only be impeached on grounds of treason.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has said the Czech Republic may expel a
number of Russian diplomats over the nerve gas attack on a former double
agent and his daughter in Britain.
Mr. Babiš made the statement at the close of an EU summit in Brussels in the early hours of Friday, saying he would discuss this course of action with Foreign Minister Martin Stropnicky and other cabinet ministers.
Mr. Babiš earlier stressed the need for EU unity in responding to the incident. He said later that this had not been fully achieved but that several countries will consider expelling diplomats.
On the sidelines of the summit, the Czech prime minister held a short one-on-one meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May.