Russian GRU services implicated in the explosion of arms warehouses in the Czech Republic

(B2) The explosions of two warehouses in Vrbětice in 2014 are believed to be due to the Russian secret services accuses the Czech government. 18 employees of the Russian Embassy in Prague expelled. Euro-Atlantic solidarity gets under way

Andrej Babiš (ANO/ALDE) and Jan Hamáček (CSSD/S&D) announce the news on Saturday at Černín Palace (selection B2 – stream CT24)

This information was revealed by the two leaders of the coalition government — Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO/ALDE) and Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamáček (CSSD/S&D) — in a specially called press conference on Saturday (April 17) in the evening, at the Černín palace (the government building) accusing the Russian services by name of being the cause. They follow the conclusions of the Czech security services.

The Russian services involved

In quick succession, two months apart, two warehouses located in Vrbětice (province of Zlin), not far from Slovakia — number 16 on October 16, 2014 and number 12 on December 3, 2014 — had been the object of of a violent explosion. Two people died in the first explosion. The causes had remained mysterious. These are actually the " same [GRU] men who tried to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury (UK), in March 2018: Anatoly Chepig and Alexander Mishkin »explains the weekly Respect. " Members of Special Unit 29155 ", responsible for carrying out special actions abroad, which were in Prague and Moravia in October 2014 ».

Objective: to prevent the delivery of weapons

The Russian intervention had a very concrete and military objective: to prevent the delivery of arms to Ukraine. The warehouses rented by the company Ostrava Imex Group indeed contained weapons bought by a Bulgarian arms dealer, which he planned to send to the Ukrainian forces. A disturbing coincidence: the ammunition depots in Bulgaria exploded at the same time as in Vrbětice according to Bellingcat. There too, it is the Russian unit 29155 which is suspected. The Czech government has therefore decided to expel 18 'diplomats' from the Russian embassy, ​​suspected in fact of belonging either to Russian foreign intelligence (SVR) or to the intelligence directorate of the army (GRU).

Europe seized

The Vrbětice affair could quickly take a European and Euro-Atlantic turn. Czech ambassadors in Brussels have been instructed to pass a note to their counterparts in the European Union and NATO. And the Minister of Foreign Affairs (acting) Jan Hamacek talks about it to his European counterparts on Monday at the Foreign Affairs Council (which takes place by videoconference). As for the Prime Minister, Andrew Babis spoke about it on Saturday (very late) with Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, and intends to discuss it at a European summit (NB: the next one is in June, unless exceptionally called).

State terrorism

This action, " carried out by members of a special military intelligence unit against a civilian installation of a sovereign state, is an act of open aggression and I am not afraid to speak of state terrorism commented via Twitter Czech general Peter Paul, former Chief of Staff and former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee. " We need to take a very strong stance against this and protect our security. Alone and in cooperation with the Allies.

Euro-Atlantic solidarity

Some countries have shown their solidarity with the Czech decision such as the USA or the United Kingdom (which reserves a more elaborate response after the day of mourning for Prince Philippe). Latvia too has already expressed its solidarity via a tweet from the Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkevičs. " The subversive actions carried out by Russian agents are deplorable. […] Authors must be sanctioned.

The idea of ​​additional sanctions..

This revelation could be an excellent pretext to trigger a new wave of sanctions against Russia. Some countries were already asking for it to protest against the reinforced military presence in Ukraine. Further discussions took place between the ambassadors last week, in an ultra-confidential manner, to consider new names on the 'Human Rights' (Magnitsky-type) blacklist. Discussion which could be intended to prepare to react to a serious (even fatal) aggravation of the Russian opponent Alexei Navalny, on hunger strike in his penitentiary center, according to information to be confirmed.

… comes up against a legal or practical question

The only problem: there is – according to our analysis – no adequate legal basis today for establishing restrictive measures following a special 'military' type action on the territory of a Member State. This is planned in the event of a cyber-attack or chemical weapons, not for a provoked explosion but 'classic' as in Vrbětice. This is provided for in the event of a threat to the integrity of Ukrainian territory, for example, not for a threat to the integrity of European territory. Except to qualify it as a terrorist act (which would be tricky for a foreign service). And from a practical point of view, this measure would have a mainly symbolic effect: most of the officials incriminated are already on the blacklist for other facts.

Diplomatic or economic retaliatory measures

The European retaliation – if there is one – could therefore go more through the summoning of ambassadors, even the expulsion of diplomats, in a more or less coordinated way, or economic measures. Already at the Czech level, certain measures could be taken. The involvement of the Russian industrialist Rosatom in the call for tenders for the Dukovany nuclear power plant could be reviewed, declared the Minister of Industry, Karel Havlíček.


Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).