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Czech police officers detain a pro-Russia demonstrator outside the Russian Embassy in Prague on Saturday. Photo: Michal Cizek/AFP via Getty Images

Officials in Moscow announced Sunday that 20 Czech diplomats had 72 hours to leave Russia, after the EU nation accused Russian operatives of being behind a deadly ammunition depot explosion in 2014.

Why it matters: The action, which came a day after the Czech government expelled 18 Russian diplomats over the blast, marks the latest escalation in what's become the worst tension between Russia and Western nations since the Cold War.

  • The Russian Foreign Ministry accused the Czech government in a statement of trying to "please" the U.S. by expelling its diplomats, "following recent American sanctions against Russia."
  • "The Czech government in this instance even exceeded its overseas masters," the statement added.

Driving the news: The Czech government said Saturday it suspected the Russian diplomats worked for a Kremlin intelligence unit it said was behind the explosion at the Vrbětice munitions depot.

  • The unit has been linked to a 2018 poisoning attack targeting Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England.
  • Czech police have connected Salisbury poisoning suspects Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov to the Vrbětice blast. Russia called the claims "absurd."

For the record: Last Friday, Russia announced it was expelling 10 American diplomats and expanding a no-entry list of current and former U.S. officials.

  • This was in retaliation for sanctions the Biden administration leveled at Moscow in response to the SolarWinds hack of federal agencies and interference in the 2020 election.

Go deeper

Updated Apr 18, 2021 - World

Skripal poisoning suspects linked to Czech blast, as country expels 18 Russians

Combined images released by British police in 2018 of Alexander Petrov (L) and Ruslan Boshirov, who are suspected of carrying out an attack in the in the southern English city of Salisbury using Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, and also the2014 Czech depot explosion. Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images

Czech police on Saturday connected two Russian men suspected of carrying out a poisoning attack in Salisbury, England, with a deadly ammunition depot explosion southeast of the capital, Prague, per Reuters.

Driving the news: Czech officials announced Saturday they're expelling 18 Russian diplomats they accuse of being involved in the blast in Vrbětice, AP notes. Czech police said later they're searching for two men carrying several passports — including two with the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Apr 17, 2021 - World

Ukraine, Russia to expel diplomats amid heightened tensions

A Ukrainian flag outside the Ukrainian Consulate General building in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images

Russia on Saturday said it would expel a Ukrainian diplomat it accused of trying to obtain classified information, prompting Ukraine to say it would do the same to a Russian diplomat, according to Reuters.

Why it matters: The tit-for-tat expulsions come amid heightened tensions between the two countries over Russia's build-up of military personnel and equipment on Ukraine's eastern border where Ukrainian soldiers are fighting Kremlin-back separatist troops.

Apr 18, 2021 - World

Biden adviser warns "there will be consequences" for Russia if Navalny dies

The Biden administration warned the Russian government "that there will be consequences" if jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday.

The big picture: Sullivan also defended President Biden for not mentioning Navalny in a Thursday speech about Russia or in a Tuesday call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying the White House aims to deal with the issue "privately and through diplomatic channels."