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Czechs rule Rosatom out of nuclear tender over spat with Moscow

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PRAGUE: The Czech government said on Monday (Apr 19) it would eliminate Russia’s Rosatom from a multi-billion-euro tender to build a new unit at a local nuclear plant because of the diplomatic row with Moscow.

The decision to bar the Russian state atomic agency follows tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats after Prague accused Russian secret services of being behind a fatal explosion on Czech territory in 2014.

“The Russian supplier Rosatom will not be addressed to submit documents for security assessment,” Czech Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlicek told reporters.

The decision leaves France’s EdF, South Korea’s KHNP and US-based Westinghouse in play for a contract to build the new unit at the southern Dukovany plant by 2036.

Eighteen Russian diplomats identified by Czech intelligence as spies left Prague for Moscow on Monday afternoon, while 20 Czech diplomats expelled by Russia in retaliation are due to land in Prague later on Monday.

Citing an intelligence report, the Czech government has said Russia’s military secret service GRU orchestrated a 2014 explosion that killed two people, followed by a smaller one the same year.

Czech police are seeking two men in connection with the blast, who British authorities also identified as suspects in the 2018 poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

The Kremlin has dubbed the expulsion of its diplomats “provocative and unfriendly”.

‘FUMBLED ATTACK’

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the 2014 explosion at an ammunition depot near the eastern village of Vrbetice was not an act of state terrorism as it targeted goods owned by a Bulgarian arms dealer.

“He probably sold these arms to entities fighting against Russia,” Babis told reporters.

“But there’s no way we could tolerate GRU agents carrying out such operations here,” he added.

Babis said the attack was “fumbled” as the military material was probably meant to explode on its way to Bulgaria and not on Czech territory.

The two Russians allegedly behind the explosion were identified as Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepigov based on video footage from the site and photos published after the Skripal attack.

Top Czech prosecutor Pavel Zeman said the two had arrived in the Czech Republic several days before the first blast, identifying themselves as arms dealers.

NO SPUTNIK V

The purported Bulgarian client, the Emco company owned by entrepreneur Emilian Gebrev, said it had not planned any transport of arms from the depot “in the months before, during and at least a year after the explosions, neither to Bulgaria nor to any third country.”

But Zeman said he would rather “believe the evidence that we have”.

The investigations had taken so long because the removal of unexploded ammunition was only completed in autumn 2020, he added.

Babis said at the weekend the government would publish the intelligence report on Monday, but the police have prevented this as investigations are still under way.

As well as ruling Rosatom out of the nuclear tender, Foreign Minister Jan Hamacek said the Czech Republic would no longer consider buying the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19.

“The only way now is to rely on vaccines that have been approved by the European Medicines Agency,” Hamacek said.

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