Russia has rejected as slander a Czech media report of an alleged poisoning plot against Prague officials, including the city’s mayor, as the Czech counterintelligence agency refuses to comment on the allegations.
The investigative Czech weekly Respekt reported on April 26 that a suspected Russian intelligence officer had traveled to Prague more than three weeks ago with a suitcase containing the lethal toxin ricin. It quoted Czech security sources as saying the target of the poison plot was Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib and a district mayor.
The report comes amid fresh tensions between Prague and Moscow and suspicion that Russia was behind a recent wave of cyberattacks in the Czech Republic.
However, Russia claimed it was the victim, not the Czech Republic, of a disinformation campaign.
The Russian Embassy in Prague said on Facebook it “rejects such outrageous and false slander.”
In a post on April 27, the embassy added it had sent a note to the Czech Foreign Ministry highlighting what it claimed were “ongoing, unsubstantiated attacks on Russia and its embassy in Prague.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Russian media on April 27 the report of the alleged ricin poisoning plot needed to be checked for misinformation.
“Such things can’t go unpunished,” Zakharova said.
The Czech Foreign Ministry called the Russian Embassy’s note “inappropriate,” saying it went against the independence of the media.
The ministry “does not and will not interfere” with freedom of the press, it added.
Ladislav Sticha, spokesman for the Czech counterintelligence agency BIS, declined to comment on the Respekt article by Ondrej Kundra. “We don’t know the sources cited by Kundra, therefore BIS is declining to make any public comments on the allegations,” Sticha told RFE/RL on April 28.
In the report, Respekt said the suspected Russian intelligence agent arrived by plane in Prague 3 1/2 weeks ago. He was alleged to have traveled on a diplomatic passport. If so, under international diplomatic protocols, his bags would not have been checked by Czech immigration officials.
According to Respekt, he was driven in a Russian Embassy vehicle to the Russian compound in the Czech capital, long suspected of being a center of espionage activities in the Central European country.
Hrib and Prague 6 district Mayor Ondrej Kolar have confirmed they are under police protection due to unspecified threats.
Hrib was a vocal backer of a decision two months ago to rename the square in front of the Russian Embassy complex after former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was killed in 2015 near the Kremlin.
Like Hrib, Kolar angered officials in Russia after his district on April 3 removed a statue of Marshal Ivan Konev, who led Red Army forces during World War II that drove Nazi troops from much of Czechoslovakia.
Another Prague district mayor, Pavel Novotny, earned the ire of Moscow in November 2019 after he proposed erecting a monument to a World War II military division made up of Soviet defectors that fought alongside the Nazis but turned against them in the final days of the war and helped liberate Prague.
Novotny confirmed to RFE/RL that he is now under police protection, but could not disclose more details.
The alleged ricin poisoning plot is “totally” believable, Novotny said. “They are capable of something like that.”
Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek has reportedly warned Russia’s ambassador of consequences if anything happens to the Czech politicians.
As possible payback, Czech officials suspect Russian hackers may have been behind a recent wave of cyberattacks.
Earlier this month, Czech officials said information-technology systems at Prague’s international airport, several hospitals, and the Health Ministry were targeted in the attacks, which sparked outrage in Prague as well as Washington.