Josep Borrell, the Head of the European External Action Service (EEAS), said that the EU will not further escalate tensions between EU and Russia and will not hear out the call of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis made in Porto last week for EU members to expel Russian diplomats in retaliation for the involvement of Russian Military Intelligence (GRU) in the Vrbetice explosions.
According to Borrell, a continuation of the escalation through the expulsion of diplomats is not on the agenda of the EU foreign ministers´ meeting for the time being.
“We reassured Czechia of the strong support of the European Union. But at the same time I think everybody agrees on the need of not continuing the escalation. That we need to look for a strong support but at the same time to try not to increase the tensions,” Borrell said, adding that the European Council will address the issue at its next meeting on May 25.
The explosion at the Vrbetice depot in 2014 killed two people and resulted in the evacuation of nearby areas. The second explosion at a nearby depot later in December resulted in further evacuations. At the time, the depot reportedly contained weapons that were to be sold to a Bulgarian arms dealer and supplied to Ukraine, to help it in its conflict with Russian-backed separatist forces.
According to a political analyst from the think-tank the Association for International Affairs in Prague Pavel Havlicek, this is a bad news for the Czech government and bad news for the EU in general.
“I think that, while it is a cold shower for Czech diplomacy, the EU is also shooting itself in the foot by its efforts not to escalate relations with Russia any further,” Havlicek said, quoted by Prague International Radio.
“We know that Russia is willing to escalate. I think it became quite clear when they added the president of the European Parliament as well as Czech Commissioner Vera Jourova onto their sanctions list. They continue on this very aggressive and assertive node of anti-EU actions and rhetoric,” Havlicek added.
Havlicek stressed that by offering only very little in terms of deterrence, the EU has been showing weakness as well as a willingness to accept punches by the Russians.
According to Russia News Agency TASS, as reported by Czech Television, Czechia plans to claim at least CZK1bn (€39mn) from Russia as compensation of material damages for the Vrbetice explosion.
“The simplest way [to get damages payment from Russia] is the way of receiving compensation using norms of international law. If we follow the path [of claiming compensations], for example, through criminal proceedings, then this [may] last for long, for very long,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alena Schillerova for Czech Television, cited by TASS.