Tuesday, 05 July, 2022

Mystery ‘poison plot’ sends Czech mayors into hiding

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Media captionOndrej Kolar speaking to the BBC from a secret spot

A Czech politician in hiding amid allegations of a Russian assassination plot states he believes the threat against him is credible and he fears for his life.

Three Prague politicians are underneath 24-hour law enforcement guard since of the alleged plot to poison them – promises categorically denied by Moscow.

“It is really quite tough,” explained Ondrej Kolar, mayor of Prague’s sixth district, talking to the BBC from an undisclosed area underneath weighty law enforcement guard.

“I haven’t viewed my young children for quite a lengthy time, and they have not found me. Even my relatives isn’t going to know wherever I am,” he told me by means of Skype, now his only signifies of communication with the outdoors globe.

I vaguely know Mr Kolar. We each when labored at New York University in Prague.

His dazzling blue cardboard backdrop, with the text “Prague 6 Municipal District”, seemed common. Then I remembered.

The last time we fulfilled was soon prior to a vote at Prague 6 district council to shift the bronze statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev. That Planet War Two commander was lots of factors, but historians concur he was not, as the plinth as soon as claimed, the “liberator of Prague”.

The statue was erected in 1980, but Konev was a controversial determine who oversaw the Soviets’ brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Rebellion and aided crush the Prague Spring of 1968.

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The statue of Marshal Konev was eradicated on 3 April for the duration of the lockdown

The Russian federal government has reacted angrily to the monument’s removing and has even threatened lawful motion.

Mayor Kolar was top the council assembly and I had to wait. I sat in an antechamber – underneath a large, vivid blue monitor. He experienced evidently taken the screen to his undisclosed hiding location.

“There are factors I are not able to comment on. But what I can say is that equally the Czech police and the key assistance do have some intel that there could be a threat immediately from the Russian side,” he advised me.

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President Putin is passionate about honouring Soviet wartime sacrifices

Echoes of a spy novel

The character of that menace, initial elucidated in a brief but explosive piece in the investigative Czech weekly Respekt, is straight out of a spy novel.

3 weeks in the past, claimed the publication, citing unnamed intelligence sources, a person travelling on a Russian diplomatic passport arrived at Prague airport carrying a suitcase made up of the fatal poison ricin.

According to the report, he was picked up by a vehicle bearing Russian diplomatic plates and taken to the Russian embassy, not considerably from Ondrej Kolar’s workplace in Prague 6.

Czech intelligence expert services, Respekt claimed, considered the guy to be a immediate threat to two metropolis politicians who had angered Moscow in modern months: Ondrej Kolar, and Zdenek Hrib, the capital’s mayor.

Mr Hrib recently oversaw the renaming of the spot in front of the Russian embassy as Boris Nemtsov Square, honouring a notable opponent of President Vladimir Putin murdered in 2015.

The next working day one more publication, Denik N, claimed a third critic of Moscow – local mayor Pavel Novotny – was also receiving law enforcement security.

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The Russian embassy modified its deal with to keep away from affiliation with Boris Nemtsov

Officials limited-lipped

The denials from Russia were swift and unequivocal. The report, said the embassy, experienced “absolutely no foundation”. Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the news report as “phony”.

Nor was there confirmation or a lot in the way of comment from Czech authorities.

A foreign ministry spokeswoman instructed the BBC they would “not remark on the leaks revealed in the media”, though she did verify that an accredited Russian diplomat experienced arrived at the airport, presumably on a person of the several flights even now working throughout the coronavirus lockdown.

As the jaw-dropping allegations flashed all-around the environment, prompting a mixture of outrage, disbelief and ridicule, journalists and diplomats started performing their phones. There was – there is – persistent scepticism, including amongst seasoned Russia-watchers.

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Mayor Hrib claims he is also under 24-hour police security now

Assassinating the mayor of a European cash would be tantamount to an act of war. It would be so counter-productive to the Kremlin it would be simply crazy.

And still.

From a supply inside of Czech counter-intelligence, there was… not confirmation exactly. But far from a denial. The media stories, the source informed me, were being grounded in factual info.

Ondrej Kolar is not getting any odds.

“We know what took place in the earlier with the Russian secret service and its agents attempting to poison Mr Skripal with a nerve agent,” he advised the BBC.

  • Russian spy: What transpired to the Skripals?

Russian previous spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter have been poisoned in Salisbury in 2018, by brokers assumed to have been sent by Russian intelligence.

“When they have the guts to do this in the United Kingdom, why not do it in Prague?”

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