Six years after the blast in Vrbetice, the Czech authorities are suddenly pointing the finger at Moscow, although the country’s security services have never had any proof of Russia’s involvement. What’s behind the sudden change of heart and narrative, and who benefits from the Russo-Czech spat?
Czech government officials appear divided over the alleged reasons behind the 2014 Vrbetice explosions: speaking to Novinky.cz on 29 April, Justice Minister Marie Benesova said that there are several versions of the incident, adding that her opinion is “very close to that” of President Milos Zeman.
Earlier, Zeman cast doubt on Prime Minister Andrej Babis’ claims of Russia’s secret services being behind the blasts. In last Sunday’s televised address, President Zeman emphasised that the Czech Republic’s Security Information Service had never before mentioned Russia’s involvement in the Vrbetice incident over the past six years.
Vrbetice Incident Abruptly Emerges After Six Years
“For the last six years the Czech police and investigations have considered it to be a case of ‘reckless endangerment’ by the private company, the Imex Group, that was storing the munitions owned by a shady Bulgarian arms dealer in less than perfect conditions,” says Mark Sleboda, a US military veteran and international affairs and security analyst.
According to the analyst, Babis, who is now suddenly blaming Russian agents for the arms depot explosions used to accuse the company that was storing the ammunition, the Imex Group. After the explosion Babis – then a finance minister – stated on public Czech Television (CT) that Imex had been mired in controversy exporting arms to Congo, regardless of embargos, and selling ammo to Bulgaria – where it also caused an explosion.
The Imex Group took the Czech state to court over Babis releasing and distorting confidential information from the investigation which harmed the firm’s reputation, but to no avail.
Meanwhile, the conditions at the arms depot indicated that they had been extremely shoddy and hazardous, Sleboda highlights.
“Czech academic research into the Vrbetice arms depot has uncovered that old WWI and WWII-era munitions were also housed on the site, that there were holes in the fencing around the site from logging and vandalism in the ammunition warehouse area,” he says. “There also appears to have been no security control or documents check to access the area in place.”
Given all the evidence of unsafe conditions at the depot and controversy surrounding the firm leasing it, the question is – why has the Czech government decided to suddenly blame Russian intelligence services for blowing up the munitions now? asks Sleboda.