Russia is deploying a new weapon in its ever-deteriorating relationship with the West: an “unfriendly states” list. The United States and the Czech Republic are the first countries to be included in the list – for which Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on April 13.
One consequence of the listing is that the US and Czech embassies in Moscow are forced to drastically reduce their staff by Russia order. As a result, the US diplomatic branch has been forced to suspend most consular services for its citizens and to drastically cease issuing visas for the US because it is short of staff.
Moscow accuses both countries of engaging in hostile activities against Russia. As far as the US is concerned, this mainly concerns the extra sanctions that Washington announced last month. Then, among others, ten Russian diplomats were expelled from the country. The punishment was in retaliation for what America sees as interference in the US elections and a massive cyber attack on dozens of US companies and organizations last year.
Russia paid back with equal money, sent home ten US embassy officials, and compiled a list of top US officials who are no longer welcome. Also, the US embassy in Moscow is no longer allowed to employ Russian personnel. The already miserable relationship between the countries continued to decline after Joe Biden became president of the US in January this year. Moscow blamed him deeply for agreeing in a television interview that he considers Russian President Vladimir Putin a “murderer.”
Tensions peaked in April when Russia gathered a significant force on the border of Ukraine, and the US sent warships to the Black Sea. The Czech Republic is on the list of unfriendly countries because of a diplomatic scandal that has been going on between Moscow and Prague for weeks. The Czech Republic and Russia deported dozens of employees of the Russian embassy back and forth in April after the Czech secret service declared that the Russian military intelligence service GROe was involved in an explosion of a weapons depot in the east of the Czech Republic in 2014. Two people were killed.
Czech President Milos Zeman, known as “Russia-friendly,” added fuel to the fire. He stated that he “had seen no evidence of Russia’s culpability for the attack.” Suddenly, Bulgaria also claimed that between 2011 and 2020 the Russians were behind a series of warehouse explosions, from which weapons are said to have been supplied to Georgia (which fought a short, lost war with Russia in 2008) and Ukraine (which has been fighting pro- Russian insurgents in the renegade eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk).