Russia deems U.S., Czech Republic 'unfriendly', limits embassy hires


FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russia April 21, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian government said on Friday it had officially deemed the United States and the Czech Republic "unfriendly" states, and that U.S. diplomatic missions could no longer employ local staff while Czech missions could employ a maximum of 19.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law last month to limit the number of local staff working at foreign diplomatic missions and other agencies, and ordered the government to draw up a list of "unfriendly" states that will be subject to the restrictions.

Relations between Russia and the Czechs were badly hit last month when the Czechs accused Russian military intelligence of being behind a 2014 blast at an ammunition depot, and expelled dozens of Russian diplomats.

Russia rejected the allegations and retaliated by expelling Czech diplomats, and also ordered the Czechs to let go the majority of their local employees in Moscow, many of whom have staffed a Czech hospitality and business centre in the city.

The Czech Foreign Ministry said on Friday the Russian decision was at odds with an international agreement committing countries to enable orderly functioning of diplomatic missions.

The Czechs saw the action by the Russian federation as a further escalation of the row between the two countries, the ministry said in a statement.

(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka in Prague; Editing by Catherine Evans and Rosalba O'Brien)

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