MOSCOW -- Russia's top diplomat on Thursday angrily dismissed media reports alleging a Russian plot to poison the mayor of Prague and another official in the Czech capital amid a tug-of-war over a Soviet military commander's statue.
Respekt weekly said in its latest edition published on Monday that Czech intelligence services suspected a Russian agent was sent to Prague three weeks ago to poison Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib and Prague 6 mayor Ondrej Kolar. The story was based on anonymous sources.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ridiculed the claims, saying that the notion that Czech authorities spotted a Russian man with powerful poison ricin and let him through doesn’t make any sense.
Czech officials didn’t comment, but Kolar said in a television interview Tuesday that he has been under police protection because of “some facts that have been found, the fact that there’s a Russian here whose goal is to liquidate me." He added that the alleged assassin was also targeting Hrib and Pavel Novotny, Prague’s Reporyje district mayor.
Lavrov scoffed at the allegations.
“They found a deadly poison and let him into the country?” he said at Thursday's briefing. “Would any sound person believe in these fabrications?”
Moscow and Prague have been at loggerheads for weeks after Kolar’s district removed the statue of Soviet World War II military commander Ivan Konev whose armies liberated Prague from Nazi occupation. Officials in Prague 6 said the statue will be moved to a museum and a new monument honoring the city’s liberation will be installed in its place.
The statue's removal caused outrage in Russia, which has angrily lashed out at any attempts to diminish the nation's decisive role in defeating the Nazis.
Lavrov charged Thursday that the Prague authorities' action violated a 1993 friendship treaty that carried a Czech pledge to protect memorials to Russian World War II heroes.
The controversy over the statue comes as Russia prepares to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nazis' defeat on May 9, the nation's most important holiday.