Czechs cancel Soviet-era decrees giving Russian embassy free land

Protest over Russian intelligence alleged involvement in 2014 ammunition depot explosion, in Prague

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government on Wednesday cancelled Soviet-era decrees that granted the Russian embassy free use of land in Prague and other cities, a further step in a more than two-year diplomatic spat with Moscow worsened by the war in Ukraine.

Prague had in 2021 accused Russian intelligence agents of being behind explosions at an arms depot in the Czech Republic in 2014, leading it to drastically reduce staff at the Russian embassy, then one of central Europe's biggest missions and which continues to operate at a greatly reduced capacity.

On Wednesday, the centre-right government rescinded orders granting Russia the use of dozens of plots of lands in the 1970s and 1980s by the country's then Communist rulers.

The Russian embassy in Prague did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Russia will now have to pay leases to use of the land, the foreign ministry said.

"We overturned government decisions taken under the barrels of Russian tanks after the occupation of our country," European Affairs Minister Martin Dvorak said on Twitter, referring the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion that tightened Communist rule in the country

"Unauthorised profits from the use of these land plots cannot be allowed to support the current occupation of Ukraine."

Prague has been a strong supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 2022 and has supplied it with military aid.

The Czech parliament designated "the current Russian regime as terrorist" in November. Last month, the government put the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, on its national sanctions list due to his support for the invasion.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Jason Hovet and John Stonestreet)