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Czech PM denies Novichok production

The Czech prime minister on Monday denied claims by the country’s pro-Russian president that it had produced Novichok, the substance Britain says was used to poison a former Russian spy on its soil.

“The Czech Republic has never produced, developed or stored any Novichok-type substance,” billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis tweeted, citing civilian and military intelligence reports.

President Milos Zeman, a veteran leftwinger known for his loyalty to the Kremlin, also cited a Czech intelligence report last week to claim that Prague had produced the Novichok nerve agent that was allegedly used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter in an English city in March.

The government of the Czech Republic, a NATO and EU member state, had in March rejected an allegation by Moscow that it had produced the poison.

On Monday, Babis’s office said in a statement that Prague had produced tiny amounts of Novichok A-230 in 2017 as part of a military programme aimed at protecting the army and civilians.

The Czech foreign ministry said last Friday this “micro-synthesis” process is not regarded as production under international agreements, and noted that the substance was immediately destroyed.

The statement said Zeman’s claims had resulted from a “misunderstanding”.

It also noted that the strain of Novichok used against the Skripals was A-234, not A-230.

Zeman had said “a paralytic poison marked A-230 was tested” in the Czech Republic last November.

He added that “Novichok was produced and tested here,” and that “it’s hypocrisy to pretend nothing like this has happened.”

The Kremlin had hailed Zeman’s comments as casting doubt on Britain’s assertion that Russia was behind the Skripals’ poisoning.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the Czechs “acted honestly and courageously, officially recognising and revealing this information.”

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said Zeman’s words highlighted the “inconsistency” of the British government’s claims.

But Czech politicians and analysts largely slammed Zeman for the statement, with some calling him “an agent of the Kremlin”.