The Russian Investigative Committee said that it will open a criminal case into the recent removal of a controversial statue of a Soviet World War II marshal in the Czech capital.
The committee said on April 10 it would investigate the alleged "defiling of symbols of Russia's military glory," which is punishable by a fine or community service. Although Russia has no legal jurisdiction in the Czech Republic, the symbolic case could further cool relations between the two countries.
"Our investigators believe that, by acting so cynically, the Prague municipal administration has brazenly violated obligations taken by the Czech Republic within the framework of Russian-Czech bilateral agreements and demonstrated a disdain of the shared memories and history of the Soviet people's fight against fascism," Investigative Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko said.
The Czech Foreign Ministry said it considered the Investigative Committee's action to be unwarranted meddling in Czech internal affairs.
"If Russian bodies continue with confrontational statements and actions in this spirit, it will be a sign they have lost interest in developing mutually beneficial relations between our countries," the ministry's statement said.
Prague municipal officials on April 3 removed a statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev, who led the Red Army troops that entered Prague in May 1945 after the city had been liberated from the Nazis by resistance forces.
The monument, which was erected by the communist Czechoslovak government in 1980, has long been controversial and has frequently been vandalized since the collapse of communism in 1989.
Konev also commanded the Soviet troops that suppressed the 1956 uprising in Hungary and that helped build the Berlin Wall. Some historians believe he played a role in planning the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He died in 1973.
Czech officials have said the Konev statue will be reinstalled at another location and that its previous site would host a new monument honoring the Prague resistance fighters who liberated the capital in the days before Konev's troops arrived.
Moscow has vehemently protested the removal of the statue.
On April 9, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu asked his Czech counterpart, Lubomir Metnar, to hand over the statue to Russia. Metnar refused, saying it belonged to the city of Prague.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has frequently criticized European countries of "rewriting history" by allegedly diminishing the role of the Soviet Union in the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Many Central European countries counter that Putin has downplayed the crimes of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and the consequences of the post-war Soviet occupation of the region.