NATO has expelled eight “undeclared intelligence officers” from the Russian delegation to the military alliance and halved the total size of Moscow’s representation, which will further deteriorate relations between the Western military and the Kremlin.
The decision will reduce the maximum size of the Russian delegation at NATO headquarters in Brussels to just 10 diplomats, further eroding a channel of communication designed to promote dialogue and confidence-building between the Russian armed forces and the Western alliance. .
“We have withdrawn the accreditation of eight members of the Russian mission to NATO, who were undeclared Russian intelligence officers,” a NATO official said in a statement. Two other accreditations, currently vacant, will be withdrawn. The decision will take effect at the end of the month.
“We have stepped up our deterrence and defense in response to aggressive Russian actions, while remaining open to constructive dialogue,” the official added.
But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said the move implied that recent comments by NATO member states in favor of de-escalating tensions with Russia and re-establishing bilateral dialogue were bluff. “If anyone believed these statements to be true, today no one believes them. Everyone understands their real purpose, ”he told Russian newspaper Kommersant.
Relations between the Kremlin and Western capitals are at post-Cold War lows following Moscow’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, allegations of Russian interference in Western elections, and the attempt to assassination and subsequent imprisonment of opposition activist Alexei Navalny.
Tensions with NATO have also increased this year due to a decision by Moscow to quickly deploy a large military force to Ukraine’s border in April, and after large-scale war games and defense exercises. carried out this summer in Eastern Europe by Russian and NATO troops. .
NATO’s decision to withdraw the accreditations follows a wave of diplomatic expulsions involving Russia and Western powers this spring, where more than 150 envoys from both sides were sent home within a fortnight.
Some of these diplomats were kicked out by Moscow or foreign capitals as suspected spies, while others were kicked out in unspoken responses.
NATO first reduced the maximum size of the Russian delegation from 30 to 20 diplomats in response to the attempted assassination of double agent Sergei Skripal in the UK in 2018.
The Russian Delegation to NATO was established in 1998 and reflects a NATO Military Liaison Office in Moscow. The respective envoys were designed to facilitate information sharing between Brussels and Moscow before 2014, when formal cooperation was suspended following the invasion of Crimea.
Moscow says NATO is increasing its deployment of troops and weapons near Russia’s borders, in violation of an agreement between the two sides.
NATO says Russia’s military activities “continue to make the Euro-Atlantic security environment less stable,” and accuses Moscow of regular violations of member states’ airspace, cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns.
Both sides claim that the other is developing weapons that violate international treaties.