NATO has expelled eight members of Russia’s mission to the alliance, marking further deterioration of ties between the Western nations and Russia.
NATO said that it had withdrawn the accreditation of eight members of the Russian mission on Wednesday. It said that it had also reduced the number of positions Moscow is able to accredit to the alliance to 10.
A NATO official said that the expelled personnel were “undeclared Russian intelligence officers”.
British media had reported the eviction of the Russians before the official confirmation. The reports said that the Russian mission to the NATO headquarters in Brussels would be halved. The reports said that move was “in response to suspected malign Russian activities, including killings and espionage”.
NATO’s decision is said to be based on the April revelations regarding the 2014 Czech ammunition depot explosions. Prague claimed that the explosions involved two Russian spies. The same agents were also allegedly implicated in the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK.
While the expulsion of the Russian agents has been confirmed, the reasons cited in reports for the reduction of the Russian delegation are yet to be verified.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko accused NATO of duplicity. Grushko slammed Brussels for using the idea of an alleged threat from Moscow as a bogeyman.
Talking to a Russian daily newspaper, Grushko said, “The leaders of NATO yesterday spoke of the importance of de-escalating relations with Russia and spoke out in favour of a resumption in dialogue in the framework of the Russia-NATO Council.”
He said, “If anyone believed in the sincerity of those statements then today, they don’t. Their real worth is clear to all. After the dramatic end of the Afghan era, how can they get by without the bogeyman of the ‘Russian threat.’ They can’t.”
While Russia is not a member of the US-led alliance, it has long had an observer mission to NATO as part of the NATO-Russia Council founded 20 years ago. The main aim of the collaboration was to promote cooperation in mutual security areas.
The uneasy relations
The West’s ties with Russia have turned rather sour in recent years over a range of issues. The major contentions remain over Crimean annexation, the alleged Russian meddling in the US election, and the 2018 poisoning with a highly toxic nerve agent of Skripal and his daughter.
Since his swearing-in, US President Joe Biden has taken a much stiffer tone with Russia than his former US President Donald Trump. Biden has urged his European counterparts in the NATO alliance to take a similar path.
Will Russia retaliate?
Moscow-based Interfax news agency published comments by the Russian MP Leonid Slutsky – who is the head of the Russian lower house of parliament’s international affairs committee. Interfax quoted Slutsky saying that Russia will retaliate, but not necessarily in kind.
Interfax cited Slutsky as saying that NATO’s move would damage dialogue between Russia and the West.
Slutsky said, “The collective West is continuing its policy of diplomatic confrontation with Russia.”
Russia has also repeatedly accused NATO of provoking Moscow by expanding its military infrastructure closer to its borders. In response, NATO maintains that it is committed to reinforcing the security of the alliance member states close to Russia, citing the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and alleged Russian backing for separatists in eastern Ukraine.