NATO has expelled eight “undeclared intelligence officers” from the Russian delegation to the military alliance and halved the total size of Moscow’s representation, further deteriorating relations between the Western military and the Kremlin.
The decision would further reduce the maximum size of the Russian delegation at NATO headquarters in Brussels to just 10 diplomats, further damaging a communication channel created to increase dialogue and confidence between the Russian armed forces and the Western alliance.
“We have withdrawn the recognition of eight members of the Russian mission to NATO, who were undeclared Russian intelligence officers,” a NATO official said in a statement. The other two currently recognized vacancies will be revoked. This decision will take effect at the end of the month.
“We have strengthened our resistance and defense in response to Russia’s offensive, while at the same time we are open to a meaningful dialogue,” the official added.
But Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, said the move reflected recent NATO member states’ comments on easing tensions with Russia and re-establishing bilateral dialogue. “If anyone believes that these statements were sincere, no one does today. Everyone can understand their real purpose,” he told the Russian newspaper Kommersant.
Relations between the Kremlin and Western capitals have been strained since the Cold War after Moscow’s invasion and occupation of Crimea in 2014, allegations of Russian interference in Western elections and attempts to assassinate opposition activist Alexei Navalny, and subsequent imprisonment.
Tensions with NATO also escalated after Moscow’s decision in April this year to quickly deploy a large military force along the Ukrainian border and large-scale war games and defense exercises in Eastern Europe by Russian and NATO troops. .
The decision to withdraw NATO’s recognition follows a diplomatic expulsion this spring involving Russia and Western powers, where more than 150 ambassadors from both sides were sent home.
Some of these diplomats were expelled as alleged spies by Moscow or foreign capitals, others were expelled as an immediate response.
In 2018, in response to the assassination attempt on double agent Sergei Skripal in the UK, NATO first reduced the maximum size of the Russian delegation from 30 to 20 diplomats.
The Russian delegation to NATO was established in 1998 and was shown the NATO military liaison office in Moscow. When formal cooperation was suspended after the Crimean invasion, envoys were created to facilitate the exchange of information between Brussels and Moscow before 2014.
Moscow says NATO is increasing the deployment of troops and weapons near the Russian border in violation of an agreement between the two sides.
NATO says Russia’s military activities “make the Euro-Atlantic security environment less stable” and accuses Moscow of routine violations of member states’ airspace, cyber-attacks and propaganda.
Both sides claim, others are making weapons that are in violation of international agreements.