European officials say NATO is expelling eight Russian diplomats and plans to halve the size of Russia’s observer mission in the Western Alliance in response to alleged malicious Russian espionage activities in Europe, including assassinations, attempted assassinations and explosions are involved.
Diplomats have been asked to leave Brussels by the end of this month. NATO officials told the VOA that the two other Russian diplomatic slots currently vacant at NATO headquarters would not be allowed to be filled.
The stripping of the recognition of eight Russian diplomats, first reported by Britain’s Sky News, was swiftly condemned by Russian lawmakers. The lawmakers said the Kremlin would retaliate, though not necessarily with a tit-for-tat-like round of expulsion of Western diplomats based in Moscow, setting the stage for a further deterioration in relations between Western countries and Russia, which had been fighting the Cold War. reminds me of.
“We have reduced the number of positions that the Russian Federation can recognize to NATO,” a NATO official said on Wednesday, down from 20 previously. The official described the targeted diplomats as “undeclared Russian intelligence officers”.
“In response to Russia’s aggressive actions, we have strengthened our deterrence and defense, and we are ready for a fruitful dialogue,” he said.
NATO’s action came a day after Democratic and Republican senators in Washington on Wednesday urged US President Joe Biden to expel 300 Russian diplomats from the United States if Moscow would allow Americans to represent the US in Russia and Refuses to issue visa. There are only about 100 US diplomats stationed in Russia, compared to 400 Russian diplomats located across the United States, the senators said.
“This disparity in diplomatic representation is unacceptable. Accordingly, Russia should issue enough visas to equalize the number of American diplomats serving in Russia and the number of Russian diplomats serving in the United States,” the senators wrote in a letter to Biden.
All 30 NATO member states approved the decision to halve Russia’s observer mission, which was set up two decades ago to help promote dialogue and cooperation in common security areas. Russian diplomats based in Brussels are to meet with their Western counterparts at a forum known as the NATO-Russia Council, although there has been no formal action for months.
This is not the first time that NATO has expelled Russian diplomats based at the coalition’s headquarters. Seven Russian diplomats were expelled in England in 2018 after poisoning by Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer who was exonerated in Britain, and his daughter. The Kremlin denied any involvement in the assassination attempt, but Britain has identified Russian intelligence officials it says were behind the poisoning.
Last month, Britain’s Metropolitan Police charged a third suspect, Denis Sergeev, of poisoning an officer of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.
In April, Czech authorities said that two of the Russian agents allegedly involved in Skripal poisoning were behind a fatal explosion at a Czech ammunition depot in 2014 that killed two people. Czech officials told local media that Russia had planned the explosion to stop the supply of weapons to Ukraine via Bulgaria. The Czech government subsequently expelled 18 Russian diplomats, and the Kremlin responded by ordering 20 Czech diplomats to leave Russia.
A British official told the VOA that the Czechs have since been urging NATO to reduce the Russian mission in Brussels.
The NATO-Russia Council has hardly been functioning in recent years, largely due to the escalating disputes and escalating tensions between the Western powers and the Kremlin, Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, and support extended to pro-Moscow separatists in the East. started from Donbas region of Ukraine.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, on Thursday accused NATO of being responsible for the deterioration of relations.
“NATO leaders spoke yesterday about the importance of de-escalating relations with Russia and in favor of resuming dialogue within the framework of the Russia-NATO Council,” he told Russia’s Kommersant daily newspaper .
“If one believes in the sincerity of those statements today they do not. Their true value is clear to all. After the dramatic end of the Afghan era, how can they proceed without the swamp of the ‘Russian threat’. They can’t, ”said Grushko.
Leonid Slutsky, a Russian lawmaker and chairman of the Duma’s international affairs committee, told Interfax news agency that the NATO move would hurt dialogue between Moscow and the West and added that he expected the Kremlin to respond with “asymmetric” measures. Will give “The Collective West continues its policy of diplomatic confrontation with Russia,” he said.
Some information from Reuters was used for this report