NATO to Expel Eight Russian Diplomats Over Alleged Malign Activities
The decision comes just a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged the alliance to maintain relations with Russia to avoid another cold war or a new arms race.
NATO has decided to expel eight Russian diplomats, halving the size of Russia's mission to the alliance in response to alleged malign activities, a spokesperson for the alliance has confirmed to Sputnik.
Sky News' security and defence editor Deborah Haynes was the one to break the story.
According to Haynes, the eight diplomats in question are "thought to be undeclared intelligence officers" and are expected to leave Brussels by the end of October. NATO will also abolish posts of two other diplomats, according to the reporter.
"We can confirm that we have withdrawn the accreditation of eight members of the Russian Mission to NATO, who were undeclared Russian intelligence officers. We can also confirm that we have reduced the number of positions which the Russian Federation can accredit to NATO to 10. NATO's policy towards Russia remains consistent. We have strengthened our deterrence and defence in response to Russia's aggressive actions, while at the same time we remain open for a meaningful dialogue", Haynes cited a source in the alliance as saying.
Back in 2018, NATO ousted seven staffers from the Russian mission after former Russian intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter were alleged to have been poisoned in the UK. London claimed that the duo were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent, called Novichok, and maintained that it was "highly likely" Moscow was responsible for the incident.
At the time, Stoltenberg said that Russia would still have a diplomatic mission of 20 people at alliance headquarters in Brussels, which would allow Russia to keep essential contacts with NATO members.
Russia has consistently denied "baseless" accusations and demanded access to the case's evidence, including the nerve gas purportedly used to target the Skripals. The request has been repeatedly denied by London.
Despite the fact that the UK police inquiry into the incident was still underway, some 20 European states, the US and several non-EU allies, joined London in its accusations against Moscow and expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in a coordinated move. Shortly afterwards, Russia retaliated by ousting dozens of European and American diplomats from the country.
Stoltenberg Urges Interaction With Russia
The news comes just a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on allies to engage with Russia to avoid another cold war or a new arms race.
"We have to talk to Russia because we don't want a new Cold War. We don't want a new arms race and Russia is our neighbour so we need to engage with them," the NATO chief stated during his two-day visit to Washington on Tuesday.
At the same time, Stoltenberg emphasised that the alliance would stick to its dual track approach toward Moscow that is based on deterrence and dialogue.
While stressing that NATO had made significant progress in adapting to what he described as a more "assertive Russia", he pointed out that relations with Moscow are at the lowest level since the Cold War.
It was revealed earlier this week that Stoltenberg had also extended an invitation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to revive the NATO-Russia dialogue. The suggestion was made during a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, according to a Russian lawmaker, who attended it as part of the Russian delegation.
"Stoltenberg.... said that it was, after all, necessary to restore the Russia-NATO format, [and] we were already too tired of the confrontation," senior Russian lawmaker Grigory Karasin said at a meeting of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs on Monday.
For his part, Lavrov suggested reaching agreements on specific issues to avoid going through years of empty talk, with the West accusing Russia of "terrible sins", the lawmaker added.
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