Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday (Oct. 18) that his country is suspending its mission to NATO. In addition, staff at NATO’s office in Moscow will be stripped of their accreditation by November 1.
It comes after NATO expelled eight Russian staff at the military alliance’s mission last week, saying they were working as intelligence officers.
It also halved the number of positions that Russia can accredit to the alliance, to 10.
The expulsions meant that half of the Moscow team were prohibited from working at NATO’s Brussels headquarters.
“As a result of NATO’s deliberate moves, we have practically no conditions for elementary diplomatic work and in response to NATO’s actions we suspend the work of our permanent mission to NATO, including the work of the chief military envoy,” said Russia’s top diplomat.
Mr Lavrov complained that the military alliance is not “interested in equitable dialogue”.
“The alliance’s line towards our country is becoming more and more aggressive. The ‘Russian threat’ is inflated, including in order to strengthen the internal unity of the alliance, to create the appearance of its ‘relevance’ in modern geopolitical conditions.”
He also said that in case of urgent matters NATO could liaise via the Russian ambassador in Belgium.
“We regret these steps,” Nato spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. “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 to dialogue, including through the Nato-Russia council”.
The dispute marks the latest deterioration in East-West ties that are already at post-Cold War lows.
Russia is not a NATO member, but has long had an observer mission to the alliance as part of a two-decade-old NATO-Russia Council meant to promote cooperation in common security areas.
Official talks between the two sides have been limited in recent years.
Moscow has repeatedly voiced concerns over the deployment of NATO forces near Russian borders, describing it as a threat to its security. Russia and the alliance also have blamed each other for conducting destabilizing military exercises near the borders.
Russia accuses NATO of provocative activity close to its borders, and staged major exercises of its own in September.
Jamie Shea, former Deputy Assistant Secretary-General of NATO, told Euronews that Russia’s decision was “not a dramatic move.”
“After NATO announced last week that it was expelling eight Russian diplomats from the missions … I expected Sergei Lavrov to retaliate.”
“But this is not the end of the diplomatic or military relationship as such,” Shea added.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, Politico, Euronews