NATO will expel seven Russian diplomats and reduce the maximum size of Moscow’s permanent mission to the alliance in response to the nerve agent attack this month in the United Kingdom, the alliance announced Tuesday.
“It sends a very clear message that it has costs,” NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
The move comes one day after the United States announced that it will expel 60 Russian diplomats suspected of espionage. Washington also ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle in connection with suspicions that it was used as a hub for spying on a nearby nuclear submarine base.
In all, about 140 Russian diplomats have been expelled from more than 25 countries since the March 4 attack in Salisbury, where a military grade nerve agent was used in an attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. They remain in critical condition.
Russian has denied involvement and has vowed counter measures in response to the various diplomatic expulsions, which Moscow has largely blamed on Washington.
“This is the result of colossal pressure, colossal blackmail which is the main instrument of Washington on the international arena,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday. “We’ll respond, have no doubt.”
NATO reached its decision after intensive deliberations at alliance headquarters, where leaders have convened on several occasions with representatives from the U.K.
In addition to the expulsion of seven Russian diplomats, NATO has withdrawn three pending accreditation requests and has reduced the overall size of the Russian mission to NATO from 30 to 20.
“This sends a clear message to Russia that there are costs and consequences for its unacceptable and dangerous pattern of behavior,” Stoltenberg said.
For the West, Russia’s alleged involvement in the attack in Britain has unified allies, analysts say. At a time when Europe has been wary about the Trump administration and the U.S. commitment to NATO, the alliance and the European Union appear to be in unison regarding the need for a tougher stance against Moscow in connection with the nerve agent attack.
“It appears Moscow misjudged the strong international condemnation to its attempt to murder a former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter,” wrote the Soufan Group security firm Tuesday. “In fact, NATO and the EU publicly moved closer on this issue than on any other in recent years.”
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