The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expelled eight members of Russia’s mission to the military alliance on Wednesday after determining the members were working as alleged spies.
“We can confirm that we have withdrawn the accreditation of eight members of the Russian Mission to NATO, who were undeclared Russian intelligence officers,” a NATO official told the Associated Press under a customary condition of anonymity for the organization.
In addition to expelling the eight suspected Russian intelligence officers, NATO also halved the size of Russia’s mission to the alliance, reducing the number of Russian mission members it will accredit from 20 down to 10. The downsizing of the Russia mission will go into effect at the end of the month.
In response to the expulsions, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s state-run TASS news agency the move by NATO harms efforts to normalize relations between Russia and the western nations involved in the alliance.
“There is a glaring discrepancy between NATO officials’ statements about their wish to normalize relations with our country and real actions,” Peskov said. “These actions, of course, leave no room for illusions regarding the normalization of relations and the resumption of the dialogue with NATO. These prospects are rather completely upset.”
Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the Committee on International Affairs in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, also dismissed the accusations of Russian spying as baseless and claimed NATO’s move would only further strain NATO-Russia ties.
Relations between NATO and Russia have been particularly strained since the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Russia also recently deployed tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border and has frustrated NATO on other matters such as its nuclear missile development, military flights near NATO airspace and stalking NATO-allied ships with its fighter jets.
“NATO’s policy towards Russia remains consistent,” the NATO official told the Associated Press. “We have strengthened our deterrence and defense in response to Russia’s aggressive actions, while at the same time we remain open for a meaningful dialogue.”
Efforts to start talks at the NATO-Russia Council, which serves as the main forum for dialogue between the alliance and Russia, have also stalled.
“NATO proposed to hold another meeting of the NATO-Russia Council over 18 months ago, and that proposal stands. The ball is in Russia’s court,” the NATO official said.