MOSCOW (AP) — Russia on Monday suspended its mission at NATO and ordered the closure of the alliance’s office in Moscow in retaliation for NATO’s expulsion of Russian diplomats.
NATO withdrew eight Russian diplomats’ accreditation to Brussels earlier this month. It claimed that they had been working secretly as Russian intelligence officers. NATO also halved the size of Moscow’s team at its headquarters from 20 to 10.
Moscow dismissed these accusations as unfounded. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered Moscow’s response Monday, announcing the suspension of Russia’s mission at NATO and the closure of the alliance’s military liaison and information offices in the Russian capital.
He charged that the alliance’s action has confirmed that “NATO isn’t interested in any kind of equal dialogue or joint work,” adding that “we don’t see any need to keep pretending that there could be any shift in the foreseeable future.”
Lavrov said that contact between Russia and the Western military alliance could be kept through the Russian Embassy located in Belgium.
“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, probably from Nov. 1. Or it may take several more days,” Lavrov said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement that NATO’s actions “confirm that they are not interested in an equal dialogue and joint work to deescalate military-political tensions.”
“The alliance’s line towards our country is becoming more and more aggressive,” the ministry noted. “The ‘Russian threat’ is inflated in order to strengthen the internal unity of the alliance, to create the appearance of its ‘relevance’ in modern geopolitical conditions.”
NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said: “We regret these steps. NATO’s policy towards Russia remains consistent. We have strengthened our deterrence and defense in response to Russia’s aggressive actions, while at the same time we remain open to dialogue, including through the NATO-Russia Council.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Luxembourg that “this decision taken in Moscow will further prolong the difficult situation we’re in, this frosty period that’s been going on for some time,” adding that “this will put a further serious strain on relations.”
“Germany has repeatedly pushed for dialogue with Russia within NATO over the past years,” Maas noted. “We have to recognize once more, that Russia apparently no longer is. That is more than regrettable.”
The Russian mission isn’t based at NATO’s headquarters, but in a leafy neighborhood in the south of the Belgian capital, Brussels.
NATO suspended practical cooperation with Russia in 2014 after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, but has kept channels open for high-level meetings and for military-to-military cooperation. However, the NATO-Russia Council is their preferred forum and has met only sporadically in recent years.
Moscow expressed concern over NATO’s deployment near Russian borders. It described it as a security threat amid tensions in relations. Russia and the NATO also blame each other for destabilizing military exercise near borders.
This report was contributed by ___ Raf Cassart in Brussels, and Vladimir Isachenkov from Moscow.