Russia suspends diplomatic ties with NATO over espionage row

Banners displaying the NATO logo are placed at the entrance of the new NATO headquarters during the move to the new building, in Brussels, Belgium.

Russia said on Monday it would halt the activities of its diplomatic mission to NATO after the Western military alliance expelled eight Russians saying they were spies.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said staff at NATO’s military mission in Moscow would be stripped of their accreditation from November 1, and the alliance’s information office in the Russian capital would be shuttered.

“If NATO members have any urgent matters, they can contact our ambassador in Belgium on these questions,” Lavrov told a news conference.

NATO said on October 6 it had expelled eight members of Russia’s mission to the alliance who it said were “undeclared Russian intelligence officers”.

Moscow said at the time that the expulsions undermined hopes that relations with the U.S.-led alliance could normalise.

“NATO is not interested in equitable dialogue and joint work,” Lavrov said on Monday, announcing the closure of the Russian mission. “If that’s the case, then we don’t see the need to keep pretending that changes in the foreseeable future are possible.”

NATO said on Monday it had taken note of Russia’s decision.

“We regret these steps. NATO’s policy towards Russia remains consistent,” NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said. “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.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Russia no longer seemed willing to talk to the West.

“It’s more than just regrettable, this decision taken in Moscow,” he said. “It will seriously damage the relationship.”

Russia accuses NATO of provocative activity close to its borders, and staged major exercises of its own in September.

The alliance says it is determined to reinforce the security of member states close to Russia following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and its backing for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

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