Russia will suspend the activities of its diplomatic mission to NATO and close the alliance’s offices in Moscow in response to its expulsion of eight Russians in a row over spying.
The moves, announced on Monday by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, are set to plunge relations between Moscow and the transatlantic security body to new depths when they take effect at the start of next month.
“Following certain measures taken by NATO, the basic conditions for common work no longer exist,” Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.
“In response to NATO’s activities, we suspend the work of our permanent mission to NATO, including the work of the chief military representative, starting from November 1, or maybe it will take a couple more days,” he said.
Lavrov also announced that NATO’s military liaison and information offices in Moscow would be closed, saying accreditations would be recalled at the beginning of November.
He said that contact between the Western alliance and Moscow could be done through the Russian embassy in Belgium.
NATO said it had taken note of Lavrov’s comments but had received no official communication on the issues raised.
Earlier this month, NATO expelled eight members of Russia’s mission to the alliance who it said were “undeclared Russian intelligence officers”, meaning spies. It also halved the number of positions that Russia can accredit to the alliance, to 10.
Moscow said at the time that the expulsions undermined hopes that relations with the United States-led alliance could normalise.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meanwhile said the expulsions were not linked to a particular event, but claimed the eight individuals’ activities were not in line with their accreditations.
He said NATO needed to be vigilant in the face of “malign” Russian activity and described relations with Moscow as at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
Stoltenberg cited Russia’s military build-up along Ukraine’s border and what he said were violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty as evidence of “aggressive actions”.
Years of tension
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.
However, the council has been largely non-functioning since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Since then, Russia has repeatedly accused NATO of provocatively expanding its military infrastructure closer to its borders.
The alliance, for its part, has said it is determined to reinforce the security of member states close to Russia following the annexation of Crimea but has kept channels open for high-level meetings and for military-to-military cooperation.
Official talks between the two sides have been limited in recent years.