NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the alliance must act against the rise in Russian “malicious activity” after it expelled members of the Moscow delegation for suspected espionage.
“The decision to withdraw the accreditation of eight members of the Russian delegation to NATO was taken on the basis of intelligence because they are undeclared Russian intelligence officers,” Stoltenberg said.
“We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity, at least in Europe and therefore we must act.”
The NATO chief said the decision to expel Russian representatives was “unrelated to any particular event” – but gave no further details on the decision.
NATO announced on Wednesday that it had decided to withdraw “undeclared Russian intelligence officers” from their official accreditation to the alliance and to halve the size of the Russian delegation to 10.
Stoltenberg reiterated that “the relationship between NATO and Russia is at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War. And it is because of Russian behavior.”
Ties between the West and Moscow have collapsed in recent years since the annexation of Crimea by the Kremlin in 2014 and its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has long had an observer mission to NATO as part of a two-decade NATO-Russia Council to promote cooperation in common security areas, but it is not a member of the Russian Federation. ‘United States-led Alliance.
The Russian mission has already been reduced once, when seven of its members were ejected after the 2018 poisoning by the nerve agent Novichok on a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in Britain. Requests for accreditation from three other Russian diplomats were refused.
Meetings of a NATO-Russia council have not taken place since 2019 amid heightened tensions.
“We are ready to engage in a constructive dialogue with Russia, and we are also ready to convene a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council,” said Stoltenberg.
“We actually invited Russia for a long time. So far Russia has not responded positively.”
Sky News reported that the NATO decision came after information came to light in April about deadly explosions at a Czech ammunition depot in 2014 which Prague said involved two Russian spies – identified as allegedly involved in the poisoning of Skripal.
This incident between the Czech Republic and Russia led to the mutual expulsion of dozens of European and Russian diplomats and other embassy staff.