The expulsion of the Russians was reported earlier by British Sky News, which said Moscow’s mission to the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels would be halved “in response to suspicious Russian activity, including killings and spying “.
NATO announced on Wednesday that it had withdrawn the accreditation of eight members of the Russian mission and reduced to 10 the number of positions that Moscow is able to accredit with NATO.
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, who were also identified as being allegedly involved in the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK.
Russia has a long-standing observer mission to NATO under the 20-year-old NATO-Russia Council aimed at promoting cooperation in common security areas, but it is not a member of the alliance led by the United States.
Reuters news agency was unable to immediately confirm the reasons given by Sky News for the reduction of the Russian delegation.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko accused NATO of duplicity and of using the idea of a suspected threat from Moscow as a bogeyman.
“NATO leaders spoke yesterday about the importance of de-escalating relations with Russia and called for a resumption of dialogue in the framework of the Russia-NATO Council,” Grushko told the Kommersant daily .
“If anyone believed the sincerity of these statements, today he does not believe it. Their real value is clear to all. After the dramatic end of the Afghan era, how can we do without the scarecrow of the “Russian threat”? They can not.
There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin.
The West’s ties with Russia remain strained over a range of issues -om Ukraine to alleged Russian interference in the elections and the 2018 poisoning with a highly toxic nerve agent of Skripal and his girl.
Since taking office in January, US President Joe Biden has taken a much firmer tone with Russia than his predecessor Donald Trump and urged his European NATO counterparts to take a similar approach.
The Interfax news agency quoted Leonid Slutsky, the head of the international affairs committee of the lower house of the Russian parliament, as saying that Moscow would retaliate, but not necessarily in kind.
Slutsky reportedly said the post of Russia’s envoy to the European Union is currently vacant and that NATO’s move will damage dialogue between Moscow and the West.
“The collective West continues its policy of diplomatic confrontation with Russia,” Slutsky said.
Russia accuses NATO of provocatively expanding its military infrastructure closer to its borders.
The alliance says it is determined to strengthen the security of member states close to Russia following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukrainian Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The explosions between the Czech Republic and Russia resulted in the mutual expulsion of dozens of European and Russian diplomats and other embassy staff.