Russia closes NATO missions as ties plunge to new low

AFP , Monday 18 Oct 2021

Russia said Monday it was suspending its mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow, as relations with the Western military bloc plunged to new depths.

In this handout photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks on the side of the meeting dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the House of Russian Diaspora named after Alexander Solzhenitsyn in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. AP

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the moves after NATO expelled several members of Moscow's delegation to the alliance for alleged spying.

"Following certain measures taken by NATO, the basic conditions for common work no longer exist," Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

He said Moscow was suspending the work of its official mission to NATO in Brussels, including its military representative, from around November 1.

Russia was also shutting down the alliance's liaison mission in the Belgian embassy in Moscow, set up in 2002, and the NATO information office set up in 2001 to improve understanding between NATO and Russia.

"NATO has already greatly reduced its contacts with our mission," Lavrov said, saying the alliance is "not interested in dialogue and work as equals".

"We see no reason to pretend that any change is possible in the foreseeable future," he said.

Lavrov said that in case of urgent matters NATO could liaise via the Russian ambassador in Belgium.

The moves cut off years of efforts to improve ties between Moscow and NATO that followed the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

They come after NATO earlier this month stripped eight members of Moscow's mission to the alliance of their accreditation, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg calling them "undeclared Russian intelligence officers".

 'Malign activities'

"We have seen an increase in Russian malign activities, at least in Europe and therefore we need to act," Stoltenberg said at the time, describing the relationship between NATO and Russia as "at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War".

Russia had an observer mission to NATO as part of a two-decade-old NATO-Russia Council meant to promote cooperation in common security areas.

The Russian mission has been downsized before, when seven of its members were ejected after the 2018 Novichok poisoning of a Russian former double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in Britain.

Meetings of a NATO-Russia council have not been held since 2019 against the backdrop of the heightened tensions.

Russia's relationship with the West has been on a downward spiral since Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and support for pro-Russian separatists in the country's east.

Western nations have imposed a series of sanctions in recent years over Ukraine, alleged election interference, cyberattacks and the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Moscow in turn has accused the West of interfering in its elections and of supporting anti-Kremlin forces in countries like Ukraine and Georgia that Russia considers part of its traditional sphere of influence.

Lavrov's announcements came after US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Tbilisi on the first leg of a visit to three allies on the Black Sea -- Georgia, Ukraine and Romania -- aiming to deliver a message of support against threats from Russia.

NATO defence ministers, including Austin, will be in Brussels on Thursday and Friday for a series of meetings.

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