Russia closes Nato missions as ties plunge to new low

Published October 19, 2021
Banners displaying the Nato logo are placed at the entrance of new Nato headquarters during the move to the new building, in Brussels, Belgium, April 19, 2018. — Reuters/File
Banners displaying the Nato logo are placed at the entrance of new Nato headquarters during the move to the new building, in Brussels, Belgium, April 19, 2018. — Reuters/File

MOSCOW: Russia said on 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.

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, adding that 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.” Lavrov said that in case of urgent matters Nato could liaise via the Russian ambassador in Belgium.

Nato spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said the alliance had noted Lavrov’s comments but had not received “official communication on the issues he raised.” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the announcement as “more than regrettable” and said it would prolong “icy relations” between Russia and Nato.

“We are ready for dialogue, but must realise that this is no longer the case with Moscow,” Maas told journalists in Luxembourg.

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

They come after Nato earlier this month stripped eight members of Russia’s mission to the alliance of their accreditation, with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg calling them “undeclared Russian intelligence officers”.

“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.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2021

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