The NATO expelled seven Russian diplomats operating in the representation in the Alliance and denied credentials three others were awaiting a response. This is the reaction of the political-military organization to the chemical attack that took place at the beginning of March in the English city of Salisbury and that has been attributed to Moscow. “Behaving in the way that Russia has done has costs and consequences,” the secretary general of the organization, Jens Stoltenberg, explained in a brief appearance on Tuesday.
Beyond specific expulsions, NATO has cut as it did in 2015 maximum size that the Russian representation can have before its headquarters. The current limit of 30 people goes to 20, a goal that will be achieved with the just announced expulsions. Stoltenberg has hinted that with this movement he hopes to impede the espionage activities that Russia can carry out in western soil: “Russia will be reduced its capacity to do intelligence work in the NATO countries”.
The announcement comes a day after more than half of the countries that make up that block the United States and a large part of the European Union announced coordinated expulsions of more than a hundred Russian diplomats. Although NATO was among the first organizations to condemn the Salisbury episode and endorsed British inquiries about Russian authorship from the beginning, it had not taken any concrete action so far. The diplomatic punishment to Moscow has been agreed after a meeting that Stoltenberg has held with the ambassadors of the 29 member countries of NATO.
The Alliance has long been suspicious of the work performed by Russian diplomats deployed in their environment. Just three years ago, the organization developed a rule that prevented foreign delegations in NATO has more than 30 accredited representatives. Curiously, the only legation that exceeded that number was Russia. The suspicion, never verbalized, was that these diplomats might be performing espionage functions.
After the illegal annexation of Crimea, the Alliance suspended all its practical cooperation with Russia, which ceased to be a partner as it had been since 1997. Then, the Brussels-based organization decided to impede the regular access of its diplomats to the building. Only four people (the ambassador, currently vacant position, his deputy and two assistants) can walk unattended through the allied building. The rest must be escorted. Unlike other NATO partner countries, which have offices in that headquarters, all Russian diplomats work permanently in offices far from allied headquarters.
Another European country has joined this Tuesday to the 14 that announced expulsions of Russian representatives yesterday. It is about Ireland Jena to NATO-, which will expel a person. With this latest contribution to the list, 16 of the 28 EU countries have already adopted retaliatory measures towards Russia. Added to this is the decision to expel Russian diplomatic personnel from Australia and Macedonia.
Diplomatic sources assure that this coordinated response has surprised the Kremlin. “Russia has underestimated the unity of the Alliance,” Stoltenberg said in Brussels. Initial doubts about whether Moscow supported the poisoning attempt of ex-spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury prevented rapid reactions, especially in the European Union. The intense persuasive work done by the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, in recent days has raised the level of response among its partners, both in the community club and in the ally.