NATO is taking the extraordinary step of kicking out eight members of Russia’s delegation to the military alliance over allegations that those supposed diplomats were acting as spies for the Kremlin.
The officials, operating as representatives for Russia’s Mission to NATO, were actually undeclared Russian intelligence officers, a NATO official told The Daily Beast.
The officials must leave their posts by October 31.
The decision to remove the alleged spies from the alliance is in retaliation for Russia’s brazen activities in recent years, including conducting espionage and state-sanctioned killing operations, according to Sky News, which first reported the decision.
“NATO’s policy towards Russia remains consistent,” a NATO official said, declining to name a specific incident that triggered the expulsion. “We have strengthened our deterrence and defence in response to Russia’s aggressive actions, while at the same time we remain open for a meaningful dialogue.”
The U.S. Mission to NATO declined to comment on the reasons behind the expulsion, but confirmed the decision to The Daily Beast.
“It was based on intelligence, and we don’t discuss intelligence matters,” said Jeff Adler, a spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to NATO.
The alliance also reduced the number of Russian representatives that can receive accreditation from NATO from 20 to 10, the NATO official said.
The decision comes just two weeks after U.K. police charged a third Russian man for alleged involvement in the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former double agent, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, in Salisbury, England. The European Court of Human Rights also ruled in recent weeks that Russia was responsible for the 2006 poisoning of former intelligence officer Alexander V. Litvinenko.
NATO has taken action against Russian officials serving as representatives to the country’s NATO Mission in previous years following major international espionage scandals, including attempted murders.
Following the attempted poisoning of the Skripals, NATO cracked down on seven staff members accredited to the Russian Mission to NATO and blocked accreditation requests from several others. The overall mission was reduced from 30 to 20 at the time as well.
The decision to reduce Russia’s participation in NATO comes as countries around the world continue to work to thwart Russian espionage. Last year, Norway declared a Russian diplomat persona non grata for alleged connections to a case of spying in the country. And just months ago, the Biden administration expelled 10 Russian diplomats, including several intelligence operatives, from the U.S. following a flurry of hacking and espionage that affected hundreds of U.S. companies and federal government agencies. Poland also expelled several Russian diplomats in solidarity.
The Czech Republic, a NATO member, also expelled dozens of Russian diplomats earlier this year over suspicions that Russian intelligence services were involved in causing a deadly explosion at a military ammunition depot in the country. Romania followed suit and expelled a Russian diplomat over the incident as well.
The Kremlin typically responds tit-for-tat when other countries accuse Russian officials of spying for Moscow. Russia expelled U.S. diplomats in July in response to the Biden administration’s recent decision to remove Russian officials from the U.S.