NATO has expelled dozens of suspected Russian spies from its Brussels headquarters. The military alliance has re-established hotlines to the Kremlin and Russian general staff in Moscow. The revival of Cold War-style hotlines is aimed at reducing the chances of military confrontation as the relationship between Western countries and Russia has soured over the Ukraine crisis.
Russia only country affected by NATO’s new ruling
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with the Guardian that reviving direct contacts was necessary to avoid misunderstandings and reduce risk. Over the past few months, Russian fighter jets have been intercepted over the Baltic, Black and Norwegian seas. Without a direct contact, it could lead to miscalculations and confrontation.
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However, NATO has kicked dozens of Russian spies from its headquarters, and is currently emptying offices of Russian officers and diplomats. In March, Sweden had accused Russia of conducting espionage operations using its diplomatic staff as spies. Last month, NATO decided to limit the size of delegation from non-NATO member states at its Brussels headquarters to 30. Russia is the only country affected by the new ruling.
NATO officials told the Guardian that almost half of Russian diplomats in Brussels were working for their intelligence agencies. Moscow said it had 37 diplomats and officials at NATO headquarters. But sources within the Western military alliance put the figure at 90. Stoltenberg denied that the measure was targeted specifically at Russia.
The ruling was aimed at Russia
But senior officials admitted that the ruling was directly aimed at reducing Moscow’s spying activities at NATO headquarters. Now only four Russian officials will be allowed to move unescorted at the offices. That includes Russian ambassador to NATO, his deputy, his driver, and his secretary. Stoltenberg also accused Russia of providing military and financial support to separatists in Ukraine.
Last month, Russia was rattled when the U.S. and Ukraine started joint military exercises to strengthen Ukraine’s defenses against Russian-backed rebels. Kremlin warned that such exercises could potentially destabilize the region.