Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow was suspending its official mission to NATO from November 1 after the alliance expelled eight Russians in a row over spying.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks on the sidelines of the meeting dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the House of Russian Diaspora in this handout photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service in Moscow, Russia on October 18, 2021.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks on the sidelines of the meeting dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the House of Russian Diaspora in this handout photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service in Moscow, Russia on October 18, 2021. (AP)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Moscow was suspending its mission to NATO and closing the Western military bloc's liaison mission in Russia, in a new diplomatic row.

"We are suspending the work of our official mission to NATO, including the work of our military representative from November 1 or it could take a few more days," Lavrov told reporters on Monday.

Lavrov said that Russia would also be ending the alliance's liaison mission — established in 2002 and hosted at the Belgian embassy — and information office in Moscow.

The bloc's information office was established in Moscow in 2001 to improve understanding between NATO and Russia.

The dispute marks the latest deterioration in East-West ties that are already at post-Cold War lows.

Response to NATO expulsion

The latest row comes after NATO earlier this month stripped accreditations of eight members of the Russian mission to the alliance, describing them as "undeclared Russian intelligence officers".

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the time that the decision to kick out the Russian representatives was not "linked to any particular event" — but gave no more details over the move.

"As a result of NATO’s deliberate moves, we have practically no conditions for elementary diplomatic work and in response to NATO’s actions we suspend the work of our permanent mission to NATO, including the work of the chief military envoy, probably from November 1. Or it may take several more days,” Lavrov said.

He also said that contact between the Western alliance and Moscow could be done through the Russian embassy in Belgium.

Russia also accuses NATO of provocative activity close to its borders, and recently staged major exercises of its own.

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Strained relations

Russia has long had an observer mission to NATO as part of a two-decade-old NATO-Russia Council meant to promote cooperation in common security areas, but it is not a member of the US-led alliance.

NATO suspended practical cooperation with Russia in 2014 after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, but has kept channels open for high-level meetings and for military-to-military cooperation.

But the NATO-Russia Council, their preferred forum, has only met sporadically since then.

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

Russia and NATO also have been at odds over Moscow's nuclear missile development, aerial intrusions into NATO airspace and the buzzing of allied ships by fighter planes.

Official talks between them have been limited in recent years.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies