Writing on Twitter, Sky News defence and security expert Deborah Haynes said: “NATO has decided to halve the size of Russia’s mission to the alliance.” The security editor went on to say that the move was “in response to suspected malign Russian activities, including killings and espionage. Eight diplomats, thought to be undeclared intelligence officers, will be asked to leave and two other positions scrapped.”
An unnamed NATO official said of the incident: “We can also confirm that we have reduced the number of positions which the Russian Federation can accredit to NATO to 10.”
The official went on to say: “NATO’s policy towards Russia remains consistent. 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.”
Many have questioned the ongoing need for NATO since the end of the Cold War, with former US President Donald Trump making the point of openly criticising the funding of NATO, which he claimed was a top heavy burden for the United States.
NATO members are expected to contribute 2 percent of their GDP to the alliance, rarely do any of the member states meet this target.
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It is highly unusual for diplomats to be expelled from their mission, and like-for-like expulsions are the standard response to such actions.
Speaking of the ties between Russia and the alliance, a NATO-Russia Council official added to the possibility of a restoration of ties.
“NATO proposed to hold another meeting of the NATO-Russia Council over 18 months ago, and that proposal stands. The ball is in Russia’s court,” said the unnamed official.
The chairman of the Russian foreign affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament dismissed the accusation against the Russian diplomats, citing they were “baseless”, and warned of “asymmetric” retaliatory measures.
Although NATO was built to stand against the Soviet threat following the end of World War 2, and throughout the Cold War, diplomats have been exchanged in order to facilitate communication between both parties.
This practice continued following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the birth of the Russian Federation.
Ties between NATO and Russia diminished following the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
Tension was further increased when NATO began the installation of a missile defence system in Eastern Europe, as well as building up NATO forces on the Eastern front of Europe, in particular in Poland.
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Recent geo-political events has seen NATO priorities shift East as tension mounts in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific region.
New focus could well focus on China, as well as in West Asia.
However, NATO is facing competition from splinter groups such as the recent example in which the USA, UK and Australia formed an alliance commonly known as AUKUS.
Responding to the notion that some countries are seeking to form new alliances, NATO Secretary General, Jen Stoltenberg warned at a conference in Washington DC: “Any attempt to try and weaken the transatlantic bond by creating alternative structures, conveying the idea that we can go it alone, will not only weaken NATO, but it will divide.”
With the seeds of division already sown by former President Donald Trump’s actions, could the future of NATO, much like the Russian mission to the alliance, also be downsizing in the near future?