Published: 14:07, October 8, 2021 | Updated: 14:07, October 8, 2021
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NATO expels 8 'undeclared Russian intelligence officers'
By ​Ren Qi in Moscow

NATO says it has expelled eight members of Russia's mission to the alliance who were "undeclared Russian intelligence officers", and a Russian senior official has said his country will retaliate.

A NATO official giving the information said that "we can also confirm that we have reduced the number of positions which the Russian Federation can accredit to NATO to 10", down from 20 previously.

"We can confirm that we have withdrawn the accreditation of eight members of the Russian mission to NATO, who were undeclared Russian intelligence officers," Agence France-Presse quoted the official as saying, confirming information first reported by Sky News in Britain.

"NATO's policy toward Russia remains consistent," said the official, who did not want to be named. "We have strengthened our deterrence and defense in response to Russia's aggressive actions, while at the same time we remain open for a meaningful dialogue."

Sky News reported that NATO's decision came after information was revealed in April about the fatal explosions at a Czech ammunition depot in 2014 that Prague said involved two Russian spies, who were also identified as allegedly implicated in the poisoning of the Russian double agent Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018.

The decision on halving the Russian mission will take effect at the end of the month and is understood to have been approved by all 30 NATO member countries.

Observer mission

Russia has long had an observer mission to NATO as part of the NATO-Russia Council founded 20 years ago that was meant to promote collaboration in common security areas, but it is not a member of the alliance.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko accused NATO of duplicity and of using the idea of an alleged threat from Moscow as a boogeyman.

"The leaders of NATO yesterday spoke of the importance of de-escalating relations with Russia and spoke out in favor of a resumption in dialogue in the framework of the Russia-NATO Council," Grushko told the newspaper Kommersant.

"If anyone believed in the sincerity of those statements then today they don't. Their real worth is clear to all. After the dramatic end of the Afghan era, how can they get by without the boogeyman of the 'Russian threat'? They can't."

There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin. But Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the 7th Duma's international affairs committee, said Russia will retaliate.

"Such moves are reciprocal in the diplomatic practice. I have no doubt that the leadership of the Russian Foreign Ministry will suggest adequate response measures, not necessarily symmetrical," Slutsky said.