9 October 2021
On 6 October NATO announced that it would be expelling eight members of Russia's mission to NATO in Brussels at the end of the month, saying they were secretly working as intelligence officers. "We can confirm that we have withdrawn the accreditation of eight members of the Russian Mission to NATO, who were undeclared Russian intelligence officers," an anonymous NATO official said. NATO also reduced the number of positions that Russia can accredit people for at the organisation from 20 down to 10, the official said.
The next day, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the accreditation was withdrawn in response to a rise in “malign activities” by Moscow. “This decision is not linked to any particular event, but we have seen over some time now an increase in Russian malign activity, and therefore we need to be vigilant”, Stoltenberg told reporters. The decision was taken “based on intelligence” and was done “because these are undeclared Russian intelligence officers”, he added.
Russia has long had an observer mission to NATO—based in the south of the Belgian capital, Brussels, rather than within the actual NATO headquarters—as part of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) founded 20 years ago that was meant to promote cooperation in common security areas. However, NATO’s relations with Russia remain strained over a range of issues – from Ukraine to alleged Russian election meddling and the 2018 poisoning with a highly toxic nerve agent of Skripal and his daughter.
Since the summer of 2019 there have been no meetings of the NRC, and NATO officials argue that this is because Russia has not responded positively to their invitation to convene it. The June 2021 NATO Summit reaffirmed Russia as the key “threat” to NATO.
Moscow is expected to retaliate to the expulsions. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said at a press briefing that "NATO's unwillingness to interact has become evident finally and irreversibly. We will be working on this premise when working through response measures, and these will follow”. Meanwhile, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said NATO’s decision to expel the Russian diplomats completely undermined the prospects for the normalization of Russia's ties with the alliance.
NATO’s next Summit will take place in Madrid on 29-30 June 2022, the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced during a visit by the NATO Secretary General on 8 October 2021. NATO’s next Strategic Concept will also be adopted at the 2022 Summit, the Secretary General pointed out. “The Madrid Strategic Concept will reflect the new security environment, recommit to our values, and reaffirm our unity. Ensuring that our Alliance is fit for the future,” he said.