“Relationships have shrunk and shrunk”: Russia scraps its mission to NATO

Alexey Poplavsky

Russia suspends the work of its permanent mission to NATO, and also closes the military mission and the information office of the alliance in Moscow. These actions are a response to the reduction in the number of employees of the permanent mission of the Russian Federation at the bloc. Now emergency communication between the parties will be carried out through the Russian ambassador in Brussels.

The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov said that in response to the actions of NATO Moscow on November 1, suspends its permanent mission to NATO. According to him, the accreditation of the NATO military liaison mission staff in Moscow is also revoked and the information bureau of the alliance at the Belgian embassy in the Russian capital is terminated.

“Since 2014, NATO has reduced any contacts with our mission to the limit, announced the complete cessation of practical cooperation both in civilian areas and in the military.

There are no contacts at all through the military. As I said, [NATO] has introduced, in fact, a prohibitive regime for our diplomats regarding visits to NATO headquarters, and contacts cannot be maintained without a visit, and in fact, a prohibitive regime for elementary communication with the international secretariat of the North Atlantic Alliance”, – added the minister.

As explained in the Russian Foreign Ministry, now the maintenance of emergency contacts between NATO and Moscow will pass through the Russian ambassador to Belgium, or any other head of the Russian diplomatic mission in one of the bloc states.

The ministry also stressed that the NATO international secretariat was informed about Russia’s decision. However, so far the alliance’s press service assures that they have not received any official notifications from the Russian side, although they take this information into account.

What does Moscow’s decision mean?

Relations between Russia and NATO have not been in the best condition for several years now. In fact, since 2014, there has been a permanent crisis, despite mutual calls for a transition to a constructive and substantive dialogue. The alliance is officially pursuing a policy of containing Moscow, justifying it by Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine. Russia, on the other hand, points to NATO’s consistent attempts to get closer to the Russian borders, as well as the multiple exercises of the bloc member countries at the borders of the state.

Attempts to resume dialogue have so far led nowhere, in fact, there is no discussion of military and practical issues between the parties. However, the NATO military liaison mission in Moscow was retained for the interaction of the alliance with the Russian Ministry of Defense , and the information bureau informed the Russian public about the activities of the bloc and its relations with the Russian side.

These bodies, like Russia’s permanent mission to NATO, continued their work amid the most serious disagreements between the bloc and Moscow, including during the transition of Crimea to Russian jurisdiction, the expansion of the Skripal case in the West, or the Russian-Georgian military conflict.

Fyodor Lukyanov , editor-in-chief of the Russia in Global Affairs magazine, told Gazeta.Ru that these offices are a rudiment of the era during which it was believed that there would be very different cooperation between Russia and NATO.

“For many reasons, this did not happen, and for a long time these missions have not carried out any meaningful work, since our relations have narrowed and shrunk. As for the discussion of military issues, for this there are relations between Russia and the United States.

They have a military component, it is quite solid, at the level of the heads of the general staff of the two states. This is quite enough, and if a dialogue with some European countries from the NATO bloc is needed, it can always be done in a working order at a bilateral level, ”the expert noted.

Dmitry Danilov , head of the European Security Department at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, confirmed that in recent years, military and non-military contacts between Russia and NATO have actually been suspended.

“We have no reason to maintain contacts with NATO at such a low, unconstructive and ineffective level. Closing contact lines with NATO means closing windows of opportunity for dialogue. And it will be quite difficult to return from this point at least to the current state. We already had situations when we expelled the head of the NATO military mission from Russia, but another military representative was appointed to this position. And now everything is completely different, and in order to restore at least some communications, you will need good reasons, with a justification of why this site should be restored, ”the expert added.

Why Russia has curtailed the mission to NATO

The Russian Foreign Ministry explained the decision as a response to another reduction of the Russian mission to NATO. On October 6, the bloc announced a reduction in the number of Russian missions under the alliance from 20 to 10 people, eight diplomats had their accreditation revoked, and two more vacancies were abolished. The alliance gave Russian diplomats until the end of October to leave Brussels.

This became the third reduction of the Russian mission in the past six years, such steps the alliance has already carried out in 2015 and 2018.

In addition, the admission of Russian diplomats to the bloc’s headquarters was seriously limited, along with interaction through the international secretariat.

According to Fyodor Lukyanov, the reduction of the Russian mission definitely influenced Moscow’s decision, but the main reason in this case was the lack of sense in maintaining the work of the NATO mission.

“The reason for the curtailment of the work of the NATO mission is the absolute exhaustion of its meaning. Keeping the mission of the alliance for this is not necessary, and what happened is just a legal statement of the current situation. The Alliance has chosen the position of freezing relations with Moscow, and the representations either exist to do something during the crisis, or they are not needed, ”the expert is sure.

Dmitry Danilov partly agrees with this, according to him, Moscow has long offered to break the deadlock and start a substantive dialogue, but NATO actually did not react to this in any way.

“The Alliance spoke about the need to establish strategic communication, but not a dialogue aimed at solving any serious problems related to the interaction of the parties. Russia, of course, did not like this situation, and many questions arose, ”the expert summed up.

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