Two Russian diplomats will lose their accreditation to NATO's headquarters in Brussels, the country's envoy said Thursday — two months after Russia was accused of receiving alliance secrets from a spy.
Russian envoy Dmitry Rogozin said the two diplomats had "no link to any spying scandal" and NATO's action was retaliation for the espionage case in Estonia.
In February, an Estonian court convicted a former top security official of treason for passing domestic and NATO secrets to Russia in the Baltic country's biggest espionage scandal since the Cold War.
Rogozin said he was told by NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Wednesday evening that the two diplomats — senior counselor Victor Korchakov and Vasily Chizhov — would have their accreditations withdrawn over "a spying scandal in Estonia."
NATO spokesman James Apparthurai said he could not confirm whether any diplomat's accreditation had been withdrawn because he could not comment on intelligence matters.
'No reason or motivation'
Rogozin threatened retaliation Thursday, just a day after NATO resumed relations with Russia following an eight-month freeze.
He said there was "no reason or motivation" for the action against the diplomats and "the political leadership of NATO acted in a provocative manner just after we restored relations."
"We will not be provoked, but the response will be harsh and decisive," Rogozin said.
Expulsions of Soviet and NATO alliance diplomats were routine during the Cold War, but relations had warmed until NATO froze links with Russia after its military offensive in Georgia last summer.
It was unclear whether the latest move would affect NATO-Russia cooperation in piracy and the war in Afghanistan, or a tentatively planned meeting in May between NATO foreign ministers and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Relations deteriorated to post-Cold War lows following the Russo-Georgian war, but ties had improved significantly since then. NATO heads of state approved the resumption of formal contacts this month at their summit in Strasbourg, France.
Russia has allowed NATO nations to use its road and rail networks to transport military supplies to Afghanistan. NATO also wants Russia to open its airspace to military cargo flights, and to provide weapons and training for Afghan government forces.
But Russia has reacted angrily to NATO's plans for peacekeeping exercises next month in Georgia, even though the alliance invited Russian officers to monitor them.
Rogozin said it was absurd to link Korchakov and Chizhov — the son of Russia's ambassador to the European Union — to the Estonian case.
In February, the Estonian court convicted Herman Simm, the former head of security at the Estonian Defense Ministry, of spying for Russia and sentenced him to 12 1/2 years in prison. Prosecutors said Simm had collected and forwarded classified Estonian and NATO information to Russia's foreign intelligence service from 1995 until his arrest in 2008.
"This is all a lie," Rogozin said, adding that only those who oppose rapprochement between NATO and Russia could benefit from the expulsions.