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6 May, 2009 13:23

Moscow responds in kind to NATO expulsions

Russia’s Foreign Ministry is to strip of accreditation and expel two Canadian diplomats working in NATO’s information bureau in Moscow in retaliation for NATO’s expulsion of Russian diplomats from Brussels.

Russia’s Foreign Minister informed Canadian Ambassador Ralf Lisishin of the action, according to the ministry.

One of the expelled diplomats is the head of the bureau, Isabel Francois, and the other one is her subordinate Mark Opgenroth. Both have been accredited in the Canadian embassy in Moscow.

The expulsion is an imitation of a similar move by NATO last week. The organization stripped accreditation of two Russian diplomats working in Brussels, and later Belgium expelled them from the country, following another scandal surrounding the imprisonment of an Estonian official for passing alliance secrets to Moscow.

The spy scandal itself took place a couple of months ago when a high-ranking Estonian official who worked for the Estonian defense ministry was branded as a Russian spy who had been acquiring secret documents directly from NATO for the past five years. This was said to have been occurring ever since Estonia joined NATO in April 2004.

Russia called the expulsion of its diplomats from Brussels a harsh and serious provocation, and says the expulsion of Canadian diplomats is a proportionate reaction to NATO’s move.

Commenting on the diplomatic tit-for-tat, the source in the ministry said Russia regretted it.

“It’s even more vexing that Isabel Francois has to leave. She is friendly towards Russia, and did a lot for the development of our relations,” cites the insider Interfax news agency.

The Russian envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, believes the sides should stop now.

“Russia proportionately responded to the expulsion of Russian diplomats. I believe we should call it quits,” Rogozin told RIA Novisti agency.

He added the responsibility for the regrettable move rests with “those who initiated an attempt to undermine agreements on rebuilding the relations between Russia and NATO.”

“Now everything seems to depend on western side because actually it was not Russia who expelled diplomats, it was NATO that expelled Russian diplomats. So NATO is sending contradictory signals,” says political analyst Dmitry Babich from the RIA Novosti news agency.