For a while, it looked as if Russia and NATO were mending fences, but those hopes have now been dashed. The biggest spy scandal in NATO history is erupting into a diplomatic nightmare—and it’s one that now involves Canada.
It all started when two Russian diplomats were ejected from NATO headquarters in Brussels over accusations of espionage. Viktor Kochukov, a political desk chief stationed at the Russian mission to NATO, and mission attaché Vasily Chizhov were stripped of their credentials last Thursday over suspected links to convicted Estonian spy Herman Simm.
The Kremlin was furious over the expulsion, and Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, promised that Moscow’s response would be “harsh and decisive.” On Tuesday, Interfax quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official saying that Russia would retaliate by ordering two Canadian NATO envoys out of the country. “We were not the ones who initiated such behaviour,” the official is quoted as saying. “We have been forced to act this way.”
This escalating tit-for-tat is only one of several hurdles preventing NATO and Moscow from achieving a stable relationship. Just hours before the Russian diplomats were kicked out, NATO had resumed formal talks with Russia for the first time since the country’s five-day war with Georgia last August. But since then, the Kremlin has angered NATO by taking control of the borders of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were at the heart of the Georgia conflict.
NATO called that a “clear contravention” of agreements reached with the EU over control of the two territories, but it’s still moving ahead with plans sure to make relations even worse: despite Moscow’s protests, NATO will kick off military exercises in Georgia this week.