Kremlin says NATO diplomatic expulsions undermine hope for dialogue

FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Thursday NATO's move to cut the size of Russia's diplomatic mission almost completely undermined its hopes that relations could be normalised and dialogue resumed with the U.S.-led alliance.

NATO expelled eight members of Russia's mission to the alliance who were "undeclared Russian intelligence officers", a NATO official said on Wednesday, the latest blow to East-West ties that are already at post-Cold War lows.

"There is an obvious inconsistency in statements by NATO representatives about their desire to normalise relations with our country and in their actual actions," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Peskov said NATO's actions did not suggest relations could be normalised and dialogue resumed. "In fact, these prospects are almost completely undermined."

Sky News reported that Moscow's mission to NATO headquarters in Brussels would be halved "in response to suspected malign Russian activities, including killings and espionage".

Reuters was not able to confirm the reasons cited by Sky News for the reduction of the Russian delegation.

In 2018, in the wake of the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury, NATO withdrew agreement for the appointment of seven staff accredited to the Russian mission to the alliance, and denied pending accreditation requests for three others.

The North Atlantic Council, the NATO assembly, also reduced the maximum size of the Russian mission by 10 people from the previous 30.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko on Wednesday accused NATO of duplicity. A pro-Kremlin lawmaker promised that Moscow would retaliate, though not necessarily in kind.

(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov; writing by Alexander Marrow; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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