NATO expels Russian diplomats from Brussels amid spying row | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 30.04.2009
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NATO expels Russian diplomats from Brussels amid spying row

NATO has ordered the expulsion of two diplomats from Russia's NATO mission in connection with a spy scandal - a move Moscow calls a "provocation."

Picture of a man wearing a spy-like fedora hat

Two Russian diplomats are said to be tied up in an Estonian spying scandal

NATO has ordered the expulsion of two diplomats from the Russian mission in Brussels, in connection with a spying scandal in which a former Estonian official passed alliance secrets to Moscow, a diplomat in the alliance told AFP news service.

"I can confirm it," one diplomat told AFP when asked about reports that the two had been ordered to leave.

Russia: move is a 'crude provocation'

In response, the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow said the move was a "crude provocation" made on "an absolutely trumped up pretext."

"This outrageous action fundamentally contradicts statements by NATO's leadership on its readiness to normalize ties with Russia," the Russian ministry said.

Just one day earlier NATO and Russia resumed official relations after an eight-month freeze tied to the Russian-Georgia war last August. Diplomats from the two sides met in Brussels on Wednesday.

On Thursday, however, came the expulsions. One NATO diplomat told AFP that the two expelled Russian officials included a Russian political counsellor and a son of Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's ambassador to the European Union.

"Our understanding is that this has been part of an investigation that has been going on for some time," concerning the Estonian spy scandal, the diplomat said.

Estonian is jailed

Former Estonian defense ministry official Herman Simm was arrested last September in a case which has proved deeply embarrassing for Estonia after suggestions that NATO secrets may have been leaked to Russia.

Simm was on the defense ministry staff between 1995 and 2006, before being transferred to an adviser's post until March 2008. Estonia, a Soviet-ruled republic until 1991, joined NATO and the European Union in 2004. Relations with its powerful neighbor are rocky.

Simm pleaded guilty to treason and was sentenced in February to 12 years and six months in prison.

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