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NATO expels eight Russian diplomats allowed to work at their HQ who were 'undeclared intelligence officers'

 NATO has expelled eight members of Russia's mission to the military alliance, saying they were secretly working as intelligence officers. 

The organisation said it had also cut the size of Moscow's team able to work at its headquarters in Brussels by half.   

'We can confirm that we have withdrawn the accreditation of eight members of the Russian mission to Nato, who were undeclared Russian intelligence officers,' a Nato official said.

The eight diplomats will be forced to leave the NATO headquarters by the end of this month and their positions will be cut, reports Sky News. Two further positions which are currently empty will also be scrapped. 

This will reduce the number of positions that Russia could accredit people for at the organisation down from 20 to 10, the official said.   

NATO has expelled eight members of Russia's mission to the military alliance, saying they were secretly working as intelligence officers

NATO has expelled eight members of Russia's mission to the military alliance, saying they were secretly working as intelligence officers

Relations between NATO and Russia have been increasingly strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014. The two are at odds over Russia's nuclear missile development, aerial intrusions into NATO airspace and the buzzing of allied ships by fighter planes.

Official talks between them have been limited in recent years.

'NATO's policy towards Russia remains consistent. We have strengthened our deterrence and defense in response to Russia's aggressive actions, while at the same time we remain open for a meaningful dialogue,' the official said.

The main forum for dialogue, the NATO-Russia Council, is stalled.

'NATO proposed to hold another meeting of the NATO-Russia Council over 18 months ago, and that proposal stands. The ball is in Russia's court,' the official said.

Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Russian parliament, dismissed the accusations against the Russian diplomats as baseless and warned that NATO's move will further strain relations.

He was quoted as saying Moscow will retaliate by the Interfax news agency on Wednesday. But Slutsky added that Russia would not necessarily retaliate in kind.  

This is a breaking news story, more to follow...  

NATO has withdrawn the accreditation of eight members of Russia's mission to the alliance who were 'undeclared Russian intelligence officers', a NATO official said on Wednesday. Pictured: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

NATO has withdrawn the accreditation of eight members of Russia's mission to the alliance who were 'undeclared Russian intelligence officers', a NATO official said on Wednesday. Pictured: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

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