The Russia-NATO Split, Explained

Following the expulsion of eight operatives from Russia’s mission to NATO, the nation has ceased its diplomatic connections with the western military alliance. The growing schism epitomizes a new era of Cold War-like tensions and mistrust.

According to a NATO official, the expulsion took place on the basis that the eight diplomats in question were “undeclared Russian intelligence officers.” This move brings the Russian delegation’s ‘permanent’ mission to NATO’s Brussels headquarters down to 10. This was the second knock to Russia’s presence at NATO, as following the 2018 Salisbury Spy poisonings, Russia’s delegation was reduced from 30 to 20. Thus, after years of repetitive ejections, the Russian government has opted to suspend political dialogue with the military behemoth that encroaches upon its borders. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas asserted that the decision taken by Moscow “will seriously damage the relationship,” seemingly unaware of his irony-infested jargon.

NATO’s decision earlier this month was predicated upon “malign activities over recent years” taking place within Europe. Specifically, an explosion at a Czech munition’s depot in 2014, which some intelligence agencies have linked to clandestine Russian forces. According to reports from Sky News, NATO launched an assessment of Russian espionage and sabotage exercises over the summer and, following a compilation of its investigative work, made the decision, within its collective framework, to take punitive measures against Russia. The evidence for Russian involvement is somewhat available to the public. Czech President Miloš Zeman disclosed in an address in April that domestic investigators were working with the knowledge that an official working at the warehouse may have shown the Russian agents around the facility, and that one worker refused to take a polygraph test. Such accusations are weighted and appear congruous with an unravelling narrative of Russian geopolitical interference.

The depot is confirmed to have been storing munitions belonging to Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, according to an email he sent to the New York Times. The weapons were most likely headed to Ukraine, where they would most certainly have been used for the butchering of many more than two people, the number that died in the Czech blast. Nonetheless, Gebrev, himself, was poisoned only six months after the explosion while dining in Sofia. This has led many to draw lines between the two events as it is evident that Russia would be opposed to military equipment being used against the separatist forces it backs in Ukraine. Additionally, the poison used against Gebrev (smeared on his car door handle) seems to have similar physiological consequences to the substance Novichok, used in 2018 to assassinate a former Russian agent living in the U.K.

However, the evidence is not neat nor conclusive in my view. Suspiciously, during the climax of the Czech-Russian geostrategic jousting, the Czech government made the decision to expel Russian diplomats. This occurred mere days after the U.S. decided to do the same, citing hacking scandals and interference aimed at flout democracy within. Additionally, the move came as negotiations and bidding for a 6-billion-euro nuclear power plant contract continue. China, Russia, the United States, and France, and other nations could compete for the right to build reactor infrastructure in the country, and, presumably exercise some influence over its energy needs.

All this being said, I am not advocating that Russia was completely detached from the explosion and poisonings. These events boast cogent alignments with traditional Russian antagonistic methodology. However, I do resonate with the sentiments of Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, who commented, “After the dramatic end of the Afghan era how can they [NATO] can get by without the bogeyman of the ‘Russian threat.’ They can’t.” Of course, this is all occurring amid the spectre of growing militarization along Russia’s borders by NATO and on Ukraine’s eastern borders by Russia. The best move would be to readmit the Russian officials and maintain the diplomatic mission in Brussels at 20. Russia’s cessation of its consular presence in the hub of the western defence infrastructure de facto isolates itself further from any potential negotiations and dialogue. Overall, Russian GRU agents should not be operating on foreign soil, nor should the CIA and MI6. It appears it might be too late, though. We are already entrenched in a post-Soviet quagmire – the only way out of which is a mutually peaceful confrontation in the form of communication.

Emmet McGeown