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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Canadian Diplomats Expelled in Spy Feud

The Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday that it is expelling NATO's top representatives in the country as a tit-for-tat retaliation for the expulsion of two diplomats from its representation at the alliance amid accusations of espionage.

Isabelle Francois, head of the NATO Information Office in Moscow, and her deputy, Mark Opgenorth, will have their accreditations revoked, the ministry said in a statement on its web site.

Francois and Opgenorth are both Canadian citizens and accredited as attaches at their local embassy. Canadian Ambassador Ralph Lysyshyn was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, where he was officially informed of the decision, the ministry statement said.

The Canadian government in Ottawa summoned the Russian ambassador for an explanation. "Canada strongly regrets Russia's decision," Andre Lemay, a spokesman for Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, said in e-mailed comments.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called the expulsions "counterproductive" to efforts to restore cooperation with Moscow.

"NATO very much regrets the Russian action and does not consider there to be any justification for it," he said in a statement posted on the alliance's web site.

Ivan Sekretarev / AP
Canadian Ambassador Ralph Lysyshyn entering the Foreign Ministry building after being summoned there Wednesday. The ministry announced that it was expelling two Canadian diplomats who head NATO's Moscow office in a tit-for-tat move amid a spy dispute with the Western alliance.
But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the measure was a logical response and suggested that the spy allegations that sparked the spat had been engineered by a group of NATO members, whom he did not name.

"That's the rule of the game, and our NATO partners, especially those who initiated the expulsion of our diplomats, could not expect anything else," Lavrov said at a news conference Wednesday in Moscow with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

Lavrov also said, however, that Moscow was prepared to continue cooperating with the alliance. "We want a normal, mutual and reciprocal partnership," he said, Interfax reported.

As another sign of protest, Lavrov has cancelled his attendance at the NATO-Russia Council's next meeting on May 19. But he said Wednesday that he will meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington later this week and discuss growing tensions over Georgia.

Moscow's expulsion of the Canadian diplomats follow Belgium's announcement Tuesday that it would expel two members of the Russian mission to NATO after the military alliance canceled their credentials and accused them of spying last week.

Russia's envoy to the alliance, Dmitry Rogozin, said he thought that the spying charges were trumped up and that the expulsions were merely retaliation for a Russian mole that was uncovered in the Estonian Defense Ministry late last year.

The NATO Information Office was set up in Moscow in 2001. Its official purpose is to develop greater public understanding within the country on Russia-NATO relations.

Francois had headed NATO's bureau in Moscow since 2004. She has worked with NATO since 1998, focusing on the alliance's relations with Moscow and on negotiations for the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council, according to the alliance's web site.

De Hoop Scheffer said the expulsions would "significantly affect" the office's work, since Francois and Opgenorth were the only foreign officials working there.

Analysts suggested Wednesday that the spy scandal was linked to the row over the NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace military exercises in Georgia (related story, Page 3).

"Maybe this is a sort of retaliation for Moscow's harsh criticism of the exercises," said Alexander Khramchikhin of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis.

Otfried Nassauer of the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security said a powerful faction within NATO remained opposed to cooperation with Russia.

"There are those who say that you can only have security in Europe with Russia, and there are those who say you should have security from Russia," Nassauer said in a telephone interview.

"The second faction has not lost its power after the power change in Washington."

NATO has so far refused to officially comment on last week's expulsions of the Russian diplomats in Brussels.