Home / Politics / News /  Russia’s move to cut NATO ties complicates Biden’s pivot to China

BRUSSELS : Moscow’s decision to halt its mission to NATO escalates a growing dispute with the alliance and complicates the Biden administration’s effort to manage deteriorating relations with Russia as it seeks to focus on China.

Russia’s decision to recall its diplomats from its mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s headquarters in Brussels at the end of October follows the alliance’s expulsion earlier this month of eight Russian officials, whom NATO called undeclared intelligence officers.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called its move on Monday a reaction to “unfriendly actions." The ministry also said it would close NATO’s military mission and information bureau in Moscow.

The move is the latest blow to relations that have been battered in recent years by disputes over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and what the U.S. has called meddling in its 2020 election, the SolarWinds hack, ransomware attacks and the use of a nerve agent against opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

President Biden has sought to stabilize relations with Russia, including by meeting President Vladimir Putin in June. But some European allies worry that Mr. Biden’s focus on countering China could lead to concessions on Russia, which they see as a more immediate threat.

The Biden administration reached a deal with Germany in July to allow completion of a controversial Russian natural-gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, that some European leaders see as a way for Russia to increase its leverage over the continent. As European gas prices have soared recently amid shortages, Mr. Putin has said Russia could help if Europe sped up regulatory permission to begin using the pipeline.

Russia’s NATO decision drew criticism from alliance members including Germany, which was notable because Berlin has recently irked some allies, who say it has emphasized dialogue with Russia over deterrence.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Russia appeared to be no longer willing to talk to the West.

“It’s more than just regrettable, this decision taken in Moscow," he told reporters. “It will seriously damage the relationship."

NATO said it regretted Russia’s decision.

“NATO’s policy towards Russia remains consistent," said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu. “We have strengthened our deterrence and defence in response to Russia’s aggressive actions, while at the same time we remain open to dialogue."

The move was no surprise but will complicate communications over military risk management and military exercises, analysts said. Russia said that contacts with the alliance would now be handled by its ambassador to Belgium.

“The decision of Russia was low-hanging fruit," said Bruno Lété, senior fellow of security and defense at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels. “It isn’t going to change too much to the dialogue that isn’t a dialogue anyway."

Mr. Lété said it could be time for NATO to declare dead its Founding Act with Russia, agreed in 1997 and aimed at promoting peace and managing security relations.

“For some NATO member states, it serves as an excuse to be moderate in organizing European deterrence and resilience, particularly Germany," he said. “Once NATO gives up on this, it will be able to seriously organize the defense of Eastern Europe."

Central to the dispute between Russia and the West is the situation around Ukraine, which wants to join NATO. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and covertly invaded Ukraine’s east, where it still controls separatists engaged in fighting government forces.

NATO has said Ukraine will eventually become a member, but has set no time frame. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on a visit to Kyiv on Tuesday that no third country has a veto on Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO.

Mr. Biden has said Ukraine has more work to do to enter the alliance, and some European members are against Kyiv’s immediate accession.

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