The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has expelled two Russian diplomats from Brussels over a spy scandal involving a senior Estonian official, the Financial Times reports.
The diplomats, including the son of Russia\’s ambassador to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov, are believed to have worked as intelligence agents, the British newspaper said.
Their expulsion comes after Estonian official Herman Simm was jailed for 12 years in February by an Estonian court for passing NATO and other defence and diplomatic secrets to Russia, the paper noted.
Simm, who worked at the Estonian defence ministry and had access to top secret documents related to NATO – which Estonia joined in 2004 – handed over more than 2,000 pages of information to his Russian handlers, it said.
The expelled Russian diplomats were not directly linked to the Estonian affair, but the scandal caused such damage to the alliance\’s security that it had to deliver a “hard response,” NATO sources told the FT.
There was no immediate comment from Moscow on the report.
In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the Alliance would make “no comment on intelligence matters”.
However a NATO diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, added: “This expulsion, if it has indeed been decided, is for NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and does not require a formal approval by the 28 (NATO) members.”
There was also no comment from the Russian embassy to NATO.
The report came as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that upcoming NATO war games in Georgia were an “overt provocation”.
NATO has vowed to press on with the exercises, which will run from May 6 to June 1 and are to involve between 400 and 450 soldiers. They have been planned since the spring of 2008.
But Medvedev said: “The planned NATO exercises in Georgia, no matter how one tries to convince us otherwise, are an overt provocation. One cannot carry out exercises in a place where there was just a war.”
Russia and Georgia have been at loggerheads since fighting a five-day war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in August, and Moscow has been extremely wary of any military cooperation between Georgia and NATO.