Moscow to expel NATO representative: Report

May 6th, 2009 - 1:14 am ICT by IANS  

Moscow, May 5 (DPA) Russia is to expel the head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s information office from Moscow, a report said Tuesday, in a sign of a continued deterioration of the country’s relations with the Western military alliance.
Diplomat Isabelle Francois and a NATO colleague are expected to be told formally to leave Russia Wednesday morning, the Interfax news agency said, citing a source in the Russian foreign ministry.

This follows last week’s expulsion by NATO of two Russian diplomats for spying. NATO also accused Moscow of destabilising the South Caucasus. Russia for its part alleged that NATO members were sabotaging East-West relations.

Earlier Tuesday in protest at upcoming NATO military exercises in Georgia, Russia cancelled its participation in a NATO-Russia Council meeting in Brussels May 18-19.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov considers that such talks, against the background of tension over the Georgia exercises, would be inappropriate, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Russia has accused NATO of raising tensions in the region with its military exercises which are to begin May 6 and last for almost a month. Moscow has called the exercises in the former Soviet republic “open provocation”.

A NATO official confirmed to the DPA that Lavrov had pulled out of the meeting.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer “regrets this decision, because this ministerial meeting would have been a good opportunity to discuss issues of mutual concern”, the official said.

De Hoop Scheffer “hopes that they will find a good date in the near future” for a meeting.

Without Russia’s participation, the entire meeting, which would have seen Lavrov and the foreign ministers of NATO’s 28 member states sitting at the same table, is cancelled, the official said.

NATO has repeatedly accused Russia of violating the territorial integrity of Georgia - which is hoping to join the Western alliance - and of building up a strong military presence in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

For its part Russia resents what it regards as NATO encroachment on its sphere of influence.

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