The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is expelling eight Russian diplomats who are accused of being spies. The diplomats were part of a Russian delegation to the military alliance.
NATO confirmed Wednesday that it had withdrawn the accreditation of the eight members of the delegation after determining that they were "undeclared Russian intelligence officers.
Apart from expelling the diplomats, NATO also moved to cut the maximum number of people Russian can send as delegates to the alliance. The move is expected to further sour relations between Russia and Western forces as it greatly reduces communications between the two parties.
NATO's statement regarding the move was both strong and open. The alliance said that its policies towards Russia will remain consistent given its recent aggressive actions. However, the alliance said that it is still open to "meaningful dialogue" with the Russian government.
In its latest order, the eight Russian diplomats had been asked to leave Brussels, where it is headquartered, by the end of October. NATO did not clarify how it came to the conclusion that the diplomats were intelligence officers or what their mission was during their visit.
"This decision is based on intelligence, and we are not going to comment on intelligence," NATO said.
A chairman for Russia's international affairs committee in the lower house of the country's parliament, Leonid Slutsky, denied NATO's allegations. He also said that Russia's foreign ministry is prepared to retaliate against NATO's actions.
"Stripping of accreditation eight staffers of the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to NATO will further decrease the level of cooperation," Slutsky said.
NATO and Russia's relationship spiraled downward after the latter annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Russia had accused NATO of interfering with its internal affairs by deploying troops near its border. Tensions further escalated after Russia increased its military presence along the Ukrainian border.
The expulsion of the Russian diplomats also comes just weeks after a reportedly heated closed-door meeting between NATO and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the recently held United Nations General Assembly. Sources said Lavrov repeatedly interrupted NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during the meeting and accused the military alliance of abandoning Afghanistan and supporting neo-Nazis in Ukraine.