Nato chief says move sends clear and very strong message that there is a cost to Russias reckless actions

Nato has announced it is cutting the size of its Russian mission by a third, removing accreditation from seven Russian staff and rejecting three other pending applications.

The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said the permanent sizing of the Russian mission “wouldve been” cut from 30 to 20 people, adding the proclamation was ” a clear and very strong message that there was a cost to Russia's reckless actions” in poisoning the Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury earlier this month.

He claimed Russia had underestimated Nato's resolve and said the announcements would reduce Russia's capability to do intelligence work across Nato.

The move came after more than 20 western friends ordered the expulsion of dozens of Russian envoys in response to the nerve agent assault in the UK in a show of solidarity that represents the biggest concerted jolt to Russian intelligence networks in the west since the cold war.

Speaking in Brussels at the end of consultations with Nato allies on Tuesday, Stoltenberg added that he did not suppose Russia had expected the west to display such resolve, pointing to the increased Nato military presence on the Russia border, higher defence spending and continued sanctions for Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea.

He said the Nato response was aimed not just at the poisoning in Salisbury, the first utilize of a nerve agent on Nato territory, but a have responded to a broader pattern of unacceptable and illegal behaviour.

Map of expulsions

The US state department said that Donald Trump had “personally ordered” the expulsion of 60 Russian envoy in Washington and New York who US intelligence believe to be snoops, and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle. It was the biggest single expulsion order in US history.

The department's spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said that Washington had played a key role in organising the global response. US officials, she said ” have worked tirelessly over the past three weeks to achieve this unprecedented level of cooperation and also coordination “.

Earlier on Tuesday the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, claimed the US had utilized” colossal blackmail” to force European and other western powers to expel Russian envoy, and promised Moscow would respond harshly to the expulsion of more than 100 Russian diplomats worldwide.

Speaking at a session on Afghanistan in Tashkent, Lavrov said: ” When one or two diplomats are asked to leave this or that country, with apologies being whispered into our ears, we know for certain that this is a result of colossal pressure and colossal blackmail, which is Washington's chief tool in the international scene. ”

Briefing the cabinet on Tuesday, the prime minister, Theresa May, reported that 23 countries had expelled more than 115 Russian intelligence envoy. She told her cabinet colleagues this represented an unprecedented series of expulsions that has demonstrated to the Kremlin” that we will not tolerate their attempts to flout international law, undermine our values or threaten our security “.

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