Nato shapes up for spy row with Russia

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The Independent Online
Nato has run into a Cold-War era spy stand-off with Russia, alliance officials said yesterday.

It is an embarassment to the alliance at a time when it wants to kiss and make up with the Russians after several months of destabilising rows. But it also shows that, in the post-Cold War world, problems of intelligence etiquette are becoming more, not less acute.

Russia is a member of Nato's Partnership for Peace (PFP) scheme, which allows former Warsaw Pact countries to send military officers to liaise with the alliance's military arm, Shape, in the Belgian town of Mons. The idea, proposed by politicians. was only swallowed by military and security departments of the alliance bureaucracy after some soul searching. The Partnership Co-ordination Cell is housed, rather appropriately, in the building that once housed "Live Oak" - where Nato made its preparations for a conflict with Russia.

But unfortunately, the men nominated by Russia for the post were perhaps a little too interested in close liaison. They were, according to the Nato security service, senior serving officers in Russian military intelligence (GRU). The security service has not exactly vetoed them, but then it has not exactly let them in either. Russia has not nominated anyone else. There is, according to alliance officials, an impasse.

The problem of vetting is not confined to the Russians, though it has only become a fully fledged diplomatic incident with Moscow. Several of the other Eastern countries who have sent military or diplomatic representatives to Nato headquarters or Shape for military liaison or regular meetings have also chosen people already known to Western intelligence. Given that the whole point of PFP is to enhance international understanding, a decision to throw them out or refuse them entry is a delicate matter. It is a question of how far international understanding is compatible with espionage, alliance officials said.

Nato has some sympathy with the Russians. Given that the ideal candidate for the job would be multilingual, good at getting on with the old enemy and well informed on Nato policy, most of those available would probably be former spooks. "They don't have that many people like that," one source said.