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Russia is expelling two Canadian diplomats in retaliation for NATO's recent expulsion of two Russian envoys from its headquarters, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday, adding that it considered it had been forced into the move.
The director of the NATO Information Office in Moscow, Isabelle Francois, and a colleague are to be expelled, Russian and Canadian officials said.
Canadian Ambassador Ralph Lysyshyn was informed of the decision at a Russian Foreign Ministry meeting early Wednesday.
Lysyshyn was told that "in response to the unfriendly act on NATO's part ... the Russian side has taken the forced decision to revoke the diplomatic accreditation" of the two NATO staff, the statement said without elaborating.
The Canadian embassy called the decision "counterproductive."
"Canada strongly regrets the decision," Nicholas Brousseau, an embassy spokesman, told The Associated Press. "Canada and NATO allies have been seeking to re-engage Russia."
Francois could not be reached immediately.
NATO last week announced it would revoke the accreditation of two members of Russia's mission to NATO headquarters in Brussels, apparently over a spy scandal dating back to February. NATO has refused to comment on the official reason, saying it doesn't comment on intelligence matters.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday withdrew from a Russia-NATO council meeting scheduled for late May in protest at the "provocative" move.
Russia is also riled by NATO military exercises scheduled to begin Wednesday in neighboring Georgia, which fought a recent war with Russia.
Russia sees the war games as Western meddling in its rightful sphere of influence. Russian officials have accused NATO of intervention in Georgia's domestic politics by holding the exercises there.
Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman David Dzhokhadze told the Associated Press in the capital, Tbilisi, that no battlefield maneuvers were planned until at least May 11. Until then, organizational meetings would dominate proceedings, he said.
Dzhokhadze said Georgia expects 15 countries to take part in the exercises after official notification from Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Serbia that they would not take part. Armenia, which is dependent on Russia for its economic survival, said Tuesday that its military was not taking part. Dzhokhadze said Georgia had received no official confirmation of that.
Georgia put down a mutiny of several hundred army officers of a tank battalion near Tbilisi on Tuesday.