Netherlands expels 17 Russian diplomats accused of espionage
The Netherlands has announced the planned expulsion of 17 people registered as Russian diplomats, but who are accused of spying for their home country, Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra wrote in a letter to the Tweede Kamer. They will be required to leave the Netherlands within two weeks. The Russian ambassador was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday and notified of the decision.
"The ambassador has been informed that the Netherlands is expelling 17 Russian intelligence officers, working under diplomatic cover, from the Netherlands," Hoekstra said. He said that the reason is because the Dutch domestic and military intelligence services "demonstrated that the persons concerned, accredited as diplomats of the Russian mission in the Netherlands, are secretly active as intelligence officers."
In a separate statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the United States, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Montenegro have all taken similar action against people they claimed were Russian agents disguised as diplomats.
"The Netherlands has taken this decision because of the threat to national security posed by this group. The intelligence threat against the Netherlands remains high and, in a broader sense, the current attitude of Russia makes the presence of these intelligence officers highly undesirable," Hoekstra stated.
Hoekstra did not state in his letter the evidence presented by Dutch authorities to the Cabinet. He also did not elaborate on any nefarious activities undertaken by the people facing the expulsion.
“Experience shows that Russia does not leave these kinds of measures unanswered. We cannot speculate about that, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is prepared for various scenarios that may arise in the near future,” Hoekstra said in a press release.
The Netherlands expelled two Russian diplomats in 2020 who were accused of spying on the Dutch high-tech sector. They found their targets using professional social media platform LinkedIn, which has also become a common tactic of spies from China, according to the Financieele Dagblad. They were monitored by the domestic intelligence service, AIVD, over an extended period of time before they were told to leave the country. "We were able to establish fairly intensive contacts in more than ten cases, of which we have actually seen and heard in a number of cases that there was information transfer and payment," AIVD chief Erik Akerboom said to radio program Nieuws en Co. shortly after that announcement.
Two other Russian diplomats were also expelled from the Netherlands following the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England. Many other countries, including EU member states, the United States, Canada and Ukraine expelled Russian diplomats following the incident. Soon after, Dutch police arrested two Russian spies who were allegedly traveling to Switzerland to hack into the Spiez laboratory, which was investigating the Skripal poisoning, and poison gas attacks allegedly carried out by Syria.