Russians expelled from NL were spying on high-tech sector, recruiting informants: report
Seventeen Russian diplomats expelled from the Netherlands at the end of March were intelligence officers engaged in encrypting secret messages, counter-espionage, and collecting information about microchips for the Russian Army. NOS, Nieuwsuur, and the Belgian newspaper De Tijd reported that based on their own investigation.
The 17 Russians were registered as diplomats, but evidence showed they were spying for their home country, said Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra in a letter explaining the situation to the Tweede Kamer back in March. He said that the reason is that 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."
Hoekstra stated, "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."
According to NOS, the Dutch intelligence services AIVD and MIVD knew that Russian intelligence officers could move freely in the Netherlands. But they tolerated the presence of the spies for years in order to keep Dutch diplomats in Russia. The government assumed that if the Netherlands expelled a Russian diplomat, Russia would expel a Dutch one. And that is exactly what happened. When the Netherlands decided to send the 17 spies away after Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February, Russia expelled fifteen Dutch diplomats.
Eight of the expelled Russians worked for the intelligence service SVR, and the other nine for the military intelligence service GRU, NOS reported. They posed as trade representatives in Amsterdam, military attache, or diplomats at the OPWC in The Hague.
The top priority for the Netherlands was to expel 52-year-old Sergey Pyatnitskiy, the broadcaster’s intelligence sources said. He was in charge of the encryption service at the Russian embassy in The Hague. Both the SVR and GRU had referentura - rooms from which they communicated with Moscow through encrypted messages - on the grounds of the embassy. Six of the deported spies were encryption experts who worked in these referentura.
The other eleven focused on actively gathering intelligence or identifying possible recruits. Two specifically worked on recruiting sources from Dutch intelligence personnel and from foreign services active in the Netherlands, like the CIA. They also watched the Russian embassy personnel for signs of them defecting to the Dutch intelligence services.
At least two others were military technology experts, according to NOS. The broadcaster’s sources assume they were gathering information about microchips for the Russian army. Two years ago, the Netherlands deported another Russian too actively involved in this pursuit.
Ben de Jong, an expert in Russian intelligence services and affiliated with Leiden University, told NOS that the Russians weren’t necessarily looking for Dutch information. “If a Russian service succeeds here in recruiting someone from Foreign Affairs or Defense, then there’s a good chance they will also discover secrets shared with the Netherlands by other countries or organizations. In this way, the Netherlands acts as a back door.”
The AIVD and MIVD - the Netherlands’ general- and military intelligence services - refused to comment on the names and positions of the expelled Russians. However, the services confirmed that they monitored these individuals for some time. “The attitude of Russia and the support that the Netherlands expressed for Ukraine made the presence of this group in the Netherlands extra undesirable,” the services said, parroting Hoekstra’s explanation to parliament in March.