May 19. 2024. 2:17

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Spying claims: Netherlands expels 10 Russian diplomats

In a new escalation of diplomatic tensions between Russia and the Netherlands, the Dutch government has ordered Moscow to close its trade office in Amsterdam with effect from Tuesday, and has expelled 10 Russian diplomats for spying.

The moves came as the director of Dutch military intelligence, Jan Swillens, said it had evidence to show that Russia had been using a ship in the North Sea as a base for mapping the country’s energy networks, most likely with the ultimate aim of “disruption or sabotage”.

[ British embassy guard who spied for Russia jailed for 13 years ]

He said the ship appeared interested in offshore wind farms as well in as mapping internet cables and gas pipelines.

It’s highly unusual for intelligence agencies to speak about operational details, even months later, but Mr Swillens said the ship had been “led away” in a joint operation by the Dutch coastguard and navy.

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At the same time, the Netherlands revealed plans to close its consulate in Russia’s second-largest city, Saint Petersburg, as a result of understaffing, not least because the Russians have been show to issue new visas, according to foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra.

“All of this means that diplomatic relations between the two countries will have to be maintained at a very low level,” said Mr Hoekstra.

[ Russian spy exposed trying to infiltrate Hague court studied in Ireland ]

“That is unfortunate but unavoidable in the political climate in which we are living – especially as we approach the anniversary of Putin’s terrible war in Ukraine.”

Relations between the two countries have been strained for a decade, since September 2013 when Russian troops arrested the Amsterdam-registered Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, during a protest against Russian oil drilling in the Arctic. It was the start of an extraordinary litany of encounters.

The following month, a Dutch diplomat was tied up and beaten at his home in Moscow, just days after Dutch police arrested and held his Russian opposite number in The Hague despite his protestations of diplomatic immunity.

In July 2014 came the shooting down of Flight MH17 with the loss of 298 passengers and crew – 196 of them Dutch – allegedly by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Last November, two Russians and a Ukrainian were sentenced in absentia by a Dutch court to life in jail for mass murder.

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In 2018, the Dutch expelled four Russians arrested apparently caught red-handed while attempting to hack into the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, in The Hague, which was investigating the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

Since then there have been repeated claims that Russians with covert connections have been attempting to infiltrate Dutch companies and academic institutions at the cutting-edge of new technology.

That aggressive spying had not ended despite repeated diplomatic protests, said Mr Swillens. “That’s why we decided to respond.”