Netherlands expels two Russians after uncovering 'espionage network'

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Image shows the Russian embassy in The HagueImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Dutch officials said the two alleged spies worked at the Russian embassy in The Hague

The Netherlands has expelled two alleged Russian spies who were working in the country as diplomats, its intelligence service says.

They are accused of targeting the high-tech sector and building a "substantial network of sources" in the industry.

The two individuals were working for Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Dutch officials said.

Russia described the accusations as "unfounded" and said the decision to expel its citizens was "provocative".

The expelled Russians were accredited diplomats working from the country's embassy in The Hague, Dutch officials said on Thursday. They have been declared persona non grata and must now leave the Netherlands.

Both were part of a "substantial espionage network" that was "recently rolled up", the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) said in a statement.

One of the individuals had "built a substantial network of sources, all of which are or have been active in the Dutch high-tech sector," the AIVD said.

They targeted companies dealing with artificial intelligence, semi-conductors and nanotechnology, the statement added. Nanotechnology is a field of research that involves studying and building things at the atomic and molecule scale, sometimes for use in the military.

Shortly after the announcement, Dutch Interior Minister Karin Ollongren said the Russian ambassador had been summoned to the foreign ministry.

Ms Ollongren said the newly uncovered spy network had "likely caused damage to the organisations where the sources are or were active and thus possibly also to the Dutch economy and national security".

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Is this whale a Russian spy?

Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Russian international affairs committee, told reporters that Moscow would be "forced to take symmetrical actions".

"I am sure that an adequate response will follow in a timely manner," he said, according to the Interfax news agency.

The announcement comes a day after the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which has its headquarters in Amsterdam, said it had been hit by a cyber-attack. There is, however, no indication that the incidents are linked.

It is not the first time the Netherlands has expelled suspected Russian agents.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
A team of Russians allegedly tried to compromise and disrupt the OPCW in 2018