More on Russian alleged spies expelled from the Netherlands and Belgium

Kremlin KootAs intelNews reported earlier this week, a joint investigative effort by Dutch and Belgian media exposed details about a group of alleged Russian intelligence officers, who were expelled by Belgium and The Netherlands in March 2022. Dutch state broadcaster NOS and its flagship current affairs program, Nieuwsuur, aired the names, photos and backgrounds of 17 Russian intelligence officers, who were expelled from the Netherlands in March of this year. According to the Dutch government, the expelled diplomats were involved in counterintelligence and in espionage targeting the country’s high-tech sector.

According to the reports, at least 20 Russian official-cover officers were active in the Netherlands in early 2022. The reporters said they spoke with intelligence sources and the Dossier Center. That organization is financed by banned Russian oligarch and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and claims to have access to leaked databases that contain information about the education and background of Russian intelligence officers.

Eight of the expelled officers work for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), while the other nine work for the Main Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff (GRU). Some of them presented themselves as trade representatives in Amsterdam, as military attachés, or as diplomats at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Two of the expelled officers were young attachés who worked in the so-called “referentura”, a secured room inside the Russian embassy in The Hague, which is used for encrypted communications with Moscow. Only they and their 52-year-old supervisor, Sergey Pyatnitskiy, an alleged encryption specialist for the SVR, had knowledge about encryption keys and were allowed in the room. The GRU is believed to have its own, separate referentura inside the embassy. Six of the persons expelled by the Netherlands were encryption experts, according to NOS and Nieuwsuur.

Furthermore, an expelled vice-consul and first secretary of the embassy, both linked to the SVR, were reportedly tasked with counterintelligence. Their tasks centered on monitoring the Dutch intelligence services and trying to recruit sources inside Dutch intelligence. According to information provided by the Dossier Center, Pyatnitskiy’s home address refers to an address in Russia that officers of the KGB-era First Chief Directorate (foreign operations) used to declare as their residence. Pyatnitskiy was reportedly one of the top candidates for expulsion, together with other encryption experts from the SVR and the GRU.

Among the other expelled officers, one is an alleged member of the SVR’s department for espionage on chemical and nuclear technology. Another one was a GRU-trained officer who may have been especially interested in Dutch companies that manufacture microchips that can be used in Russia’s weapon industry. Two others are members of technical directorates of the SVR, with one of them being responsible for collecting signals intelligence via a satellite dish located on top of the Russian embassy building in The Hague.

Three known intelligence officers were reportedly not expelled. Two of them are rezidenty: one is the head of the SVR department at the embassy; the other is the head of the GRU department. Their presence is said to help “keep open lines” in case of emergencies, such as terrorism threats. The third person is an SVR officer responsible for personnel security at the embassy.

On the same day that the Dutch reports were published, Belgian newspaper De Tijd published details about the expulsions of 21 Russian intelligence officers from Belgium. The report follows a similar report in July by other Belgian news outlets, which revealed the names and backgrounds of Russian alleged intelligence operatives.

According to De Tijd, seven of the expelled persons were technicians, some of which were tasked with exchanging encrypted communication with Moscow. Another was identified as Georgy Kuznetsov, the consul-general of Russia’s embassy in Belgium, whom the Belgian government considered to be an “agent d’influence” who was involved mainly in political influence operations and the distribution of propaganda. Prior to Kuznetsov’s expulsion, Belgium’s State Security Service had allegedly taken an interest in ties between him and “extreme-right circles” in Belgium.

The Russian embassy did not respond to a request from De Tijd for an interview. The Dutch intelligence agencies, the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) were contacted by the journalists, but did not comment on the disclosed names and their positions in Russian intelligence. The ministry of foreign affairs and the Russian embassy also did not comment on the report.

It has also been reported that, according to Western intelligence officials, the expulsions have made it more difficult for Russian intelligence officers to communicate with the Kremlin’s assets on the ground. In response to the expulsions by the Netherlands and Belgium, Russia expelled twelve Belgian and fifteen Dutch embassy staff in April of this year.

Author: Matthijs Koot  | Date: 20 October 2022 | Permalink

2 Responses to More on Russian alleged spies expelled from the Netherlands and Belgium

  1. Anonymous says:

    In standard intelligence speak “one is the head of the SVR department at the embassy; the other is the head of the GRU department.” are what a called “declared officers”. In this case officially declared to the Dutch Government.

    Those kicked out of the Netherlands are what are called “undeclared” officers.

  2. Matthijs R. Koot says:

    @Anonymous: the honest answer is that I don’t know for sure and you may be correct. From what I understood, the person who NOS/Nieuwsuur designate as the head of the GRU department was a declared officer in the sense of being declared to the Netherlands as military attache (as confirmed by a Google search on his name), but it did not automatically follow that he also is the GRU rezident and declared as such. Similarly, the SVR rezident may have been a declared officer but in a different sense than declared as SVR rezident.

    If anyone has reliable information that can shed more light on this, please share.

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