Moscow said Monday that four Russians expelled as alleged spies by the Netherlands were on a “routine visit”, insisting that the Dutch intelligence operation had failed to provide proof of any hacking plot.
Russia summoned the Dutch ambassador in Moscow on Monday over the allegations that the four plotted to attack an international institution in The Hague. She reportedly demanded an end to such attacks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the expulsion of four alleged military intelligence agents from the Netherlands in April had been a “misunderstanding”.
“There was nothing secret about the trip by our specialists to the Netherlands, it was a routine trip,” Lavrov told reporters.
“They didn’t hide when they checked into the hotel, or when they came to the airport, or when they went to our embassy,” he said.
“They were detained without explanation… and asked to leave. It looked like a misunderstanding.”
The Netherlands had not issued any diplomatic protest over the incident, he added.
The Netherlands said Thursday it had expelled four GRU military intelligence agents in April for plotting a cyber attack on the world’s chemical weapons watchdog in The Hague.
Officials said the men entered the country on Russian diplomatic passports on April 10 and were caught on April 13 with a car full of electronic equipment in the Marriott Hotel next to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
A statement by the Russian foreign ministry cited by Russian news agencies said the equipment was “meant to test the (Russian) embassy information systems in order to analyse the embassy’s computer networks due to more frequent attempts to infiltrate Russian institutions.”
The men’s passports and other details, including a taxi receipt for a trip to a Moscow airport from a street containing a branch of the military intelligence agency, were shown to the Dutch media.
Asked by reporters whether the Kremlin considered this evidence, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “no” and refused to further discuss “these topics” with the media.
– US indictment –
Western countries last week presented their latest allegations that Russian intelligence agents were operating to undermine international institutions.
In a joint statement, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte accused the GRU intelligence agency of “disregard for global values and rules that keep us all safe”.
Britain’s defence minister Gavin Williamson condemned Russia as a “pariah state” and promised further isolation of Moscow.
The US announced Thursday that the four Russians expelled from the Netherlands — Alexei Minin, Yevgeny Serebryakov, Oleg Sotnikov and Alexei Morenets — were among seven people it had indicted over a global hacking conspiracy.
The GRU hackers are accused of having interfered in the US presidential polls in 2016 and staged hack attacks on the world anti-doping agency (WADA), according to a US Justice Department indictment.
They also hacked into the WiFi system of hotels housing sporting officials during the Rio Olympics to gather their credentials, later using them to leak details on world athletes’ doping tests, the indictment alleged.
– Envoy summoned –
Emerging from the building after an hour-long meeting, Jones-Bos told journalists she insisted that the Netherlands will not permit attacks on international institutions located on its soil, and gave a clear signal that this should stop, Interfax news agency reported.
Lavrov said that Russia had already discussed the incident with The Hague’s but nothing “coherent” had emerged from the discussions.
“We are dealing with a sort of loudspeaker diplomacy, a disregard for legal mechanisms” for resolving such disputes, Lavrov said.