Netherlands expels Russian diplomats as talks break down; Dutch close St. Petersburg consulate

The Netherlands has ordered several Russian diplomats to leave the country as bilateral talks between the two nations have stalled. The diplomats have to leave within two weeks. Additionally, the Russian trade office in Amsterdam was also ordered to shut down from February 21.

The Dutch Cabinet said on Saturday that the two countries have not been able to come to an agreement about the conditions which would allow them to staff diplomatic postings.

“Russia has tried again and again to covertly place intelligence officers in the Netherlands as diplomats. At the same time, Russia refuses to issue visas for Dutch diplomats to staff the consulate-general in Saint Petersburg and the embassy in Moscow,” the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs alleged.

“Despite numerous attempts by the Netherlands to find a solution, Russia continues to try to place intelligence officers in the Netherlands under diplomatic cover,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra to the Tweede Kamer. “We cannot and will not allow that.”

The Cabinet said that it will only permit Russia to staff the same amount of diplomats in the Netherlands as the Dutch can place at the embassy in Moscow. “A number of Russian diplomats will therefore have to leave the Netherlands,” the ministry said.

The total number of diplomats who will be expelled from was not immediately clear. Aside from an embassy in The Hague and the trade representation office in Amsterdam, the Russian Federation has an honorary consulate-general in Landgraaf.

The Netherlands said Russia’s “unacceptable” position towards issuing visas has “led to an unsustainable situation.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “The Dutch consulate-general in Saint Petersburg will have to close temporarily due to the lack of staff.”

The consulate will close on February Monday. All Dutch citizens and organizations will have to contact the embassy in Moscow for consular services.

Hoekstra acknowledged that “relations with Russia are more difficult than ever.” Both countries have repeatedly summoned each other’s ambassadors in recent weeks as a reaction to court rulings about the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

An international investigation determined a Russian missile installation used by Russian military and Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists shot the plane down, and that the sending the Buk missile system from Russia to Ukraine was supported by the Kremlin. A Dutch court recently convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian separatist in absentie for the incident, sentencing all three to life in prison. One Russian suspect was acquitted.

Russia has denied the accusations. It has also tried to blame Ukraine for the plane crash.

Additionally, “After Russia invaded Ukraine, the Netherlands expelled 17 Russian intelligence officers in March 2022,” the ministry said. Investigations showed that they were working for Russian security service SVR, and military intelligence agency GRU. They were not only accused of covert intelligence gathering, but also for spying on technology businesses in the Netherlands.

Moscow responded by expelling 15 diplomats who were working for the Netherlands in Russia.

“Russia continues to delay the matter and that is unacceptable,” Hoekstra said on Saturday. “We’re in charge here. They’re not.”

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