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Dutch expulsion of Russian spies is a ‘misunderstanding’

Russia’s foreign minister has dismissed the expulsion of four alleged agents from the Netherlands as a “misunderstanding”.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Sergey Lavrov described the visit as a “routine trip”.

Dutch authorities said last week they had expelled four GRU military intelligence agents in April for plotting a cyber attack on the world’s chemical weapons watchdog at The Hague.

The British ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Wilson, also revealed how one of the agents allegedly attempted to disrupt the investigation into Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), which was shot down in 2014.

He said the Russian agents were being sent around the world to “conduct brazen close-access cyber operations”.

Mr Lavrov said: “There was nothing secret about the trip by our specialists to the Netherlands.

“They didn’t hide when they checked into the hotel, or when they came to the airport, or when they went to our embassy.

“They were detained without explanation… and asked to leave. It looked like a misunderstanding,”

Mr Lavrov said that there had been no diplomatic protests over the incident.

GRU officers being apprehended by Dutch intelligence officers near the headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague
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GRU officers being apprehended by Dutch intelligence officers in The Hague
A car carrying hacking equipment used by GRU officers, travelling on official Russian passports, parked near the headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague
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The car contained hacking equipment used by GRU officers

The men had entered the country on Russian diplomatic passports on 10 April and were caught three days later with a car packed with electronic equipment in the Marriott Hotel next to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Their details, including passports and a taxi receipt for a trip to Moscow airport from a street containing a branch of the military intelligence agency, were revealed to the Dutch media.

Mr Lavrov confirmed his office would summon the Dutch ambassador over the issue on Monday.

He said: “Yes, we are inviting the ambassador from the Netherlands to bring his attention to this point of view… We will give more information (later).”

Russia has already discussed the incident with The Hague’s envoy in September after Dutch media broke the news over the Russians’ expulsion, according to Mr Lavrov.

A car carrying hacking equipment used by GRU officers, travelling on official Russian passports, parked near the headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague
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The car was packed with electronic equipment in the Marriott Hotel car park

But a further meeting between the Russian ambassador and Dutch authorities on 3 October had failed to produce any “facts,” the foreign minister said.

“Once again we are dealing with a sort of loudspeaker diplomacy, a disregard for legal mechanisms,” he added.

Responding to the claims made on Thursday, the Russian embassy in London said the allegations were “irresponsible” and that the UK was imparting “crude disinformation”.

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