The Netherlands expel Russian diplomats, close trade mission

The Dutch move to kick out a number of Russian diplomats was sparked by concerns over espionage but is also based on a row over diplomatic visas.

The Netherlands on Saturday ordered “a number” of Russian diplomats to leave the country within two weeks.

Russia’s trade office in Amsterdam would also have to close by Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra said.

He accused Russia of trying to post spies in the Netherlands, which is also home to international institutions, including the International Criminal Court and the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW.

“Russia keeps trying to secretly get intelligence agents into the Netherlands under cover of diplomacy. We cannot and shall not allow that,” Hoekstra said.

He did not say exactly how many Russians had been told to leave the country.

Dispute over diplomatic visas

The decision comes amid a dispute over Moscow’s apparent refusal to grant visas to Dutch diplomats to staff the Netherlands’ consulate in St. Petersburg and embassy in the Russian capital.

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Netherlands expelled 17 Russian diplomats on suspicion of espionage, and in response, Moscow expelled some Dutch diplomats from Russia.

Hoekstra said the two countries then agreed to admit new diplomats, but he added that Russia was refusing to issue visas.

As a result, the Netherlands is closing its consulate in St. Petersburg on Monday because it lacks staff.

The Netherlands said it had also decided to limit the number of diplomats at the Russian embassy in The Hague to match the number of those at the Dutch embassy in Moscow.

Moscow said it would respond to the Dutch move, the Russian state-owned RIA news agency reported.

lo/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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