Two Russian spies have been caught targeting the Netherlands’ science and technology sector, according to a Dutch intelligence agency.
The officers worked at the Russian embassy and had diplomatic accreditation, although this has now been stripped from them and they will have to leave the country, the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) said.
It is the latest diplomatic incident to raise tensions between the two states, which have already been stoked by the murder trial of three Russians for the downing of the MH17 flight.
The Malaysia Airlines passenger jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew, and the Netherlands has said it holds Russia legally responsible.
Moscow has always denied involvement.
The two spies uncovered by the Netherlands are said to work for Russia’s civil intelligence agency, known as SVR.
One of them built a network of sources who work or used to work in the Dutch high-tech sector and had access to sensitive information, with some of them receiving payment for details, the AIVD said.
“The interest of the Russian intelligence officer went towards getting more information about artificial intelligence, semiconductors and nanotechnology,” it said, with many of these technologies able to be used for military operations.
The agency added the second officer had “played a supporting role”.
The Russian embassy said the Netherlands had provided no evidence of unlawful acts by the alleged spies, according to Russian news agency Interfax.
Leonid Slutsky, head of the lower house of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, was also quoted by the news agency as saying the country will give an “adequate and timely” response to the expulsion.
Two years ago, the Netherlands had disrupted an attempt by Russian intelligence agents to hack the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.
Four Russians were caught with spying equipment at a hotel near the OPCW’s headquarters and later expelled.
The AIVD said the Dutch government is now reviewing ways to make foreign spying punishable.