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  • The issue of Russian subversion does not generally concern the Netherlands.
  • The Netherlands show some examples of counter-disinformation measures. More politicians have been speaking out about Russian disinformation recently. Home Affairs Minister Kajsa Ollongren has had the biggest reaction to the spread of fake news in the Netherlands.  Dutch politician Sybrand van Haersma Buma has also reacted.

Relations with the Russian Federation

The awaken. Significantly shifted its policies and concerns after the Russian aggression against Ukraine.[1]

The Netherlands are generally too distant from Russia to concern themselves with the issue of immediate Russian threats. So far, the major dimension of Russo-Dutch relations has been economic. However, the downing of MH17 and Russian behavior in its investigation worsened the two countries’ relations. Though it is one of the more Euroskeptic Western European nations, the Netherlands did raise concern that Russia’s behavior threatens international order and the integrity of the EU. This has pushed the Dutch to become more aware of and more concerned by Russian threats. Furthermore, the Netherlands are hesitant but generally supportive of the common EU stance on Russia, even though the Dutch still believe that political reforms and democratic transformations in Russia are possible in the future.

Political acknowledgement of the threat

The Netherlands held a referendum on the approval of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement on 6 April 2016. The question was: “Are you for or against the Approval Act of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine?”[2] 61 per cent of the eligible voters voted against the agreement.

Director of the Transitions Forum at the Legatum Institute, Anne Applebaum, wrote the following in April 2016: “Until last week’s Dutch referendum, we hadn’t seen a good example of how Russian influence actually works in a Western European election… On Wednesday, Dutch citizens were asked to express their feelings about a European trade agreement with Ukraine… 32 percent of the Dutch population turned out, just above the percentage needed to make the referendum legal, and two-thirds of them voted against the treaty. How many of them were moved by Russian disinformation? It’s hard to say, though certainly there has been a lot of it in the Netherlands in recent years, and it accelerated in recent months. Much of it served to create extra uncertainty and fears about non-existent Ukrainian threats.”[3] Despite the seriousness of this Russian meddling, very little has been done to match the severity.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on Russia to stop spreading unsubstantiated rumours and disinformation about the MH17 flight (downed by pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine in 2014) also highlighting Russia’s refusal to co-operate in the investigation.[4] The kingdom’s Foreign Minister at the time, Bert Koenders, claimed that the Dutch government was aware of the threats posed by Russia. Koenders was one of the politicians who warned about Russian meddling in the 2017 Dutch elections.[5] Furthermore, Koenders voiced his criticism of Russia’s refusal to accept the MH17 report’s conclusions after Russia’s foreign ministry called them “biased” and “politically motivated”.[6] Dutch MP Kees Verhoeven (from the Democrats 66 party) commented that the failure of the EU-Ukraine association referendum in the Netherlands may have been influenced by Russia.[7]

Home Affairs Minister Kajsa Ollongren has had the biggest reaction to the spread of fake news in the Netherlands. She stated that “the Netherlands is being monitored by the Russian security services among others… We know what Russia is up to, but we should not assume Russia is the only one.[8] However, Ollongren continues to push that Russia is still a very dangerous presence in her country, even if it isn’t acting alone. She states that she will deal with fake news by approaching companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter; she also hopes that 95 million euros can be budgeted to “bolster cybersecurity and cyberdefense.”[9]  Despite this phenomenon being around for a long time, she argues that the spread of fake news is getting more rapid and widespread.

Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation

Prior to the parliamentary elections in March 2017, the Dutch government ordered that votes should be counted by hand, and not by software as it was done previously, stating fears of Russian hackers’ manipulation of the elections’ outcome as a primary reason.[10]

After the referendum, there was a government task-force installed at the MFA. Its main function was to aid the government in understanding Russian disinformation, but they were often criticized by the public and could not change public perception.

The Dutch government is involved in funding the International Visegrad Fund (IVF)[11] whose tasks, among other things, involve combatting Russian disinformation in Europe. It is also a sponsoring nation of the NATO STRATCOM COE in Riga.[12]

In early 2018, three Dutch media outlets filed a lawsuit which claimed that the EU watchdog “EU vs Disinfo”, which is part of the EEAS East Stratcom Task Force and aims to debunk false information online, incorrectly denounced their articles on the EUvsDisinfo website. Whilst the articles have been taken down, the Dutch media outlets are calling for a formal rectification.[13] A majority of Dutch MPs also backed a motion in parliament urging the government to lobby for the abolition of “EUvsDisinfo”.[14] It has been claimed that “EUvsDisinfo "misses its target" and "meddles with the free press in the Netherlands".”[15]

The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference

The General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) is the Dutch secret service. In its 2016 annual report it mentioned Russia using Cold War-era tactics to exert its influence on democratic Western societies.[16] The kingdom’s cyber-security lies in the domain of the National Cyber Security Centre under the Ministry of Security and Justice.[17] Moreover, prior to the elections, Russian hackers have tried to hack the government employees’ e-mail accounts, including one belonging to the head of the AIVD, Rob Bertholee[18].

Activities of the non-governmental sector

The Netherlands Atlantic Association (Atlantische Komissie) is one of the oldest Dutch NGOs and it is tasked with analyzing key issues surrounding NATO and trans-Atlantic relations.[19] In particular, it publishes a subscription-funded journal called “Atlantisch Perspectief” in Dutch and English, and covers topics related – among other things – to the problem of Russian state’s activities in the EU and NATO, and along their borders.[20]

The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) is an organization providing analysis and data on important issues relating to security issues in Europe and around the world.[21] In March 2017 the centre published a paper on the impact of Russian disinformation efforts in Europe so far, which were relevant in the wake of the French presidential elections.[22]

DROG is an experiment created by Dutch entrepreneur Ruurd Oosterwoud to test media literacy and combat disinformation and fake news online.[23] It is supported by the public SVDJ fund and tasked with aiding journalists in the kingdom.[24]

Two public broadcasters – VPRO and HUMAN – created a documentary in 2015 about Russia Today, which was the first time much of the Dutch public was exposed to RT. Both broadcasters work on projects around Russian disinformation now in the Netherlands.

Robert van der Noordaa, a writer for Dutch newspaper “De Volkdskrant”, writes on Russian influence and suspicious events around MH17. He is responsible for exposing Russian influence in the Referendum. His ties with Ukraine come from his beginning years as a journalist where he worked as an engineer in the country.[25]

During the Dutch parliamentary elections campaign, several experts in cyber-security warned the kingdom’s political parties that they are vulnerable to hacking. Hacker Sijmen Ruwhof told some of the parties that their websites did not have sufficient security measures installed for over a year.[26] Individual citizens and IT security experts have been raising alarm over the Dutch political sector’s vulnerability in the cyber-security angle for at least 11 years now.[27]

[1] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: 
[12] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: 

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