Thu 28 October 2021

Stephen Komarnyckyj reports on the Kremlin’s effective disinformation campaign around the shooting down of Flight MH17 with the loss of nearly two hundred Dutch lives

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is targeting Dutch politicians according to a report released on 29 April by the country’s intelligence service, the AIVD.

The AIVD report also notes that the Kremlin is trying to convince the Dutch public that Russia was not to blame for the destruction of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. MH17 was shot down by Russian troops over Ukraine’s Donbas region on 17 July 2014 with the loss of 298 lives, including 193 Dutch citizens. However, the report also says that Russia’s impact on Dutch politics is ‘limited’ despite its extensive influence operations. Is that true?

Thierry Baudet, the leader of the Forum voor Demokratie (FVD) party is one of the politicians targeted by Russia. His Moscow links were exposed in April 2020 by the release of WhatsApp messages dating from 2016. In the messages, which featured in a TV broadcast by the Dutch TV program Zembla, he refers to a Russian, Vladimir Kornilov.

Van der Noordaa, a Dutch investigative journalist with expertise in Russian subversion, notes that Kornilov is regarded by the AIVD as a probable Russian agent. WhatsApp messages suggest Baudet was paid by Vladimir Kornilov but he has denied receiving any money from him. Nevertheless, Baudet worked with Kornilov when he launched a campaign for a referendum on an association agreement between Ukraine and the EU in 2016.

Marcel Van Herpen, a Dutch expert in Russian influence operations, notes that Baudet spread misinformation supplied by Kornilov in the run-up to the vote. This included Kornilov’s allegation that the snipers who attacked civilians during the Maidan revolt were Ukrainian protesters. The ‘No’ campaign also circulated claims that Ukraine might be responsible for the destruction of flight MH17. The misinformation worked and the Dutch people voted against the agreement on 6 April 2016.

However, the Kremlin’s links to Dutch politicians and NGOs extend beyond Baudet. Geert Wilders of the right-wing Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) ‘keeps a low profile’ in the Netherlands according to Van Herpen but ‘votes consequently in favour of the Kremlin in the European Parliament’.

The Kremlin is also targeting Dutch civil society. Kornilov is linked to an organisation called the Global Rights of Peaceful People (GRPP). The group’s logo with the dove of peace suggests that it is a pacifist group.

However, the GRPP, whose Dutch branch was incorporated in 2019, spreads misinformation and tries to engage with the left-wing of Dutch politics. In late 2019 they organised a press conference in the Hague entitled ‘Call for Justice MH17’.

The centrepiece of the event was a documentary film by Dutch MH17 ‘truther’ Max van der Werf and former Russia Today journalist Yana Yerlashova. Its quality may be judged by the fact that, according to an article by van der Noordaa and Coen van de Ven in, Yerlashova apparently moved some of the aircraft debris to undermine the official investigation. However, despite its lack of credibility, this film has convinced many people in the Netherlands and elsewhere that Russia might not have destroyed the aircraft.

The AIVD report’s claim that the Kremlin’s impact on Dutch politics is ‘limited’ seems like an understatement. Russia won a national vote in the Netherlands and has recruited prominent Dutch politicians to help cover up its guilt for MH17. Baudet, indeed tried to persuade Trump to block the investigation into the aircraft.

Some Dutch citizens believe that Russia did not shoot down a plane carrying 193 of their fellow citizens despite the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Putin will be very content with the limited success of his influence operation in the Netherlands.


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