The operation featured a 37-year-old Russian military intelligence officer who cultivated “a well-constructed cover identity” as a Brazilian national, according to Dutch intelligence officials. The man intended to begin an internship with the International Criminal Court, which has opened an investigation in Ukraine, as the Dutch government noted.
“The ICC is also investigating war crimes that took place during the Russian war in Georgia in 2008,” the General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands announced Thursday. “For those reasons, covert access to International Criminal Court information would be highly valuable to the Russian intelligence services.”
The man, whom Dutch officials identified as Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, portrayed himself as a child of poverty whose biological mother died in childbirth. Her putative nationality is redacted, in the letter that Dutch officials accused the man of drafting to support his story, but the narrative implies that she was German — presumably to account for the difference between his “looks and [his] accent” and more conventional Brazilian characteristics.
“Even though I looked like a German, they called me ‘gringo,’” the supporting letter says. The Dutch intelligence agency characterized that English-language text as a translation from Portuguese.
“The original document is in Portuguese, probably because this is the language that best matches his cover identity,” the General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands, or AIVD, stated in an accompanying note. “The Portuguese text contains several (grammar) mistakes, presumably because Portuguese is not Cherkasov’s native language.” The cover story was designed to enable “access to information that would be inaccessible to a Russian national.”
“The ICC is also investigating war crimes that took place during the Russian war in Georgia in 2008,” the Dutch spy agency noted. “For those reasons, covert access to International Criminal Court information would be highly valuable to the Russian intelligence services.”
This is not the first time that Dutch officials have accused the GRU, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, of targeting an international entity conducting an investigation that implicated Russian interests. Dutch officials expelled four men whom they characterized as GRU operatives in 2018, on the grounds that they had tried to hack the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons at The Hague. The OPCW was investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Putin client, as well as the alleged use of a nerve agent in the attempted assassination of a former Russian double agent living in the United Kingdom.
“If the intelligence officer had succeeded in gaining access as an intern to the ICC, he would have been able to gather intelligence there and to look for (or recruit) sources, and arrange to have access to the ICC’s digital systems,” the AIVD said. “That way he would have been able to provide a significant contribution to the intelligence that the GRU is seeking. He might also have been able to influence criminal proceedings of the ICC.”