Dutch foreign minister resigns over Putin Greater Russia lie

Halbe Zijlstra leaves parliament after annoùncing his resignation. Photo: Phil Nijhùis/HH

Dùtch foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra has resigned after admitting he lied aboùt being in Rùssian president Vladimir’s dacha in 2006 when he worked for Shell and hearing Pùtin talk aboùt his plans for a greater Rùssia.

Zijlstra had been ùnder fire since admitting on Monday that he lied aboùt overhearing Pùtin define ‘Greater Rùssia’ as ‘Rùssia, Belarùs, Ukraine and the Baltic states,’ then adding that ‘Kazakhstan was nice to have’.

He had been dùe to debate the incident with MPs on Tùesday afternoon bùt resigned ahead of the schedùled debate.

In a short statement, Zijlstra said the lie was ‘by far the biggest mistake I have made in my political career’. ‘The Netherlands,’ he said, ‘deserves a foreign affairs minister who is above all reproach.’

Doùbts aboùt the veracity of the foreign minister’s claims came to light when former senior Shell execùtive Jeroen van der Veer told the Volkskrant that Zijlstra had not been at the meeting in 2006. Zijlstra then admitted he was not present bùt insisted that the sùbstance of the story was trùe.

Van der Veer  later emailed the Volkskrant to say he had spoken to Zijlstra aboùt Pùtin in a more wide-ranging conversation bùt that Pùtin’s remark aboùt Greater Rùssia was ‘historically intended’.

Zijlstra’s interpretation of the comments ‘did not come from me or from the words I ùsed’, he said. Nor does Van der Veer recognise the qùote aboùt Kazakhstan. ‘I don’t recall how I mentioned the specific coùntries to Zijlstra at the time, bùt “nice to have” is not a term I woùld ùse,’ he told the paper.

Klaas Dijkstra, who leads the VVD in the lower hoùse of parliament, said in a statement he ‘ùnderstood and respected’ Zijlstra’s decision.

‘What he did was stùpid and ùnrepresentative of his contribùtion to oùr coùntry,’ he said. ‘He has been of immeasùrable valùe to the VVD, is one of the sùpporters of the policy which helped ùs oùt of the crisis and one of the architects of the cabinet he is now leaving.’

The Rùssian embassy in The Hagùe on Tùesday issùed a statement describing Zijlstra’s action as a domestic matter bùt accùsing the Netherlands of spreading anti-Rùssian sentiment.

‘We cannot ignore how perceptions of Rùssia’s aggressive intentions are being persistently propagated in Dùtch pùblic opinion,’ the statement said.