News Brief

How the Dutch Foreign Minister Got Caught Lying About Russia

You couldn’t make this one up. And that’s what the Dutch Foreign Minister has admitted to doing, after confessing that he lied when he claimed that he had once overheard President Vladimir Putin talking about plans to create a “greater Russia.”

“I told an untruth, it was unacceptable,” said Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra, just before departing for his first visit to Russia as a member of the Dutch government, where he is due to meet his counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Zijlstra dug himself into trouble two years ago after telling a crowd of political supporters that he had heard Putin talking about what which countries “he considered greater Russia” when he was invited to the Russian leader’s “dacha,” or country retreat while working for the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell.

“He said this included Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states, and, well, Kazakhstan would be ‘nice to have’,” Zijstra is heard saying in a video recording of his 2016 speech.

But the foreign minister now says he was never at Putin’s dacha in 2006 and that he had just repeated what a “source” had told him. Speaking to the Dutch media, he insisted that “the discussion did take place,” but that he had taken credit for the story because he wanted to protect his source.

It’s hugely embarrassing for the Dutch government, against the backdrop of its continuing dispute with Moscow over the shooting down of a Malaysian passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in 2014. All 298 people on board died, the majority of them Dutch. Both international and Dutch investigators believe that flight MH17 was brought down by a Russian missile, but Moscow has rejected their findings and refused to cooperate with Dutch efforts to put the suspects on trial.

Opposition parties and editorials in the national media have demanded Zijlstra’s resignation. The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has said the foreign minister made a “big mistake,” but so far he is standing by Zijlstra, saying that he is still a credible member of the government.