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12 February, 2018
Dutch foreign minister admits to lying about meeting Vladimir Putin
Photo: Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra at the 2017 EU Eastern Partnership Summit | Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images
Halbe Zijlstra previously claimed he overheard the Russian president talking about his expansionist ambitions at a gathering in 2006.
Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra has come under fire for lying about attending a meeting with Vladimir Putin in 2006, Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reported Monday.
At a party conference in 2016, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) politician claimed he was present at a 2006 meeting in which the Russian president laid out plans to expand the country’s borders and create a “Great Russia” that would include Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic states and possibly Kazakhstan. Zijlstra, an employee of oil company Shell at the time, had traveled to Russia with Jeroen van der Veer, then CEO of the company.
Zijlstra was forced to set the record straight on his attendance at the meeting after his colleagues raised doubts about his account, De Volkskrant reported. The minister admitted he was not in fact in the room, but borrowed the story from a source. Zijlstra claimed he wanted to tell the story because of its “geopolitical importance” and presented it as his own in order to “protect” the source.
His decision was “not a smart move,” he admitted. “I should have done this differently.”
The disclosure comes at an inconvenient time for Zijlstra, as he heads to Moscow on Tuesday to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The ministers are expected to discuss the downing of MH17, the plane that was shot down while flying over Ukraine in 2014, sparking a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. Prime Minister Mark Rutte government has previously accused Russia of spreading fake news about the incident.
Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom has called on Zijlstra to take part in a parliamentary debate before he leaves, and joined other opposition parties in questioning his integrity.
Rutte, whom Zijlstra said was informed of the story some weeks ago, defended the foreign minister saying he remains “credible,” because the content of the story is “not up for discussion,” NOS reported.