400 years of Dutch-Russian friendship? What the commentators say

Tensions are rising between Russia and the Netherlands as celebrations marking 400 years of friendship draw to a close. But what do the leader writers say?

So far the year has seen two Greenpeace activists awaiting trial in Russia, a demonstration against Putin in Amsterdam supported by the capital’s mayor Eberhard van der Laan, criticism from the visiting Dutch education minister, the arrest of an – allegedly- drunken Russian diplomat and an attack on a Dutch diplomat in Moscow.

In the Volkskrant historian Ruud Veltmeijer advises caution and wonders if the Dutch criticism of Russia has achieved anything. The Russians, according to Veltmeijer, largely support their government’s stance on homosexuality.

The presence of mayor Van der Laan at the demonstration against Putin is ‘not done’: the Dutch government invited Putin and Van der Laan should have welcomed him.

Actresses like Halina Reijn, who have been invited to perform in Russia and protest on the stage are even worse. ‘She was hired to act and not to engage in politics. She knew where she was going,’ Veltmeijer writes.

Premature

Elsevier writes that the noises Labour and D66 are making about ditching the friendship year before something else happens may be slightly premature. Much will depend on how foreign minister Frans Timmermans handles things, the magazine says.

However, he is not doing particularly well, Elsevier thinks. His attitude in the Greenpeace case was ‘opportunistic and ill-thought out’, the magazine writes. His apology for the arrest of the Russian diplomat came late and then he added insult to injury by posting the song ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ on his Facebook page.

To top it all, he again took to Facebook to demand security for Dutch diplomats. ‘The Russian state can hardly be held responsible for the attack,’ Elsevier writes.

Economy

Giles Scott-Smith of the Holland Bureau points out the considerable damage Russian anger can do to the Dutch economy. ‘The Russians are the third largest market for Dutch tulips. €250m worth of tulip bulbs went eastwards in 2012, two and a half times the value in 2002. The Netherlands is the second largest investor in the Russian economy,’ he writes.

Junior economic affairs minister Sharon Dijkstra’s gift of half a million flower bulbs to enchant the people of St Petersburg has failed to do the trick and the Russians are still angry.

‘If this is a small example of Russia’s super-confident new diplomacy since hosting the G20 and ‘solving’ the Syrian crisis over the last month, international affairs could get pretty rough,’ Scott-Smith concludes.