The Russian embassy in The Hague has condemned the way perceptions of Russia are being twisted in Dutch public opinion, in its first comment on foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra’s admission that he lied about a meeting with president Vladimir Putin.
Zijlstra has been under fire since admitting on Monday that he lied about overhearing Putin define ‘Greater Russia’ as ‘Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states,’ then adding that ‘Kazakhstan was nice to have’.
In a two page English statement, the embassy says it considers Zijlstra’s comments as a domestic matter. It then goes on to say ‘we cannot ignore how perceptions of Russia’s aggressive intentions are being persistently propagated in Dutch public opinion.’
‘The attempts to attribute to Russia “great-power ambitions” and the desire to recreate “the Soviet Empire” do not hold up against any criticism,’ the statement said.
The only people saying this are those ‘who are interested in presenting Russia as an enemy and who under the pretext of the notorious “Russian threat” keep pushing Nato military infrastructure eastwards, therefore consciously provoking military confrontation.’
The statement also took a swipe at the Dutch media for ‘willingly spreading the idea conceived in someone’s inflamed imagination that Russian authorities are obsessed with creating a “Great Russia”.’
‘Isn’t this an example of fake news directed against our country?’ the statement asks. ‘We would like to hope that common sense will prevail, and that in the end the Netherlands will return to the understanding that Russia is an indispensable partner in the struggle against new challenges and threats.’
Zijlstra will face tough questioning about the affair from MPs later on Tuesday afternoon. He is due to fly out to Moscow later for his first official meeting with his Russian opposite number Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday.
The relationship between the Netherlands and Russia has been strained for some time.
Last December, home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren said the Russian security services are trying to influence public opinion in the Netherlands by spreading fake news.
The Dutch security service AIVD said in its 2016 annual report that it was increasingly busy dealing with digital attacks and clandestine attempts to influence policy, largely from Russia.
And a year ago, the New York Times reported that opponents of the Ukraine treaty with the EU used a special ‘Ukrainian team,’ a group of émigrés whose sympathies lay with Russia, to help tilt Dutch public opinion in the referendum campaign.