Foreign Minister under fire over lie about meeting with Russian president

Halbe Zijlstra
Halbe Zijlstra, VVD leader.

Minister Halbe Zijlstra of Foreign Affairs admitting that he lied about having a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, was met by fierce criticism from opposition parties in the Tweede Kamer. The coalition parties call his actions mainly "unwise", NOS reports.

In a recent interview with the Volkskrant, Zijlstra said that, contrary to several previous statements, he was not in fact at a meeting with the Russian president in 2006. On several previous occasions, including a VVD conference in 2016, Zijlstra said that while at this meeting, he heard Putin saying that he is striving for a "Great Russia". Zijlstra now says he lied about being at the meeting to protect the identity of an anonymous source who was actually there.

"The Minister has a problem", according to PvdA parliamentarian Lilianne Ploumen. "Not only Zijlstra's credibility is at stake, but also the credibility of the Netherlands as a whole", she said to NOS. "The whole international circuit is talking about it and that is not good for our reputation."

PVV leader Geert Wilders points out that Zijlstra spread disinformation himself, while the Netherlands regularly accuses Russia of spreading fake news. "The pot is calling the kettle black", Wilders said. 

According to the SP, Zijlstra's actions will result in no one believing him in future. "Why would someone do something like that?" parliamentarian Sadet Karabulut asked the broadcaster. 

"It is unbelievable that people like these are running our country", FvD leader Thierry Baudet said on Twitter.

The PVV and PvdA called for an urgent debate with the VVD minister. The parties want this debate to happen before Zijlstra goes to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday.

The coalition parties call Zijlstra's actions 'unwise', but point out that his lie does not change anything about the warning he gave with it, according to the broadcaster.

"Incorrect and unnecessary", ChristenUnie parliamentarian Joel Voordewind said. But the party added: "It does not change the warning that President Putin was and is out for a great Russia."

"Zijlstra's actions were not sensible", according to CDA parliamentarian Martijn van Helvert. "The signal of Russian threat remains relevant at the same time."

Zijlstra's own party, the VVD, called his lie unwise. "But for the VVD what was said then weighs heavier than the way it came out", the party said, according to the broadcaster.

A D66 spokesperson called Zijlstra's actions an "awkward performance" to NOS. "But it does not detract from the fact that Russia's threat is real and current." D66 leader Alexander Pechtold gave a less harsh reaction. "I appreciate his frankness. I still have to meet the first Russian who corrects his mistakes himself."