Doubts around Dutch minister's interpretation of Putin's 'Great Russia' statements

Halbe Zijlstra
Halbe Zijlstra. Photo: Stichting Kennisnet / Wikimedia Commons

Minister Halbe Zijlstra of Foreign Affairs will face a critical Tweede Kamer on Tuesday. The lower house of Dutch parliament will discuss him lying about personally attending a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2006. Not only was he not at the meeting, but he also misinterpreted Putin's statements given to him by his source who was there, the source - former Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer told the Volkskrant.

Zijlstra - to protect Van der Veer's identity, he said - but insisted that his warning is real. Putin is striving for a Great Russia, looking to gain power in Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Kazakhstan was 'nice to have', he said. The four government parties , saying that Zijlstra lying about the meeting was "unwise", but the Russian threat is real.

Now it seems that Zijlstra's statements about what Putin said at that meeting, were not quite correct. In an email to the Volkskrant Van der Veer confirmed that he spoke with Zijlstra about Putin, but that the Russian president's statements about Great Russia were "meant historically". "Historically seen, Great Russia is larger than current Russia", Van der Veen said. He finds Zijlstra's interpretation that "current Russia would like more or a lot of influence in what was Great Russia, logical". But, the former Shell CEO adds, the "interpretation in an aggressive sense" was "not from me nor my use of words".

Van der Veer is also confused about Zijlstra's quote about Kazakhstan. "I do not remember how I told Zijlstra about the specific countries at the time, but the term 'nice to have' is not something I'd say", he said in the email.

Informed sources confirmed this to RTL Nieuws. According to them, the tenor of Zijlstra's statements may be true, but Van der Veer never literally said that Putin is aiming for a Great Russia again. "His remarks were based on statements made by president Putin. Many years ago, so he did not have precise memories. It is about a Great Russia, bigger than now. And that it is logical that Russia wants to exert influence there again."

Zijlstra will face a difficult parliamentary debate on Tuesday, political commentator Frits Wester expects. "The opposition smells blood. If the content is also not quite right, the debate becomes even more annoying", he said, according to RTL Nieuws. "The coalition parties also have growing doubts. Or as a prominent coalition member said: I'm afraid we underestimated how big this would become."

Tags: