Dutch foreign minister out after lying about meeting Putin
Dutch foreign affairs minister Halbe Zijlstra is leaving his role in the Prime Minister Mark Rutte's cabinet following the revelation that he lied about attending a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Zijlstra announced the move Tuesday evening at the beginning of a scheduled debate on the minister's prior conduct.
Zijlstra apologized for the lie, saying it was "by far the biggest mistake of my political life." Though the conservative VVD politician initially held the public support of the other coalition partners, those parties refused to further there support in interviews Tuesday afternoon.
"In order not to strain the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I see no other option than to offer my resignation to the king today, and I do so with sadness in my heart," Zijlstra said. Prior to his ministerial role, Zijlstra served as Rutte's VVD leader in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament.
Zijlstra has claimed for nearly four years that he heard Putin make fiery statements about wanting conquer territory in the Ukraine and the Baltics with the desire to expand Russia's footprint in the region back when he was working for Shell in 2006.
In reality, former Shell CEO Jeroen van de Veer attended the meeting at Putin's home, and reported it to Zijlstra. He later said Zijlstra may have misinterpreted the Russian leader's comments. The truth came out in a Volkskrant interview with Zijlstra published several days ago. In his defense, Zijlstra said that by taking credit for being at the meeting, he could protect Van de Veer's anonymity.
However, Zijlstra again repeated the claim at a VVD party conference in 2016. His tall tale was later used by his party to bolster Zijlstra's foreign relations experience, which came into question when he took the cabinet position.
The Russian Embassy in the Netherlands issued a statement expressing anger and bewilderment at Zijlstra's claim, saying it was part of a coordinated smear campaign by the Dutch government against Russia. Opposition parties quickly called out the minister on the lie, saying there was no way he could remain credible as a foreign minister after making the suspicious claim.