Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra, who is due to travel to Moscow this week to meet with his Russian counterpart, has admitted to lying about a supposed meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin more than a decade ago.
Zijlstra, a member of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), told a party congress in May 2016 about a supposed event at Putin’s country retreat in 2006. He also told the story last year to back up his foreign experience as he took office as minister of foreign affairs.
“In early 2006 I was present in the dacha of Vladimir Putin,” Zijlstra said at the party congress. “I was there as an employee [of Shell]. I was tucked away in the back of the room where it was taking place. But I could hear very well what Vladimir Putin answered when asked about his definition of Greater Russia.”
Zijlstra, who warned about the possibility of a future war with Russia, continued: “Greater Russia is what [Putin] wants to go back to. And his answer was: ‘That is Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic states. And, oh yes, Kazakhstan was nice to have.'”
Questions about the story were raised in October when the Dutch newspaper AD published a profile about Zijlstra. The article said Zijlstra and Shell executive Jeroen van der Veer attended a meeting with Putin “somewhere in the 90s,” but Van der Veer denied meeting Putin in the company of Zijlstra.
The foreign minister admitted on Monday that he had lied, but insisted that the story itself was true. “I tried to protect my source this way,” he told NOS in an interview, adding that he regretted having lied about it. He said in a second interview that he has only one source for the story.
The Dutch government, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, has repeatedly accused Russia of spreading fake news. The admission comes just a day before Zijlstra is due to travel to Moscow to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the first time.
Opposition lawmakers have questioned whether Zijlstra can stay on after being caught in a lie about international affairs, but members of Rutte’s coalition have expressed support for his position. Parliament will meet on Tuesday to discuss Zijlstra’s lie.
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