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Diplomacy

Dutch foreign minister quits after lying about meeting Vladimir Putin

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2018, 1:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2018, 1:09am

The Dutch foreign affairs minister has resigned, a day after admitting that he lied about attending a meeting hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin more than a decade ago.

An emotional Halbe Zijlstra announced his resignation at the start of a debate Tuesday at which he was expected to be grilled by opposition lawmakers about the lie.

He said that “the Netherlands deserves a minister who is above any doubt” and that “I see no other option today than to hand in my resignation to his majesty the King.”

Zijlstra, a member of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right VVD party, is the first minister to quit since Rutte’s four-party coalition was sworn in last year.

He was seen hugging Rutte after announcing his resignation in parliament.

Zijlstra has in the past said he attended a 2006 meeting when Putin said he considered Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states as part of a “Greater Russia.”

On Monday, Zijlstra conceded he wasn’t present at the meeting but heard the story from somebody who was.

Dutch minister admits lying about meeting with Putin

He said he considered Putin’s statements so geopolitically important that he spoke about them publicly and took credit for hearing the comments as a way of protecting his source.

The Russian embassy in the Netherlands waded into the debate by issuing a statement accusing some in the Netherlands of distributing “fake news” aimed at discrediting Moscow by suggesting it has expansionist ambitions.

“This can only be heard from 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 eastward, therefore consciously provoking military confrontation,” the Russian statement said.

The spat came a day before Zijlstra was due to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow.