Monday 22 October 2018

Dutch minister quits after lying about Putin meeting

Halbe Zijlstra announced his resignation at the start of a debate at which he was expected to be grilled by opposition legislators.

Halbe Zijlstra (Soeren Stache/dpa/AP)
Halbe Zijlstra (Soeren Stache/dpa/AP)

By Mike Corder

The Dutch foreign affairs minister has resigned a day after admitting 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 at which he was expected to be grilled by opposition legislators about the lie.

He called it “by far the biggest mistake I have committed in my entire career”.

“This is about the credibility of the minister of foreign affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands,” he said. “That credibility must be beyond doubt.”

By far the biggest mistake I have committed in my entire career Halbe Zijlstra

Mr Zijlstra, a member of prime minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right VVD party, is the first minister to quit since Mr Rutte’s four-party coalition took office in October.

The premier, who was in parliament for Mr Zijlstra’s resignation, hugged him as he left.

Mr Zijlstra’s position as the country’s leading diplomat became untenable after he admitted lying about a meeting with Mr Putin.

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

On Monday, Mr Zijlstra conceded he was not present at the meeting but heard the story from somebody who was.

He said he considered Mr 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.

“It was clearly a wrong choice,” he said as he announced his resignation.

The Russian embassy in the Netherlands waded into the debate by issuing a statement accusing some in the country 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 eastwards, therefore consciously provoking military confrontation,” the Russian statement said.

Mr Zijlstra’s resignation came a day before he was due to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow.

Press Association

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