Only a few weeks after taking office, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs leaves office after several days of controversy. Asked by the daily De Volkskrant , Halbe Zijlstra had conceded that he had lied: he never attended, as he claimed, however, at a meeting at which Russian President Vladimir Putin would have detailed his project to return to a large Russia that would include the Baltic States, Ukraine , Kazakhstan and Belarus .
The scene was, according to remarks made in 2016 by the minister before the Congress of the ruling party , the Party for Freedom and Democracy, held in a dacha of Putin. That was in 2006 and Mr Zijlstra, then an occasional employee of the Shell company for information technology and with no other political function than that of municipal councilor in Utrecht, had, he said, been able to follow the conversations at the back of the meeting room. He relied on this version, especially to respond to press criticism of his lack of experience in diplomacy when he was appointed, in 2017, in the third government of his party colleague, Mark Rutte.
Jeroen Van der Veer, who headed Shell in 2006, had said in October that his former employee was unable to attend at the meeting with Putin. It seemed unlikely that a mere collaborator had been allowed to take part, even passively, in a high-level political debate , in which several billion euro contracts were also mentioned.
Under pressure, Zijlstra's staff initially tried to avoid questions about his presence, and then suggested that Mr. Van der Veer might have "forgotten" some of the details. A position that became untenable when other Shell executives described as "laughable" the possible presence of their colleague in the dacha.
Mr. Zijlstra finally had to admit that he had lied. He would have done so, to believe it , to protect his source, which had told him in detail the exchanges between Mr. Putin and his Dutch interlocutors. He would then have judged that, in view of their significance, the words of the Russian President were to be passed on.
The Hague still in conflict with Moscow on flight MH-17
This explanation, too, is considered doubtful. For the CEO of Shell - which was undoubtedly the "source" mentioned by the minister - told the Volkskrant that the words attributed to Mr Putin made more reference to history than to the future. That the president evoked in a way his nostalgia for the great Russia. Of course, the former boss of Shell said, it could be deduced that the Russian president was thinking of a revival of influence for his country, but the interpretation "in an aggressive sense" of Mr. Zijlstra far exceeded the meaning of the statements made during Of the reunion.
Although he tried to justify himself by pointing out that the Russian threat was still very real, with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 as evidence, Zijlstra's position had become untenable. Three opposition parties were already demanding his resignation.
The government holds the majority only one vote in the Chamber of Deputies. The departure of Zijlstra, close to the prime minister, complicates the position of the ruling coalition, which regularly denounces Russian misinformation attempts. The Hague is, moreover, still in conflict with Moscow over the crash of Malaysia Airlines' MH-17 plane. The aircraft that connected Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed in Ukraine in July 2014, hit by a Russian-made missile fired, according to provisional findings by the Dutch public prosecutor, of a portion of territory occupied by Ukrainian separatists, backed by Moscow. The death toll was 298, including many Dutch nationals.
The Netherlands blames Russia for its "unjust and unacceptable" comments on the investigation . Zijlstra was to reopen the case with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on 17 February. But the controversy caught up with him