13 Feb 2018 21:03

Dutch foreign minister cancels Russia visit - Russian Foreign Ministry

MOSCOW. Feb 13 (Interfax) - The Netherlands has informed Russia that its foreign minister's visit scheduled for this week has been cancelled.

"The Netherlands has formally notified about the cancelled Russia visit by its foreign minister," a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

This Wednesday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to meet in Moscow with Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra who has stepped down.

His resignation was announced earlier by the Dutch public television and radio company. Speaking before the House of Representatives of national parliament, he said that by lying about meeting with the Russian president he made the biggest mistake of his political life.

The Netherlands deserves a foreign minister who is above any suspicion, Zijlstra said.

A day earlier he admitted that he had lied for 12 years about being present at a meeting with Vladimir Putin.

In the past Zijlstra stated that he had attended the Russian leader's meeting with international business representatives and heard Putin commenting on "a Great Russia which should include Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states."

Now Zijlstra says that he "borrowed" details of the Russian leader's meeting and comments from someone who did attend the meeting, and passed the information as his own.

The minister said that while he was not present at the meeting, the words he quoted were not a lie.

The allegations that Russia has "great power ambitions" and is trying to recreate the "Soviet empire" do not hold up to criticism, the Russian embassy to the Netherlands said in a statement shared with Interfax on Tuesday.

"We paid attention to Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra's interview published by the newspaper Volkskrant on February 12. Despite his earlier statements, the minister admitted in that interview that he took no part in the meeting of Shell executives with the Russian president in 2006, during which, according to Zijlstra, Vladimir Putin allegedly declared his aspiration to build a 'greater Russia' comprising Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic republics, and Kazakhstan," the statement said.

The minister's statement is being broadly commented on in the Netherlands, it said.

"We have no right to comment on the opinions about Zijlstra's conduct, because we view them as an internal affair of the Netherlands," the statement said.

"Yet we cannot ignore the representations of the Russian administration's intentions as aggressive, [representations] which are being persistently implanted into Dutch public opinion, to which the story of Zijlstra's alleged participation in the meeting with Putin is attached," it said.