Dutch minister admits to lying about 'Greater Russia' meeting with Vladimir Putin
Halbe Ziljstra has landed in hot water over his own account of controversial remarks allegedly made by the Russian president. The controversy comes ahead of his trip to Moscow, where he will meet with Sergey Lavrov.
The Netherlands' foreign minister, Halbe Zijlstra, admitted on Monday ahead of a trip to Moscow that he had lied about attending a controversial meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin before he entered politics.
Zijlstra, who became foreign minister in October, claimed to have met Putin at the president's dacha in 2006 while working for the oil company Shell. Putin supposedly told Zijlstra and others he considered Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states a part of "Greater Russia," adding: "Kazakhstan was nice to have."
But the 49-year-old told Dutch daily de Volkskrant on Monday that he had not actually been at the meeting. Rather, he had heard the remarks from a colleague who was there. To protect the identity of his source, he took credit for hearing the president talk about "Greater Russia."
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"The manner in which I wanted to protect my source and underscore my message about Russia was not sensible, that is crystal clear," he said.
Zijlstra is set to arrive in Moscow on Tuesday for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Zijlstra had made a "big mistake," but that he had not damaged his credibility.
Rutte added that the incident would not damage the Netherlands' relationship with Russia, adding: "The Russians know all too well that the content [of Putin's alleged comments] are true."
amp/kms (AP, dpa)
From KGB to Kremlin
Putin joined the KGB, the former Soviet Union's security agency, in 1975. In the 1980s he undertook his first foreign posting as a KGB agent to Dresden, Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Putin returned to Russia and entered Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin. When Yeltsin announced that he wanted Putin as his successor, the way was paved for him to become prime minister.
On his appointment, Putin was virtually unknown to the general public. This changed when in August 1999 armed men from Chechnya invaded the neighboring Russian territory of Dagestan. President Yeltsin appointed ex-KGB officer Putin to bring Chechnya back under the central government's control. On New Year's Eve, Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned and named Putin as acting president.
Tough guy in the media
During an exhibition hockey game in Sochi, Putin’s team won 18-6, with the president scoring eight goals.
Limited freedom of speech
A protester wears a tape over his mouth reading "Putin" during an opposition rally. In 2013 the Kremlin announced that the state-owned news agency, RIA Novosti, was to be restructured and placed under the control of a pro-Kremlin figure known for his extreme anti-Western views. Reporters without Borders ranked Russia as 148 in its list of 178 countries in terms of press freedom.
Putin's Image: A man of action
Putin's image as a man of action, boosted by his having been a KGB spy, has long been part of his appeal in Russia. It is carefully maintained by means of photos where he is seen bare-chested on horseback, or tossing opponents onto a judo mat. In Russia, Putin has earned praise for restoring stability but has also been accused of authoritarianism.
When President Putin's United Russia party won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in 2007, critics described the vote as neither free nor democratic. Dozens were detained as riot police broke up protests by demonstrators accusing President Putin of stifling democracy. In this rally the poster reads: "Thank you, no!"
In Sevastopol, Crimea, Putin looks through the window of a research bathyscaphe in the waters of the Black Sea. This dive in a mini-submarine was only one of his adventurous stunts; he has also been seen tranquilizing wild tigers and flying with endangered cranes. It was also aimed at cementing his image as an adventurer, and demonstrating his control of the annexed territory of Crimea.