Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte was this week forced to bear a parliamentary vote of no confidence after his foreign minister finally came clean over a dangerous lie he has been telling for two years concerning Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Halbe Zijlstra quit in shame on Monday as the country’s foreign minister after admitting that a story he had peddled about personally hearing Putin plotting to create a “greater Russia” was false. That then forced premier Rutte to endure a “no confidence” motion from parliamentarians. In the end, Rutte survived the vote. If a majority had voted against his leadership, his coalition government may have collapsed.
But the deep damage done to the Dutch authorities will not be so easily repaired by Rutte’s survival as premier. What has been exposed this week is a senior member of government recklessly telling bare-faced lies in an attempt to slander Russia, poison international relations, and ratchet up already dangerous geopolitical tensions.
Zijlstra had claimed two years ago, in 2016, that he had personally witnessed Russian leader Vladimir Putin boasting about creating a “greater Russia” which, it is claimed, would incorporate Ukraine, the Baltic states, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The newly resigned Dutch top diplomat claimed he heard Putin making the remarks while present with others at the Russian leader’s dacha (summer house) back in 2006.
This week, Zijlstra finally came clean and admitted before parliament that he hadn't in fact been present at the alleged gathering. He still maintains, however, that a confidante who was among the guests at Putin’s dacha informed him of the alleged “greater Russia” plan. But how can we now trust the word of a self-confessed liar?
Zijlstra’s boss, Prime Minister Rutte, also sought to downplay the debacle, claiming that his foreign minister had made “a big mistake” – but that “lying was not a deadly sin.”
Rutte is in for a rude awakening due to his complacent thinking. For indeed his government has been caught telling a very grave lie whose ramifications concern issues of war and peace in Europe.
Disgraced former minister Zijlstra stands accused of gross distortion of Russia’s foreign policy.
Since the US and European-backed illegal coup in Ukraine in early 2014, geopolitical reality has been turned upside-down. American and European corporate media have peddled relentless anti-Russia propaganda accusing Moscow of “aggression” and “expansionism” in Europe.
This torrent of Russophobia spewed out by Washington, the Pentagon, NATO, and the European Union has created the worst crisis in relations with Russia since the Cold War ended nearly three decades ago. There are real fears that the mounting crisis could escalate into an all-out war involving nuclear powers.
Zijlstra’s offense therefore is not merely a “mistaken” lie. His flagrant public distortion has contributed directly to the grave deterioration in geopolitical relations. One could even argue such reprehensible remarks amount to incitement of war, which is a cardinal crime under Nuremberg legal principles.
Lamentably, the mendacious senior Dutch politician is not an isolated case. Recall how former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski was caught out telling similar defamatory lies about Russia in 2014.
Sikorski, who has been an ardent supporter of NATO force build-up against Russia, reportedly claimed that he personally overheard Vladimir Putin in 2008 plotting to annex Ukrainian territory in a covert plot. Sikorski claimed that he heard Putin propositioning then Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk with a carve-up deal of Ukraine between Poland and Russia.
Sikorski was obliged to swiftly retract the claims published in US media, and awkwardly admitting that he was not present at the alleged meeting with Putin, and that his quoted remarks were meant as a “surreal joke.”
But, again, this is no joke or mistake. It is deadly serious disinformation by senior government officials, which is recklessly inciting war tensions with Russia. Sikorski is prominently associated with pro-NATO think-tanks like the hawkish American Enterprise Institute. He is married to Anne Applebaum who makes a living from writing anti-Russian screeds for news outlets like the Washington Post.
Zijlstra and Sikorski join the ranks of Russophobia regurgitated by other European foreign ministers like Britain’s Boris Johnson who issued the outlandish claim earlier this year that Russia is “targeting” British infrastructure; or French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who has impugned Russia for chemical weapons use in Syria – only for the French President Emmanuel Macron to admit this week that his government has actually no evidence about the use of such weapons in Syria.
Macron has made his own contribution to Russophobia by leveling unsubstantiated allegations that his presidential election campaign last year was “hacked” by Kremlin agents. He has since banned Russian news media from attending his press conferences.
All these senior government figures are irresponsibly fueling a climate of demonization against Russia which is compounding other unhinged claims made by politicians in Washington and the Baltic states. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, for example, recently claimed that Russian Iskander missiles based on Russian sovereign territory of Kaliningrad were targeting half of Europe, an alarmist claim which has been amplified by US secretary of defense James Mattis in the Pentagon’s recent Nuclear Posture Review.
The climate of hysteria – based on false, fevered official claims – is militating against normal political and diplomatic relations, which is, in turn, exacerbating the war in Ukraine and leading to wider war tensions with Russia across Europe.
A good question is why the ousted Dutch minister decided to own up this week to his lies about Putin.
The answer may be related to the bigger credibility crisis of the Dutch government and its NATO allies with regard to the whole Russophobia propaganda war.
Next month, the Netherlands is to hold a national referendum on extending powers of Dutch state intelligence to monitor public electronic communications. To convince the Dutch public to vote for more snooping powers, the authorities are relying on the hackneyed claims about Russian “meddling” and “interference”.
It seems significant that Dutch media reported last month that the country’s secret services allegedly “hacked into” Russian state hackers who were allegedly penetrating the American Democratic party’s databases during the US presidential elections back in 2015-2016. As usual, no evidence was provided to support the claims. We know from other credible reports that the Democratic party was quite possibly not hacked at all, but rather was leaked from inside by a Democrat staffer. So the Dutch intel story smearing Russia is highly dubious.
But it seems that the purported “good deed” performed by the Dutch intelligence services was pitched in the media as a way to ingratiate bona fides with the Netherlands public. The aim being to dispose the public toward voting in the referendum next month to give the Dutch state more intrusive powers over citizens to “protect” them from “nefarious Russians”.
Now, if the Dutch minister had held on to his office any longer there was a risk that his lies may have become public embarrassingly close to the March referendum, which could have resulted in the public rejecting the authorities’ desire for more snooping powers.
Perhaps then the decision was taken in high office for the minister to take the fall now in order to get rid sooner of an embarrassing story concerning his lies over Russia.
Whatever the explanation about the timing, the admission of Dutch government lying about Russian aggression in Europe is nevertheless an illuminating and appalling insight into how Russophobia and war is being fomented by the US and its European NATO allies.
Abominably, European government officials are willing to risk plunging millions of citizens into a war with Russia based on lies and warped, self-serving prejudices.
Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.