Is Halbe Zijlstra telling the truth about Russia?

Today it became clear that Halbe Zijlstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs, lied about his meeting with Putin in 2006. In an interview with the Volkskrant, the minister confessed that he himself was not present at this meeting, but that he borrowed the story from someone else because of the ‘geopolitical interest’.

This curious course of events raises many questions, but a question that almost nobody seems to be asking is why a politician like Halbe Zijlstra would lie about this meeting? What exactly is the significance of that geopolitical story, which apparently is so large that Halbe Zijlstra took the risk of lying about it for years?

Important geopolitical story

The fact that a politician lied at a party congress about a meeting with the Russian president is a shame, especially at a time when the government is actively involved in combatting fake news. But the question that has remained unanswered for the time being is what we can believe from ‘the important geopolitical story’ that according to Halbe Zijlstra had to be told.

Halbe Zijlstra told that story during a VVD congress in 2016. Below is the translation from Dutch:

“I was present at the beginning of 2006 in Vladimir Putin’s Dacha. I was there as an employee, I was tucked away in the back of the room where it took place, but I could hear very well what Vladimir Putin’s answer was to the question what he meant under ‘Great Russia’, because Great Russia is where he returned to. want. And his answer was: That is Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic States. And oh yes, Kazakhstan that was ‘nice to have’.

And he did not leave it at words. We have been able to see it in recent years. First in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria. And very recently in the Crimea. Now in eastern Ukraine. And what if the next step indeed concerns the Baltic states, if he takes action to Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania? That is life-threatening, because then we end with war.”

It is this geopolitical story on which the foreign policy of the European Union is based. The Minsk agreements, the American and European sanctions against Russia, the buildup of NATO troops on the border with Russia and the military exercises spanning all the way from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

The story that Russia wants to restore the old Soviet Union and that it could invade the Baltic States at any moment is the story that is told again and again in the media. But is it also based on truth? Halbe Zijlstra talks about statements Putin would have made, but he did not hear these statements himself.

Former Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer said last year to the Volkskrant that Halbe Zijlstra was not present during the visit to Putin. But he did not say anything about the alleged statements of the Russian president to which Halbe refers.

Question marks

And then there are the substantive questions that can be placed at Halbe’s story. The examples he mentions of ‘Russian aggression’ can be interpreted in various ways. There are also enough people who claim that Russia had to defend itself against foreign aggression or against terrorists who wanted to sow division and that Russia therefore acted out of self-defense.

The developments in Crimea can also be explained in various ways. This relatively autonomous region of Ukraine decided independently to join Russia and that was accompanied by less violence than the developments on Maidan Square in Kiev.

According to the Kremlin, the presence of Russian military personnel in eastern Ukraine is necessary to protect the local population against the violence of the Ukrainian government army, which has caused thousands of deaths since 2014. Mainly civilian casualties.

And what exactly is the strategic importance of the Baltic States for Russia? In economic or strategic terms, what is the benefit for Putin that he would risk a good relationship with Europe for it? Russia wants to export more natural gas to Europe and encourage European companies to invest more in Russia? This seems to be in conflict with the important geopolitical story that is constantly being repeated in the media.

Is the geopolitical story of Halbe Zijlstra also a Halbe waarheid / half truth?

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