Dutch foreign minister under fire for lying about Putin

FILE - This is a Thursday, Nov. 16. 2017 file photo of Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs Halbe Zijlstra attends a press conference at the ministry of foreign affairs in Berlin, Germany. In a potentially damaging admission on the eve of his first visit to Russia as a member of the Dutch government, Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra has acknowledged lying about attending a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in 2006. Zijlstra made the admission in an interview published in respected Dutch daily De Volkskrant. He confirmed his comments in a written statement Monday Feb. 12, 2018. (Soeren Stache/dpa File via AP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands’ foreign minister was facing a tough debate in Parliament Tuesday following his admission that he lied about attending a meeting hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin at his country retreat more than a decade ago.

Foreign Affairs Minister Halbe Zijlstra, a member of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right VVD party, was expected to face hostile questions and calls for his resignation from opposition lawmakers.

Zijlstra has in the past said he attended a 2006 meeting when Putin said he considered Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states as part of a “Greater Russia.”

On Monday, Zijlstra conceded he wasn’t present at the meeting but heard the story from somebody who was. He said he considered Putin’s statements so geopolitically important that he spoke about them publicly and took credit for hearing the comments as a way of protecting his source.

The Russian embassy in the Netherlands waded into the debate by issuing a statement accusing some in the Netherlands of distributing “fake news” aimed at discrediting Moscow by suggesting it has expansionist ambitions.

“This can only be heard from those who are interested in presenting Russia as an enemy and who under the pretext of the notorious ‘Russian threat’ keep pushing NATO military infrastructure eastwards, therefore consciously provoking military confrontation,” the Russian statement said.

The spat came a day before Zijlstra was due to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow.