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Bumpy ride for Dutch-Russian relations11 October 2013, by Alexandra Gowling
2013 is the Netherlands-Russia year, 12 months in in which the Netherlands and Russia were to emphasise their long bilateral relations.
The Netherlands is currently running a programme in Russia with a variety activities. The plan was to have a broadly themed year, with the emphasis on economic partnership while still providing scope for cooperation on political and social projects and initiatives.
The most recent event to make news was a trade delegation, headed by Secretary Sharon Dijksma from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, that donated more than half a million flower bulbs to Russia.
The enormous collection of tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses and lilies, the largest ever gift in the history of horticulture, was handed over to the Russian government in St Petersburg.
The gift comes after a sustained period of tension between the Netherlands and Russia, possibly overshadowing the work of the bilateral year.
The most recent event was the arrest of a Russian diplomat in The Hague. The man was arrested after neighbours complained that he had been abusing his children.
According to the foreign ministry in Moscow, the diplomat’s flat had been stormed "by armed people in camouflage uniform."
The ministry further claimed that the man had been beaten in front of his children before being held by police for several hours.
Russian president Vladimir Putin demanded an apology from the Netherlands, saying the arrest contravened the Vienna convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs released a statement the following day apologising for the arrest as his office had found it did violate the convention.
He added, however, that he found the police had acted in accordance with their professional responsibilities.
The two countries are currently in talks on how to resolve the incident.
Photo by Flickr user Anosmia
This followed an earlier incident in which Russia arrested Greenpeace activists in September after a protest on an Artic oil rig owned by Russian state-controlled firm Gazprom. The Netherlands has launched legal action to free the activists.
Two of the 30 people arrested are Dutch citizens, while the Greenpeace ship was registered in the Netherlands.
Head of state visits
The bilateral year is due to end with a visit by King Willem Alexander to Russia on November 9, expected to include a meeting with President Putin.
President Putin’s own visit to the Netherlands in April this year was met in Amsterdam with gay rights supporters protesting the Russian government’s homosexuality policies.
Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan was one of the protesters, saying at the time that the city is proud of its homosexual community and they have the right to support from government. He also called on the Dutch government to submit a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans recently ruled that out.
Whether 2013 actually managed to bring Russia and the Netherlands closer or not still remains to be seen.