Ukrainians that ended up in the Netherlands these days might think at a certain moment that they are home. There have never been so many Ukrainian reports on TV news, photos in newspapers and talk of Ukraine in the streets.
“Dear Dutch people! We are very sorry that such a terrible thing happened on our soil. Come to us! We will accommodate all of you,” a man from Torez says live on a Dutch TV channel with tears in his eyes.
Footage from the Boeing crash site is present in every news issue of any Dutch channel. This footage is not always able to evoke love for Ukraine: the TV screens show separatists opening the bags of the victims; armored weapons driving on the streets; pieces of the airliner.
And experts in the studio are discussing where the separatists’ guilt is obvious, whether an international committee will be sent to Ukraine, whether a peacekeeping operation is necessary, how to make the criminals subject to the Hague court…
Today such images fill the evening of the average Dutch person, for whom until very recently the main news were the ones about football, and aggression against Ukraine was part of the “bad but far away” category.
The Netherlands is a small but influential country with powerful public opinion, which the country cannot help but take into account.
Therefore its position might quite possible play the decisive role in the result of the Ukrainian-Russian crisis.
On Thursday the Hague court decided to send 40 royal constable policemen to Ukraine, which will guard the crash site. But society already claims that it is insufficient.
The country is seeking ways to encourage the presence of a large-scale international mission which might become a start for a peacekeeping operation in Donbas.
9/11 for Europe
The MH17 tragedy has already been deemed a local September 11th in the Netherlands. It is not just a tragic occurrence – it changed the country’s attitude towards Russia within one single day.
Holland has very close economical ties with the Russian Federation. For this reason Moscow was able to get away with a lot until now.
The Dutch were ready to turn a blind eye to tricks a drunk Russian diplomat was up to, to the arrest of “Greenpeace” activists, Russia’s intolerant laws and Putin’s condescending statement that they “are tolerating a pedophile party” in the Netherlands.
But now a lot of things have changed.
Society demands that Mark Rutte’s government forget about financial calculations and punish those culpable. The death of 193 people is a huge trauma for any country. But in a state with a small territory and a population of less than 17 million this loss is more than significant. Many of the citizens have some sort of connection to the victims.
The national mourning in Holland took place on July 22nd. It became the first one in over half a century. The last time the country was in mourning was back in 1962 – on the occasion of the death of their beloved queen Wilhelmina.
They have not seen such a mass of deaths since the war. Thousands of people came to greet the first airplane with the victims’ bodies to Eindhoven, the king Willem-Alexandr and queen Maxima were also present.
That day the government ordered to take down all the flags, and church bells rang, and the entire country froze in a moment of silence.
“This horrible catastrophe left a deep scar in our society. And this scar will remain for years,” said the King.
These days the main goal for the Dutch is to bury the bodies of the dead.
However what is no less important is to punish those responsible.
This topic persists in newspaper and magazine headlines. The Dutch press is actively putting pressure on Mark Rutte’s government like never before. However the politician is not hasty in categorical statements towards the Kremlin. The government insists that there are no official results of the investigation yet.
However, when these results do appear, those responsible will be punished, Rutte promised.
“If we establish for sure that it was an attack, it would be a matter of honor for me, for those responsible to be identified and punished. We will not rest without this,” claimed the Prime Minister.
The Dutch find it obvious that the Kremlin has had a hand in the tragedy. However the Dutch are yet to determine the weight of the Russian component.
Meanwhile experts say: public opinion is not directed against Russia, it only has to do with their government.
“We are talking about politics, about the lack of democracy in Russia, about its president who is becoming more and more isolated in the world. We are talking about a narrow circle of people around him,” says Arnout Brouwers, and expert in Russian matters and editor of the opinion column of the biggest Dutch publication Volkskrant, to EuroPravda.
The Dutch society is the benchmark of tolerance. The country was one of the first in the world to allow same-sex marriages. Only in April did they ban a pedophile society (and not a party, as Putin had claimed!) “Martein.” Here one can freely smoke marijuana and not be subject to suspicious glances.
Meanwhile the Dutch are a very law-abiding nation and very dedicated to European ideals. Here it is customary to exchange one’s car for a bike, with the ecology in mind, and adopt children from Africa. “Jeeps” and fur are considered a sign of bad taste in the Netherlands.
The Dutch themselves sometimes say they are too meticulous. And the right to criticism here is sacred.
Therefore soon after the crash the King was reminded of how he drank beer with Putin at the Sochi Olympics, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans was reproached for his meetings with his Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov, which he spoke about to the journalists once.
By the way, a small informational campaign was held in the Dutch segment of the webspace, directed against Putin’s daughter Maria – she lives in the Dutch city of Vorshotten with her Dutch boyfriend. However the calls to hold a protest at her residence yielded no results.
Peter Broertes, mayor of Hilversum, however, stated that she should be exiled from the country. However, he immediately took his words back, having explained them with “the feeling of desperation.”
“The beginning of a Cold War?,” “We’ve had enough!,” “Will we find out the truth?,” “Our government is to complacent!,” “The commandos are ready!” – such are the headlines of leading Dutch newspapers.
“Holland has to stop decreasing defense expenses and prepare for long-term instability in Europe,” calls Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, former General Secretary of the NATO, from the pages of De Telegraaf.
Meanwhile the possibility of sending the army to Ukraine is being actively discussed. The Dutch servicemen themselves sent a letter to the government with this petition.
It happened in light of the news about looting at the crash site. A similar call was heard by a member of the Dutch parliament from the right-wing radical “Freedom Party” Luis Bontes.
“If the Netherlands and Australia receive a UN mandate, obviously the Korps Commandotroepen will be sent to Ukraine, which specialize in freeing hostages and detaining criminals… For example, they may carry out the mission of arresting and delivering Igor Girkin to the Netherlands. But such operations are executed in complete secrecy and are dangerous from the perspective of international law,” writes the newspaper.
As such, the journalists remind that the Dutch army carried out similar missions during the Balkan war.
On July 22nd the government gathered for an emergency session dedicated to the preparation of the decision to send the mission.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans went to Kyiv in order to discuss this issue with the Ukrainian government and Australian representatives.
On Thursday, July 23rd it was discovered that the Netherlands are sending a police mission to Ukraine. It will include 40 royal cavalry servicemen who will guard the crash site, without weapons, however.
This decision immediately gave rise to talk that this is insufficient.
Some experts do not hide the fact that the mission may stay in Donbas, it this will be an impulse to begin the peacekeeping operation in Ukraine.
The entire previous week the press wrote that the Netherlands are conducing covert talks in order to encourage the UN to make the according decision. Prime Minister Mark Rutte maid it clear that it is possible that reinforcements will come to aid the policemen.
However, the head of the government admits that this is a complex issue.
“We are checking the possibility of providing further stability in the region… this demands international discussions, a legal mandate. And there is no surety that it will work. It is a very complex issue which requires support of our allies. The government is seeking ways to reinforce our positions,” he stated.
The Dutch experts were given the right to conduct the investigation of the reasons and circumstances of the crash.
Another issue which is being widely discussed is where those responsible will be judged. People are actively saying that the criminals should be handed over to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, where the Maidan case is currently being investigated.
“It is possible that our government is already discussing the matter of handing the case over to the Hague,” writes influential publication Trouw.
“Society reacted very painfully. We see newspapers that are issued with the calls to send the army to Ukraine. Demands of harsh sanctions… This definitely influences the position of the government,” says Hikolas Krijft van Ermel, expert of the Netherlands-Russian Center, who is studying the relations between the two countries, to EuroPravda.
Exporters “will understand everything”
Another matter that is being widely disputed is that harsher sanctions have to be impose, putting economical pressure on Russia.
Putin’s actions can only be stopped with active resistance, thinks Arnout Brouwers.
“Our newspaper and other publications – everyone is pressuring the government to make concrete steps regarding Russia. Rhetoric is becoming harsher than in the recent half-year, however will really harsh measures be employed? This is a question,” he tells EuroPravda.
As such, the expert emphasizes that the reinforcement of the Netherlands’ position does not mean similar action on part of other EU members. And the EU needs a consensus to make decisions.
“We are talking about showing that Putin’s aggressive politics is unacceptable in contemporary Europe. And we are calling for the Netherlands to take the lead in European institutions and insist on a change of attitude towards the Kremlin. Yes, we understand that in case of harsher sanctions our economy will suffer as well, but this provides an opportunity for its transformation,” thinks Brouwers.
Coincidentally, Holland is very economically dependent on Russia.
Technically the country can survive without Russian gas, however the budget will suffer from this significantly. For Russia, the Netherlands are a “first place” importer. For the most part thanks to fuel.
Out of Russia’s 20,6 billion Euro of import last year, 19.3 billion constituted oil and gas. Through Rotterdam port “black gold” is imported to other EU countries. “In April the port of Rotterdam gave permission to open a new terminal for supplies from Russia. There were investments of 800 million Euros. A terminal for gas is also under construction, to import it from Norway, Russia and Qatar,” writes Trouw newspaper.
4 thousand Dutch companies work with Russia. “Every month we sent about 200 trucks with goods to Russia. The suspension of trade will mean a decrease of turnover by 900 thousand Euro every month,” tells Wim Bosman, owner of a big transportation company.
The economy played a decisive role in the Dutch-Russian relations, therefore the government in the Hague did not actively support sanctions. But this was before. Now a lot of things have changed.
“This is no longer a question of economy and trade. This is a question of security, Europe’s geostrategical position and the issue of justice for 200 Dutch people that lost their lives,” stated Frans Timmermans in Brussels, where the European leaders were unable to impose third-level sanctions after all.
Exporters have already stated that “they will understand everything” should the government decide to impose sanctions.
“Taking into account what happened and everything that happened afterwards, I think our members understand the necessity of the measures that can be taken. Sanctions are obvious, as there are few options left,” stated he’d of Fenedex Ad van Hamburg.
However, the volume of Dutch export to the Russian Federation – 6,9 billion Euro – cannot be compared to import. For the most part it is agricultural equipment and agricultural goods. Until recently (until Moscow imposed a ban), Dutch farmers exported meat for 3 million Euros a week there. 300 million Euros’ worth of dairy products were sent to Russia last year.
Taking into account everything that has been said, experts think that sanctions may be imposed, but they will not touch on energy resources.
“If there is direct evidence of Russia’s involvement, the Dutch government will have no other choice but to employ means against Russia, for example, harsh sanctions. Nonetheless, I don’t think we will reach the point when the Netherlands will stop buying Russian oil or gas. The conical interest in these sectors is very high,” thinks Krajft van Ermel.
“Taking into account that we are getting out of a crisis, I don’t think the government will put economical welfare into jeopardy. However I entertain the possibility of an embargo in individual export sectors of the economy, for example, agriculture or military spheres. Though we haven’t reached this topic yet, a lot has to be made clear still, in order to make such a decision,” adds the expert.
Society is expecting finality and answers as well. The people in the country of tulips are not numerous, but very proud and principled.
And, as practice shows, most frequently their word is the deciding factor.
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina