February 20, 2019

Vladimir Naydenov: “On Russia only one position is allowed”

Vladimir Naydenov, head of the political department of the Russian embassy in The Hague, witnessed how The Netherlands, in a short period of time, became the most Russophobic country in the world.

“The contacts between the Netherlands and Russia were wonderful”, Naydenov recalls. “In the1980’s several delegations of the Dutch parliament visited the Soviet-Union. They made an important contribution to the easing of strained tensions at the end of the Cold War and to the improvement of relations between Russia and The Netherlands. Also The Netherlands has been a political catalyst for the establishment of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987.”

In 2018 Pew Research asked people in 25 countries for their opinion about Russia. The Netherlands emerged as the most Russophobic country. How do you explain this huge shift in public opinion?

“My Dutch interlocutors say: Everything started in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea.’ But that is not the case. The big turnaround came in 2013, when The Netherlands and Russia were to celebrate 400 years of diplomatic ties. In that year there was a succession of incidents, especially around the LGBT campaign.”

Don’t you think that the MH17 disaster in Ukraine changed things for the bad? The Dutch authorities have blamed Russia.

“Of course, but MH17 happened a year later, in 2014. Public opinion about Russia had already changed.”

How are the contacts of your embassy with the press? The American embassy organizes and finances press trips and even pays journalists for writing articles. Your embassy performs no PR activities?

“We can not offer to the press what the press does not want, but the press is always welcome. Our ambassador is a very open man. When asked for an interview, he is always willing, on condition that everything he says will be published, to prevent he is quoted out of context.”

That could perhaps explain why we see the American ambassador much more often in the Dutch media than the Russian ambassador.

“It’s more likely the American ambassador is more often on television because he says what people want to hear in The Netherlands.”

Do you think the Dutch press is biased?

“Journalists usually follow the mainstream, convey the policy of their government. This happens everywhere. Although I must say that there is much more diversity in the Russian media than there is in the Dutch media. To Russian talk shows citizens from many countries are invited, Americans, British, Ukrainians, Polish, Dutch, to express their country’s position on current affairs. On Dutch television you will never see a Russian who propagates Russian views. Apart from one interview with our ambassador and one interview with our minister-counsellor.

Something that astonished me recently was the way in which the Dutch press reported about the annual press conference of President Vladimir Putin, in which he warned about the consequences of the Americanwithdrawal from the INF treaty.

Why didn’t the newspapers report about Putin’s warning? The American withdrawal will directly affect the security of the Netherlands and other European countries. Once again Europe and the US will have to face the question: ‘Where in Europe will America’s missiles for the intermediate-range be installed? ‘For sure the same countries as in the 1980’s will be considered: Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Dutch politicians now have supported the Americans in their withdrawal from the INF treaty. I still can hardly believe they really did.

Vladimir Daydemov , head of the political department of the Russian embassy in The Hague

Don’t these politicians know how much effort was put into drafting the treaty? And have they completely forgotten about the important role The Netherlands has played in it? Don’t they remember the massive demonstrations in the early 1980’s, against the installment of American nuclear missiles on Dutch territory? The endless discussions in Dutch Parliament? And the subsequent joy in The Netherlands when the news was out that the treaty was signed and ratified?”

What do you think of the interference of the Dutch government with the Russian press? They are financing so-called ‘independent Russian-language media’ in Russia and other former soviet-countries.

“I know that they tried to set up something like this with Poland, but I believe it didn’t work out, at least I haven’t heard anything about it ever since. Anyway, if the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs is overflowing with funding, he’s welcome to spend it. In Russia his media efforts have been left unnoticed.”

Russia is of the opinion that The Netherlands falsely accuses Russia of cyber attacks and fake news. Why do you think The Netherlands is doing this?

“These accusations are part of an international campaign against our country. The Dutch Minister of Defence Bijleveld has said that The Netherlands is at war with Russia. We already have seen some fine examples of how The Netherlands is waging this war. It’s by making false accusations, disseminating propaganda against our country.”

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Interview conducted by Eric van de Beek, freelance journalist, former editor of Dutch leading weekly Elsevier and author of Nepnieuwsexplosie, a recent book about fake news in the Dutch press. Photography by Eric van de Beek. An extensive, Dutch language version of the above interview can be found on Dutch geopolitical magazine Novini.

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