Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Russia diplomat's arrest sparks row

Russia president Vladimir Putin called for an apology from the Netherlands over the arrest of a top Russian diplomat (AP)

Russian president Vladimir Putin has demanded that the Netherlands apologise for the arrest of a top Russian diplomat, a feud that comes as the two countries are at odds over Russia's decision to put on trial a group of Greenpeace activists.

The diplomat, Dmitry Borodin, was arrested by Dutch police in The Hague late on Saturday, and he has accused the police of even pulling his one-year-old daughter's hair as they took him and both his children to the station. Mr Borodin, whose title is minister-counselor, gave his version of events on his Twitter account. He said the arrest came even though he identified himself and said he had diplomatic immunity.

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Mr Borodin had been arrested over an "absolutely contrived" allegation of child abuse, and that the Dutch ambassador to Russia had been summoned to the ministry in Moscow to receive an "official protest" over the case. The Netherlands' foreign ministry said an "incident occurred with a Russian diplomat that led to an arrest by the Dutch police" and that it is under review.

Speaking from the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia, Mr Putin described the arrest as a "rude violation" of treaties on diplomatic relations. The Dutch ministerial statement, while not exactly conciliatory, said: "If it emerges from the investigation that actions were taken in conflict with the Vienna Treaty on Diplomatic Relations, the Netherlands will apologise to Russia."

The timing of the disputed arrest is sensitive.

On September 18, the Russian coast guard seized the Dutch-flagged ship Arctic Sunrise after Greenpeace activists used it to stage a demonstration near an oil rig owned by Gazprom. Last week, the Russians charged all 30 occupants of the ship with piracy - which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans said on Friday that he would seek to recover the ship at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, based in Hamburg, Germany, because it was not clear whether the ship's seizure was legal. He said he would seek the release of the 30 detainees, among them activists and journalists, via diplomatic channels.

Greenpeace, meanwhile, staged demonstrations around the world over the weekend calling for the release of the "Arctic 30", who are being held in the northern Russian city of Murmansk.

According to Mr Borodin's Twitter account, men he took to be Dutch police entered his home late on Saturday night after he had refused them entry, that he identified himself and told them he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. The Russian diplomat said they handcuffed him anyway and knocked him on the head. He and his two young children were then taken to a police station and released in the early hours of the following morning.

A report by Dutch state broadcaster NOS said that police traced a car that was involved in an accident earlier in the evening to Mr Borodin's home, and neighbours told police who came to investigate they were worried for the safety of the children inside.

Russia's foreign ministry dismissed an apparently similar explanation brought forward by Dutch diplomats in a formal communique.

"The attempt of the Dutch side to somehow justify the brutal act of the police does not stand up to the most elementary criticism," the Russian ministry said in a statement. "The facts speak for themselves: during the night, a highly placed Russian diplomat had his apartment broken into by the police, who beat him, put him in handcuffs and took him to the police station."

Mr Borodin tweeted on Tuesday that he and his children were fine but that he would not speak further about the matter because it is "no longer a private affair".

Russian politician Alexei Pushkov, known as a hardliner on foreign policy, said on Twitter that it was unlikely Dutch police would have acted against the diplomat without approval from their superiors. "This looks like a response to the trial against Greenpeace."

The Netherlands and Russia chose 2013 as a year to celebrate historical ties, but it has been filled with tension instead, even before the Greenpeace case.

In January, Russian dissident Aleksandr Dolmatov committed suicide in a Dutch deportation centre, where he had been placed due to mistakes by Dutch police and immigration authorities. In April, Amsterdam's mayor, Eberhard van der Laan, declined to meet Mr Putin during a visit to the Netherlands due to the Russian leader's anti-gay stances. And in August, Dutch gay groups held a protest ahead of a major concert by Russian state musicians and dancers, to protest against Russia's law forbidding exposing minors to homosexual "propaganda".

The new Dutch king, Willem-Alexander, is due to visit Russia and meet with Mr Putin in November.

AP

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