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15th Aug 2020

WhatsApp leak exposes Russia link to Dutch far right

  • FvD co-founder Thierry Baudet (r) is a keen chess player (Photo: Frans Peeters)

A Dutch far-right politician behind a 2016 referendum on Ukraine and the EU had fishy ties to Russia, according to new revelations.

Thierry Baudet, an MP from the anti-EU and anti-immigrant FvD party, spoke of his Russia contacts in internal WhatsApp messages with FvD colleagues, which were leaked to Dutch investigative website Zembla and radio station De Nieuws BV.

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  • Vladimir Kornilov, a Russian 'historian', trolled the Dutch media revelations (Photo: twitter.com)

In the texts, written four years ago, Baudet said he had met Vladimir Kornilov, a Russian with Kremlin links, in the Netherlands ahead of the referendum.

Baudet described Kornilov as "a Russian who works for [Russian president Vladimir] Putin" and as being a "very influential figure".

"I'm working on that Kornilov," Baudet later said, though it was unclear what he meant.

After Baudet claimed in Dutch media that Ukraine had covertly sent agents provocateurs to the Netherlands to meddle in the referendum, FvD colleagues asked him if he had any proof. "No. Info comes from Kornilov," Baudet replied.

And when Baudet was, at one point, financially embarrassed, he said: "Maybe Kornilov wants to pay some extra" and "Kornilov can beat that with all his money", adding winky and smily emojis.

Baudet initially created the FvD as a think-tank.

The 37-year old was one of the co-initiators, along with GeenStijl, a Dutch satirical news website, of a non-binding referendum in April 2016 on whether The Hague should ratify an EU association treaty with Ukraine.

Kornilov, a former director of the Russian Institute of CIS Countries in Kiev, a Kremlin offshoot, also visited the Dutch capital, posing as a neutral expert in Dutch media, to attack the treaty.

Dutch people voted against ratification, causing a conundrum in the EU Council in Brussels.

The Dutch government, eventually, ratified it anyway, but the EU added, in a new proviso, that the treaty did not guarantee military assistance or future membership.

Baudet subsequently transformed his think-tank into a political party and the FvD won two seats in Dutch elections in 2017.

The leaked WhatsApp texts also showed he was against Dutch Nato membership.

"I now also want to argue in favour of leaving Nato," Baudet said in a message in May 2017.

"I would wait with Nato. After all, our army is worthless," Paul Frentrop, an FvD colleague, replied.

Devil's advocate

In his defence, Baudet said, on Thursday (16 April), that his old texts were ironic.

His Kornilov comments were "playful exaggeration" and he was a "Devil's advocate" on Nato, he told Zembla and De Nieuws BV.

His WhatsApp remarks had been quoted "out of context" and were "difficult to take seriously", Baudet added in a statement on the FvD website. "Sometimes we let off steam in a message," he said.

Dutch-Russian relations suffered severe trauma when a Russian missile shot down flight MH17, killing hundreds of Dutch civilians, over Russia-occupied east Ukraine in 2014.

They deteriorated further when Russia tried to hack the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international institution in The Hague, in 2018.

And the Kremlin is still publishing MH17 disinformation amid an ongoing Dutch trial of Russian suspects.

But for his part, Kornilov, who called himself a "historian" in his Twitter handle, trolled the latest news of Russian interference in Dutch affairs.

"I just want to ask all of you, guys: are you serious???", Kornilov tweeted on Thursday, adding three laughed-till-I-cried emojis and a selfie drinking wine in a Red Army hat.

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