Dutch MPs call for Russian asset seizures after appeal by Ukraine’s Zelenskiy

Ukrainian President Zelenskiy addresses the Dutch parliament via video link
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appears on screen as he addresses the members of Dutch parliament via video link, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in The Hague, Netherlands, March 31, 2022. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw

March 31, 2022

By Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling

THE HAGUE (Reuters) -Dutch lawmakers demanded of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government on Thursday that it speed up the implementation of sanctions against Russia, saying the Netherlands was “shamefully behind” other countries in freezing targeted assets.

The debate came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to the Dutch parliament by video link earlier on Thursday, the first time a foreign head of state has addressed the 150-member Dutch lower house, with Rutte and the chairman of the Senate also attending.

“Stronger sanctions are needed so that Russia doesn’t have a chance to pursue this war further in Europe,” Zelenskiy said, adding that the Dutch should stop energy imports from Russia, which make up around 20% of the country’s natural gas supply.

Zelenskiy received a standing ovation, but discussions then turned to the government’s lack of progress in freezing or seizing much of an estimated 27 billion euros ($30 billion) in Russian assets registered in the Netherlands, often in shell companies.

Sanctions were “agreed weeks ago and the Netherlands is shamefully behind,” said opposition Labour Party leader Lilianne Ploumen, who submitted a motion asking Rutte’s coalition government to urgently target the assets.

Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra responded that the government was working as quickly as it could, but legal hurdles and privacy laws were hindering progress.

Rutte told parliament on March 23 that assets linked to sanctioned Russian entities seized so far — 392 million euros ($431.24 million) worth — included only bank assets and not property or real estate.

His government promised to update parliament on progress on implementing sanctions later on Thursday.

In Zelenskiy’s address he also thanked the Dutch for military support to date and as hosts of several international courts in The Hague, including the International Criminal Court that is investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine.

The Netherlands has supplied Ukrainian forces with anti-tank rockets and is also supporting NATO’s increased presence along the military alliance’s eastern flank with Patriot air defence systems.

“Those who gave the orders (to bombard and shell Ukraine) must be called to account. In The Hague, city of tribunals, people know that,” Zelenskiy said.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch, Toby Sterliung and Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Alex Richardson, Gareth Jones and Raissa Kasolowsky)