MOSCOW (AP) — Dutch King Willem-Alexander and his wife Queen Maxima arrived in Russia on Friday for a visit that aimed to celebrate the two nations' historical ties but comes as relations between them have soured.
The key sticking point of late is Russia's seizure of a Dutch-flagged Greenpeace ship and arrest of all 30 people on board. "What was meant as a friendship year to promote these ties between Holland and Russia turned into exactly the opposite," Derk Sauer, a Dutch businessman who has lived in Moscow for 25 years, told The Associated Press.
Sauer said the Dutch royals will have to be very diplomatic to avoid adding to the tensions. "The Dutch king has to be very careful, because he cannot say anything risking trouble at home," Sauer said. "If he is too nice to Putin, in Holland public opinion will be upset. If he is not nice to Putin, the Russians will be upset."
The Netherlands has asked an international tribunal to order Russia to release the Arctic Sunrise ship and its crew. The 28 Greenpeace activists, a Russian photographer and a British videographer have been in custody since the ship was seized Sept . 19 by the Russian coast guard in international waters after a protest by a Gazprom-owned oil rig in the Arctic.
Russian-Dutch relations have also been strained over last month's assault on a Dutch diplomat at his apartment in Moscow. Russia has expressed regret, but the perpetrators haven't been found. The attack followed a brief detention of a Russian diplomat in the Netherlands.
The Dutch have also criticized Russian policies they see as anti-gay. In April, the mayor of Amsterdam refused to meet with Putin during his visit. And in August, Dutch gay groups protested before a major concert by Russian state musicians and dancers.