After Peter the Great and Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev is off to the Netherlands
RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin
On June 19-20, President Dmitry Medvedev will pay an official visit to the Netherlands.
Our relations with a country, which we, along with Europe in general, have been erroneously and stubbornly calling Holland for a long time, have always been a bizarre mixture of love and sympathy with offense and criticism. These positive and negative feelings replace each other almost on a regular basis. The former are much more stable because they are applied to hard-working people and the culture of the country through which Peter the Great cut his "window to Europe." The positive feelings are reciprocal - the Dutch have also always liked the Russians and all things Russian. However, in foreign policy these have been excessively rare.
The Russian president is going to the country of tulips, windmills and cheeses to discuss the new structure of European energy security (an alternative of the European Energy Charter, which we dislike) and new European architecture. In Amsterdam he is due to open a large-scale exhibition, the Hermitage at the Amstel (the main river in the Dutch capital), the title of which speaks for itself. Incidentally, the Dutch are still confident that all Russian painting, as well as the fleet, St Petersburg, cows, butter, and cheese, the national flag, flowers, vegetables, and tobacco originated in their country. This is largely true if we recall that it was the Netherlands that inspired Peter the Great for many of his undertakings after he went there in 1697.
Mr Medvedev will visit Peter's house in Zaandam. This has been a ritual for every visit at top level. Thanks to Peter we started calling the Netherlands Holland, because he lived either in the province of North Holland, where Amsterdam is located, or South Holland where The Hague is. These are major parts of the country but its name is the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Even the Dutch language does not exist as such. The Dutch speak Netherlandish or Frisian, the name of which is derived from the province of Friesland.
It is most amazing that after Peter, Alexander II was the last Russian tsar to visit Amsterdam in 1874. For the next 130 years or so, the two countries did not exchange visits at top level. It was only in 2001 that Queen Beatrix (great granddaughter of Emperor Paul I on the maternal side) paid an official visit to Russia, and the then President Vladimir Putin reciprocated this visit by going to the Netherlands in 2005.
Amsterdam and The Hague are very convenient, and importantly, suitable places for discussing energy issues and European security. The abundance of Dutch flowers and cheese has eclipsed a simple fact that the Netherlands is fourth in the world in gas reserves, which exceed 2,500 billion cubic meters in the latest estimate. The Netherlands and Norway are the only exporters of gas to other European countries. Gas exports account for 20% of the Dutch budget, while 60% of all electricity is generated by gas.
Our cooperation in the gas industry has been long and steady. Last year, the leading Dutch concern N.V. Nederlandse Gasunie received nine percent of shares in Nord Stream AG. Last February, Mr Medvedev met the Dutch Minister of Economy Maria van der Hoeven during the opening of Russia's first plant for the production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. The Dutch are our partners in the Sakhalin 2 project. It transpired then that the British-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell was going to start consultations with Gazprom on building another LNG plant on Yamal.
The Dutch produce high quality gas processing equipment. They are even better at transporting and storing gas. They are the best in Europe in logistics, that is, in setting up port facilities and transport communications. It is no accident that Rotterdam is Europe's biggest seaport. It was the world's largest until China's Shanghai surpassed it in 2004. Dutch expertise can substantially help Russia turn into the leading exporter of energy products to the markets of Europe and Asia. This is what Mr Medvedev spoke about in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. There is every reason to hope that relevant agreements will be signed on the sidelines of his visit.
The Dutch would like the Russian president to promise to cancel trade restrictions, ease monitoring procedures, particularly for agricultural produce, and do away with red tape. These measures are very important for the Netherlands, which is Russia's second biggest trade partner after Germany, and first in the scope of direct investment. More than 800 offices of Dutch companies are registered in Russia. The Dutch are supplying us with machines, equipment and transportation vehicles (about 35% of all exports), food products, vegetables and flowers (about 33%), as well as chemicals, electronics, medical instruments, and electric hardware.
Being approximately the same size as the Moscow Region, the Netherlands is the world's third biggest agricultural exporter after the United States and France. Incredibly, in value terms, the Dutch somehow contrive to produce three times more on a hectare than the EU on the average, and 1.5 times more than the United States. They have the world's biggest hothouse economy, which occupies more than 10,000 hectares. They are also the world's biggest exporters of firm cheeses (with us, these are Maasdam, Gouda, and Edam). It is from the Netherlands that Peter the Great brought the first cheese. The Dutch produce about 11 million tons of milk per year, and process 55% of it into cheese. In 2007 (the more recent data was not available), Russia received 32 million tons of milk. Any vet or livestock expert will tell you that Ostfriesian cows have started all European dairy and livestock breeding. Incidentally, we began buying Dutch cows in Peter's time, and are still buying them. Out of exported Dutch cows, 80% land in Russia.
The Dutch are also supplying us with 80% of all flowers; however, only tulips, chrysanthemums, and small roses come from the Netherlands. All others are being re-exported, just as vegetables and fruit. The Netherlands, with its port of Rotterdam, the Rhine, channels, an intricate railroad network and its geographical location, is Europe's main trade gates. They are handling incredible amounts of fruit and vegetables, charging eight percent for every transaction. When in 2004, the Russian consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor found a bug in imported flowers and subsequently banned imports of any plants for about half a year, the Netherlands was startled. But eventually the problem was resolved. Now the Dutch believe that such a thing will never happen again.
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