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The Hague - The Netherlands apologized to Russia on Wednesday for the arrest and detention of a Russian diplomat - but the move appears unlikely to be enough to ease growing tensions between the two nations.
The swift apology by Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans aimed to smooth over a diplomatic spat that has further soured relations already tested by Russia's seizure last month of a Dutch-flagged Greenpeace ship protesting oil drilling in the Arctic. Russia has charged all 30 people on board with piracy, which carries a maximum 15-year sentence.
Diplomat Dmitry Borodin was arrested Saturday by police in The Hague over what Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich called an “absolutely contrived” allegation of child abuse.
His arrest breached the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, Timmermans said in a statement Wednesday. “The Netherlands offers the Russian Federation its apologies.”
Still, the minister said he understood the action of police who arrested Borodin - a statement unlikely to appease Russian demands for action against the officers. The two nations remain in talks about the situation.
Alexei Pushkov, chief of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Russia's parliament, wasn't satisfied.
“The Hague has offered us its excuses, but it has effectively sought to justify the police action, calling it 'professional.' So, there are excuses but there is no one to blame,” he tweeted.
Police have declined to comment on the incident. Dutch state broadcaster NOS reported that police had traced a car involved in an accident that day to Borodin's home, and neighbors told police they were worried for the safety of the children inside.
The Dutch-Russian spat shifted to another topic Wednesday as Russia questioned the quality of one of the Netherlands' key exports - cheese.
The chief of Russia's agriculture products agency was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying a Russian delegation inspecting Dutch cheese-making facilities was not satisfied with the quality of the product. Agency head Sergei Dankvert said the results were preliminary and a full report would come later.
In Moscow, meanwhile, Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Investigative Committee dealing with the Greenpeace incident, said investigators were trying to identify the activists whose inflatable boats tried to block Russian coast guards. He said they were “threatening life and safety of an official.” He also said “dual use equipment” and drugs were found on board the Greenpeace boat that protested Sept. 18 at a Gazprom-owned oil rig. Russian authorities have seized the boat.
Greenpeace said “any claim that illegal drugs were found is a smear, it's a fabrication, pure and simple.”
The head of Greenpeace International wrote to Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting a meeting in Moscow - and offering himself as human bail for the detainees. Kumi Naidoo of the Amsterdam-based organization delivered the letter to the Russian embassy in The Hague on Wednesday. He said he would guarantee the activists' good conduct but said piracy charges don't make sense and should be dropped.
The Netherlands and Russia chose 2013 as a year to celebrate their historical ties, but it has been filled with tensions instead.
In January, Russian dissident Aleksandr Dolmatov committed suicide in a Dutch deportation center where he had been placed due to mistakes by Dutch officials. Dutch gay rights groups also have repeatedly criticized Russia's law forbidding exposing minors to homosexual “propaganda.”