AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Thursday that Dutch activists seeking to undo Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union are unwitting pawns of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Alone among European nations, the Dutch are holding a referendum on April 6 - albeit non-binding - on whether to reject the EU’s 2014 association agreement with Ukraine, which aims to promote economic ties.
Although the Dutch government did not want a referendum on the agreement it backed, it has no choice after a satirical news website gathered the 300,000 signatures required under Dutch law to force one.
“Consciously or unconsciously” the campaigners are helping Putin, Poroshenko told newspaper NRC Handelsblad in an interview at the start of a two-day state visit to the Netherlands.
“I am horrified by the idea that the Dutch are being taken hostage in a political game,” he told the NRC.
The GeenStijl website campaign was intended in part to annoy pro-EU politicians in The Hague who crafted a law on popular demand referendums which went into effect in July. But campaigners also say they actually oppose the Ukraine agreement, which they argue will eventually lead to Ukrainian EU membership and an influx of unwanted immigrants.
A majority of parties in parliament have signaled they would heed a strong outcome either for the treaty or against it. If the Dutch were to refuse to sign the treaty it would remain officially invalid, though the EU has already begun implementing parts of it.
It is unclear how many people will actually turn out to vote: campaigners gathered 430,000 signatures in a nation of 17 million.
“Everyone should know that a vote in the referendum is also a vote for or against Ukrainians who gave their lives for European values,” Poroshenko told the paper.
Putin is an unpopular figure in the Netherlands, as he is widely blamed for the downing of Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, which killed 298 people, two-thirds of them Dutch.
Relations between Russia and the West hit a post-Cold War low over Ukraine, where Moscow annexed Crimea from Kiev last year and where Washington and Brussels say it is driving a separatist pro-Russian revolt in the east.
Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Alison Williams