AMSTERDAM — Last week, voters in the Netherlands sent a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin along with a punch in the gut to the people of Ukraine. That was the impact felt in Moscow and Kiev from a nonbinding but politically potent referendum in which Dutch voters soundly rejected a European Union treaty forging closer bonds between the EU and Ukraine.
The outcome of the referendum on the EU Association Agreement for Ukraine would have been surprising under almost any circumstances, but it was particularly disconcerting given the dramatic, tragic role the Netherlands has played in the ongoing confrontation between Russia and Ukraine since the conflict there began.
In the summer of 2014, Dutch citizens accidentally became caught in the fray of that conflict with disastrous consequences. Relations between the Netherlands and Russia had already grown strained before, but they took a decidedly negative turn when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 took off from Amsterdam and was shot down over Ukraine, killing almost 300 people on board, most of them citizens of the Netherlands. Dutch investigators believe the plane was brought down by a Russian missile supplied by Moscow to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.