‘Our relationship with Russia has two faces’
Rob Swartbol is the ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Russian Federation in Moscow. He was previously appointed to embassies in, among others, Washington, Jakarta and Bratislava and was Director-General of International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Hague.
How would you describe the relationship between the Netherlands and Russia?
‘It’s a story with two faces. In trade, innovation, agriculture, energy, science and culture we have long-standing relationships. However, our political relationship has been strained since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and 196 Dutch citizens were killed in the downing of flight MH17 above the battlefield in eastern Ukraine.'
Where do you see opportunities for cooperation between Dutch and Russian companies?
‘Examples include ecology, healthcare and the construction of ports and airports. Dutch companies can provide specific knowledge and expertise in these fields. Agriculture is another one. Being an expert, the Netherlands can help Russia to work towards a more sustainable food production.’
How important is the environment and climate change in the relationship with Russia?
'Climate change poses a challenge to both the Russian and Dutch society, economy and environment. This makes an effective and commonly shared climate policy necessary. Not just to secure our prosperity for the future. But also to preserve Russia’s vast and beautiful nature. That's why Russia and the Netherlands have increased their cooperation to fight climate change with innovations such as smart mobility, renewable energy, smart farming and waste management.'
Where do you live?
‘I live in Moscow at the residence of the ambassador. Above the offices of the embassy is a spacious apartment. I live there with my wife Jacqueline, to whom I have been married almost thirty years. Our two adult sons live and work in the Netherlands.’
When living abroad, what do you miss most?
‘What the Dutch call ‘gezelligheid’ or in English ‘cosiness’. In the Netherlands, you can easily go on a day trip with your friends. Children too, even by themselves. There’s a lot of freedom. At the same time, people feel strongly connected to each other.’
What’s your favourite Russian dish?
‘I just arrived here, so I haven’t tried all the Russian food yet. But I really like ‘borshch’, a soup made from cabbage and all kinds of beetroots.’