Dutch prime Minister Mark Rutte believes that Ukraine should never join the European Union (EU).

Rutte, whose country is holding the EU rotating presidency until July, said in an interview with NU.nl ahead of the referendum on Ukraine next week in the Netherlands that “we believe Ukraine should have good relationship both with Europe and with Russia. That wouldn’t be the case if Ukraine could join the European Union.”

Rutte added: “It’s also about the history of Ukraine. If you look at history, Russia itself originated in Kiev and other parts of Ukraine.”

Rutte also said that Russia’s attitude towards Ukraine is partly understandable. “You cannot deny that Russia has a right to also ask Ukraine to have a good relationship. Russia goes too far only when it wants to monopolise relations with Ukraine.”

The April 6 referendum in the Netherlands is about whether the Dutch should accept the Ukraine-EU Association agreement. The yes and no partisans are running neck in neck.

The referendum, whose result will be non-binding, was triggered by the anti-European satirical website GeenStijl last year, which collected more than the 300,000 signatures needed under the law to force a vote.

The website admitted that its reasons for seeking the referendum had less to do with its views on the EU’s ties with Ukraine than with its desire for a vote on the EU itself.

According to prime minister Rutte, Russia will interpret a rejection of the treaty by the Dutch as a gesture of support of its own position. “We should not reward Russia,” said Rutte.

Rutte would not go address in the interview the possibility of another referendum, nor the consequences on a no for Netherlands’ position in the EU.

The EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had warned that a Dutch no to the Ukraine-EU Association agreement in the referendum on 6 April could lead to a “continental crisis” if voters reject the treaty.

In January Juncker said Russia would “pluck the fruits” of a vote in the Netherlands against deepened ties between the European Union and Ukraine.

A founding signatory of the Treaty of Rome that created the incipient EU in 1957, the Netherlands has cooled on European integration as fears about high immigration, slow growth and economic insecurity have grown.

While most Dutch parties are pro-European, the anti-EU, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim Freedom Party of right-wing populist Geert Wilders is leading in polls and would win more seats than the entire Liberal-Labour coalition if elections were held now.