Following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's criticism of Belgium's continuing diamond trade with Russia, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that stopping the trade would only worsen the situation in Ukraine.
Last year, Belgium imported some €1.8 billion worth of rough Russian diamonds, indirectly financing President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, recent research shows. De Croo said that while Zelenskyy puts pressure on the country's weak points, there should not be a complete end to the diamond trade.
"We know that [the diamond trade between Russia and Belgium] is a difficult subject," De Croo told VTM News. "But the sanctions are decided by the European Commission. The Commission always reasons that if we take measures, the impact on Russia must be much greater than on us."
Should Belgium stop importing diamonds, the trade would move to Dubai in one day, according to him. "In that case, the impact on Russia would be zero, but the impact on Europe would be very great."
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During his speech in the Federal Parliament on Thursday, Zelenskyy was hard on Belgium and denounced the fact that Russian diamonds are still sold in Antwerp.
"There are people for whom the diamonds sold in Antwerp are apparently more important than the battle we are waging," he said. "Peace is worth much more than diamonds. More than Russian ships in your ports."
De Croo, however, denied that Belgium is financing the war through the diamond trade. "The measures we take hit the Russian economy right in the heart. The last thing we need is for Europe to fall into a deep red economic crisis. That would only make the situation in Ukraine worse."
However, should the European Commission decide to stop the diamond trade in Belgium, the authorities would not oppose that decision, he added.
'Mistake of historic proportions'
In the meantime, the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) has also reacted to Zelenskyy's speech and De Croo's statements, saying that EU sanctions against diamonds are currently not in line with the philosophy of the EU sanctions policy.
The centre also stressed that a sanction against the import of Russian diamonds would not make any difference for Russia. "Countries such as the United Arab Emirates and India have made their intentions very clear; they are ready to take over Antwerp's diamond trade in the blink of an eye," AWDC spokesperson Tom Neys told Het Laatste Nieuws.
"Not only are thousands of jobs in Antwerp at stake in the short term, but this decision will inevitably lead to a worldwide shift in the diamond trade in the long term," he added. "As long as international policy-makers worldwide do not adopt a unanimous position to sanction Russian diamonds in their entirety, Antwerp will be the only place that will bear the consequences of an EU sanction."
For Neyts, possible sanctions would be "a mistake of historic proportions" and would result in "exactly the opposite of what such a sanction claims to achieve, namely a safer world with a more sustainable diamond industry."