The anti-corruption organisation Transparency International has called on Europe, and particularly Belgium, to drop the lucrative diamond trade with Russia, which helps fund the Russian government.
In an open letter penned to senior officials in the Belgian and European governments, including Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the organisation singled Belgium out as the largest importer of Russian diamonds in Europe.
Last year, $1.8 billion in rough diamonds arrived in Belgium alone. A quarter of all the EU’s diamonds come from Alrosa Group, a Russian diamond mining company with strong ties to the Kremlin. Alrosa is already subject to US sanctions but the EU is yet to impose similar measures against the company.
“Russia exports $4 billion of rough diamonds annually… Furthermore, Alrosa’s chief executive Sergei Ivanov is one of the oligarchs sanctioned by the US, making it even more questionable why this oligarch-run business sector has not been targeted by the EU,” the letter states.
The Belgian Government has been extremely resistant to any embargo on the import of diamonds. Belgium's thriving diamond industry, centred in Antwerp, is a big boost to the economy and employs some 32,600 people, according to Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC).
De Croo denies that he attempted to block measures against the diamond trade, despite having previously said that a ban on diamonds would simply force the industry to relocate to another country. “In that case, the impact on Russia would be zero, but the impact on Europe would be very great.”
A sentiment straight from the mouths of the AWDC, who told Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws that the United Arab Emirates and India were “ready to take over Antwerp’s diamond trade in the blink of an eye.”
Greater action needed
The Belgian PM has kept the door open to action at the European level, but has resisted moves to stem the trade at home. A decision which drew the ire of Ukrainian President Volodoymr Zelenskyy during his speech in the Federal Parliament on 31 March.
“Russia is able to finance its war effort in large part thanks to its export of raw materials and its natural resources. Banning the import of diamonds, which is in the top 10 of non-energy exports by value, can be an additional step limiting Russia’s access to global markets and foreign currencies,” Transparency International EU explains.
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Despite claims to the contrary from De Croo and the diamond industry, Transparency International believes that banning Russian diamonds would have a “comparably small effect on the EU compared to the Russian treasury and Russian diamond companies.”
“We call on you to act now, to help save lives in Ukraine and cut off tis important Russian source of foreign revenue,” the letter concluded.