Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo is currently touring Eastern Europe, and is visiting Slovakia, Poland, Romania and Moldova, in a show of support for countries of strategic significance with Russia and also share a border with Ukraine.
So far, De Croo has visited Slovakia and Poland, and has pledged: "If more Belgian troops are needed in the East, we are ready."
Accompanied by UNICEF, the Belgian PM visited a refugee camp on the Polish-Ukrainian border on Tuesday, which he described as "heartbreaking" after raising the issue of unaccompanied refugee children. During his visit, he also praised the "heartwarming support" provided by aid agencies supporting Ukrainians.
However, during his visit to both Poland and Slovakia, divides in how the Ukrainian neighbours seek to deal with an aggressive Russia have emerged, particularly in their different stances on Russian sanctions due to their impact on the European economy.
"A battle between good and absolute evil"
For the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, the sanctions don't go far enough. After the meeting with De Croo, Morawiecki compared the current sanctions to "a vaccine that is too weak," according to De Standaard.
"The ruble is stronger than it was at the beginning of the war. So we need new, crushing sanctions. This is about a battle between good and absolute evil that must be stopped. There is no more room for negotiations," Morawiecki stressed.
De Croo also agreed on the need for new measures against Russia: "Together with partners like Poland, we’re working on stricter sanctions, hitting Russia where it hurts and bring down its war machine."
🇧🇪🇵🇱 Every day brings new stories of Russian atrocities and war crimes in Ukraine.With Polish PM @MorawieckiM, I discussed how we ensure that there is no impunity for this barbaric behaviour and how we can further increase the cost for Russia with a new sanctions package. pic.twitter.com/8BC38qn5gI — Alexander De Croo 🇧🇪🇪🇺 (@alexanderdecroo) April 11, 2022
Meanwhile, Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger is not in line with the more hardline Polish approach towards sanctions due to Slovakia's dependency on Russian oil and gas. Heger instead underlined the need for European solidarity.
“If we want to break free from Russian gas and oil, we all have to do it together," he said in De Standaard, adding that he feared an energy shortage would mean Slovakia would be last in line.
The Belgian Prime Minister emphasised that there isn't an energy shortage right now. For him, the real issue could be a lack of coordination at a European level, if all countries were to start replenishing their reserves first.
De Croo himself has stated that an immediate ban on oil and gas would have a "devastating impact" on the European economy.
"The intent is to hurt Russia, not ourselves. By pushing the European economy into a deep recession, we are not helping Ukraine," the Belgian Prime Minister warned.
De Croo is due to complete his diplomatic tour of Eastern European by visiting Romania next, and will end his trip in Moldova.