As Russian tanks and personnel carriers rolled through eastern Ukraine this week, the shockwaves spread across the continent and shook the streets of Antwerp’s diamond district.
While EU leaders are still deciding which companies will face sanctions, the worry in Antwerp is that trade with ALROSA, the Russian-state-owned diamond mining company, will be put on ice until the crisis ends.
“Sanctions can have a significant impact on the diamond business,” said Tom Neys, spokesperson for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, reported Gazet van Antwerpen. “It is a blow that should hurt Russia but there is a chance that we do more damage to ourselves. The Russians can easily trade their diamonds with non-EU countries.”
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Russia is a vital partner for Antwerp’s diamond trade. In 2020, more than €1 billion of Russian diamonds passed through the Belgian port. Just two months ago, the Antwerp World Diamond Centre announced a renewed agreement with ALROSA. Russia is the global leader in mining rough diamonds, and 86% of rough diamonds pass through Belgium, the Antwerp World Diamond Centre stated.
Even if the diamond trade escapes sanctions against Russia, the free movement of Russians could hinder the business, Neys said. The EU and the United Kingdom has singled out Russian business leaders and politicians close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In total, trade between the EU and Russia is significant. In 2020, 36.5% of Russia’s imports came from the EU and 37.9% of Russia’s exports went to the EU, according to the European Commission. In 2020, the EU and Russia exchanged goods worth €174.3 billion.