The Ukrainian president urged Belgians and Europeans to be more ambitious and courageous in the economic boycott of Russia. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo limited himself to promising new arms deliveries.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke by videoconference early Thursday afternoon in front of a packed Chamber.
Faced with deputies, members of the country’s various governments and the King’s chief of staff, the Ukrainian president once again asked to establish a no-fly zone, accelerate Ukraine’s accession to the EU and hit the Russian economy harder. In passing, he referred to the First World War, when Belgian neutrality was trampled on by the German invasion. He drew a parallel between Mariupol and Ypres, two cities more than 90% destroyed by the fighting.
“We have the impression that the Europeans do not have enough courage, while Ukraine has already given thousands of lives to defend security in Europe.”
But above all he pointed to a certain lack of European voluntarism in the application of economic sanctions. “We have the impression that the Europeans do not have enough courage when Ukraine has already given thousands of lives to defend security in Europe.”
Zelensky particularly singled out the Russian diamond trade, concentrated in Antwerp. “We are fighting against the tyranny that wants to divide Europe. (…) But there are some for whom Russian diamonds are more important. For whom accepting Russian boats and the income from these boats is more important than our fight .” Every month, around 200 Russian ships dock in the port of Antwerp.
More what really weigh the exchanges between our two countries around the “eternal” stone, which could well be the subject of future sanctions? “Few people know it, but Russia is one of the two biggest producers of rough diamonds in the world,” the Antwerp World Diamond Center (AWDC) told us at the end of February. With notorious outlets here since in 2021 alone, Antwerp bought some 1.8 billion dollars worth of Russian rough diamonds, or around 10% of its total supply.
As a result, the sector exports finished stones to all four corners of the worldwith a certain return for our country whose diamond represents 15% of non-EU exports and 5% of total exportsdepending on the sector. In terms of employment, the diamond industry represents more than 6,600 direct jobs and 26,000 indirect jobs, just for the AWDC, named after this private foundation defending the collective interests of the sector in Belgium.
“Peace is more valuable than diamonds, than Russian ships in Belgian ports, than Russian oil and gas.”
In his conclusion, Zelensky insisted: “I think peace is more valuable than diamonds, than Russian ships in Belgian ports, than Russian oil and gas. (…) If Mariupol falls, tyranny will extend to you. This is not a threat, but an observation based on facts. (…) So help us.”
New Belgian arms deliveries
In his response, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld), while saluting the courage and self-sacrifice of the Ukrainians, was forced to disappoint their president. Regarding the no-fly zone, he recalled that “that would mean shooting down Russian planes and thus triggering an escalation that could topple all of Europe”.
On the other hand, he promised that new arms deliveries from Belgium are plannedwithout specifying what type of armament it is “so as not to inform the enemy”. So far, Belgium has already delivered 5,000 assault rifles, 200 anti-tank weapons and fuel for the Ukrainian army.
“The Russians can turn overnight to Dubai to process their diamonds. At that point, the impact of the sanctions would be nil for Russia and total for us.”
On the question of the economic boycott, Alexander De Croo also backed down. Regarding the Russian diamonds processed in Antwerp, he underlined the importance of the effectiveness of the sanctions. “The Russians can turn overnight to Dubai to process their diamonds. At that point, the impact of the sanctions would be nil for Russia and total for us.”
But he mostly returned the ball to Europe which is the level at which sanctions against Russia are decided. “If the European Commission were to decide to stop the import of rough diamonds from Russia, we would not oppose it, as long as it is done within a European framework.”
The Prime Minister promised that Belgium would have reduced its dependence on hydrocarbons from Russia by two thirds by this summer.
Regarding hydrocarbons, De Croo assured that “week after week, we are turning away from Russian gas and oil in order to prepare for next winter”. “If we were to cut off our energy supply to Russia overnight, we would plunge into an unprecedented economic crisis.without this being of great help to the Ukrainians”, he justified. On the other hand, he promised that Belgium would have reduced by two thirds its dependence on hydrocarbons from Russia for this summer.
During the debate that followed, the leader of the opposition cdH (Les Engagés) Georges Dallemand called on the government to examine the possibility of deliver “Harpoon” type missiles which Belgium has in its stocks and which would neutralize Russian ships in the Black Sea.
For his part, the leader of the N-VA Theo Francken admitted that the situation in Antwerp should be examined, but also that of the Forges de Clabecq in Wallonia49% owned by the Walloon Region and 51% by a Russian oligarch.
Within the federal majority, environmentalists say stop dithering and stop importing diamonds linked to the Russian regime. “The question is simple”, sum up Gilles Vanden Burre and Wouter De Vriendt, heads of the Ecolo-Groen group in the Chamber. “Putin’s Russia profits from the sale of oil and gas, but also from the sale of diamonds, especially in Belgium. Do we want to fund this scheme and thus indirectly the bombardment of Ukrainian cities and citizens? No.”
- President Zelensky urged Belgians and Europeans to to be more courageous in the economic boycott of Russia.
- He erected a parallel between Mariupol and Yprestwo towns wiped off the map by the fighting.
- Alexander De Croo a referred to European authorities for sanction decisions.
- However, he announced new arms deliveries from Belgium.