Belgium’s trade in Russian diamonds continues despite moral pressure

Poland and the Baltic states are pressing for diamonds to be included in the EU’s next round of sanctions

A leisurely stroll through Antwerp’s diamond district takes only five minutes. Yet through just one sq km in a drab quarter of Belgium’s second city pass 86% of the world’s rough diamonds. Into Antwerp’s nondescript concrete offices arrive billion-year-old gemstones from the faraway depths of mines in Botswana, Canada, South Africa, Angola – and Russia.

Despite the atrocious war in Ukraine that has halted billions of dollars in trade, Belgium continues to import diamonds from Russia, albeit in much diminished quantities.

The EU has stopped importing Russian coal, is phasing out most Russian oil and has stopped buying numerous Russian goods, including gold, caviar and vodka. Yet diamonds have evaded the sanctions list again and again. The omission is even more striking as the trade affects only one EU member state – Belgium – which has always said it would not block a ban.

Trade has continued despite moral pressure from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Peace was worth “more than any diamonds”, he told Belgium’s parliament in March.

Exchanges have gone on, although Russia’s diamond company, Alrosa, is controlled by the Russian state. Russia and the republic of Yakutia, the vast north Siberian region that is home to most of the company’s mines, together own 66% of Alrosa. Alrosa’s chief executive, Sergei Sergeevich Ivanov, was one of the first oligarchs to be sanctioned by the US on day one of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. His father, Sergei Borisovich Ivanov, a former Russian defence minister, also under US sanctions, is said by Washington to be one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies.

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Russia, Europe, trade