Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked Belgian lawmakers for more help and took aim at the continued import of Russian diamonds to Belgium’s port of Antwerp on Thursday while repeating calls for a no-fly zone over his country.
Zelenskyy’s video address at the parliament elicited a long round of warm applause, but Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo reiterated the Western stance that NATO is not a party in the war.
“And it should not become one,” he added. “You have been pleading for a no-fly zone imposed by NATO since the beginning of this war. Let’s be frank, this would mean shooting down Russian planes and an escalation that might engulf the whole continent of Europe. More lives lost, and a wider war without any solution.”
De Croo, however, assured Zelenskyy of Belgium’s resolute and long-lasting support. He announced new orders for weapons to be delivered to the war-torn country.
Zelenskyy thanked Belgium — a country of 11.5 million — for its help, and for welcoming already 30,000 Ukrainian refugees who managed to escape the conflict.
But recalling the ordeal of the besieged city of Mariupol’s inhabitants, Zelenskyy also pointed to the continued importing of Russian rough diamonds to Antwerp, which is the world’s most important diamond trading hubs.
“There are people for whom Russian diamonds sometimes sold in Antwerp are more important,” he said through a translator speaking in French. “People for whom accepting Russian ships in their ports, and for whom the income from these ships is more important than our struggles.”
“I believe that peace is way more valuable than diamonds, than the deals sealed with Russia, than the Russian ships (allowed) in ports, than Russian oil and gas,” Zelenskyy added. “Help us. Do it, with weapons, sanctions, and the possibility to become members of the European Union.”
According to The Antwerp World Diamond Centre, the official representative of the city’s diamond industry, 86% of all rough diamonds mined worldwide are traded in Antwerp, making it the most important gateway to the world for Russian diamonds
Diamond imports from Russia to the EU have not been targeted by the bloc’s sanctions so far.
De Croo said last week that Belgium is not opposed to sanctions that would have an impact on the diamonds sector, but said the EU should be careful not to take measures that would be more detrimental to the 27-nation bloc than to Russia.
“If as a European Union we do that and the whole traffic is just moving to Dubai, and it does not have an impact on Russia, then … I mean. we are not waging a war on ourselves,” he said. “The goal is that the impact should be on the Russian side. So I’m not against it, but it should be done with good international agreements or we might have no impact at all.”
Mark Carlson in Brussels contributed.
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