Valentine’s Day drove a spike in demand for rough diamonds from Russia, according to the most recent numbers from the Belgian economy ministry requested by POLITICO.
The import of rough Russian diamonds is not sanctioned by the EU, despite repeated calls from Ukraine and some EU countries to crack down on the luxury industry.
But imports did fall significantly in the third quarter of last year. This helped Belgium to argue against the EU sanctioning Russian diamonds, which are vital to the Belgian city of Antwerp, a global diamond hub.
The Belgian government argues such sanctions would only divert Russia’s diamond exports to other countries without actually causing Moscow economic pain. Belgian diplomats also pointed out that Russian imports were going down even without sanctions, because of public pressure and consumer awareness.
However, imports to Belgium rose again in December and January in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day on February 14. In January 2023, Belgium imported €132 million worth of Russian rough diamonds, which was higher than the €97 million in January 2022, although the weight of imports was lower in 2023.
However, this looks like a temporary spike linked to higher demand around Valentine’s Day, according to a Belgian official. In February, the import value dropped again to €61 million.
For Belgian MP Vicky Reynaert, whose socialist party Vooruit is part of the federal government, these numbers show voluntary measures are not enough. “An import ban for Russian diamonds is the only correct option,” Reynaert said. She called on the European Commission to include this ban in the next sanctions package against Russia.
The EU is currently working within the G7 on a global traceability system for diamonds, which Belgium has previously asked for. G7 leaders on February 24 said they are committed to “work collectively on further measures on Russian diamonds, including rough and polished ones.”