Since the start of the war eight months ago, the European Union has launched eight rounds of sanctions against Russia, targeting 1,236 people and 155 companies. The Twenty-Seven first attacked the assets of the Russian oligarchs and the limitation of the ability to travel for many personalities more or less close to the Kremlin. Then the purchase of Russian gold was prohibited and exports of technological products or even steel, which could serve Russian military interests, were restricted. Result: since the start of the war, Russian imports to the EU have fallen by more than 60%, and European exports to Russia by a third.
The latest package of measures was adopted on October 6, following Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territories in the east and south of the country. One of the major points is the ceiling on the price of Russian oil transported by ship. But some key sectors, for a few member states, still seem to be spared this flood of sanctions against Moscow.
This is the case of Russian diamond exports. The country is home to many companies that are among the world's leading producers of rough stones, including Alrosa, the world's number one. Russia is itself the world's largest supplier: its production is around 30% and its exports brought in more than $4.5 billion in 2021. After the ban on Russian gold exports, the EU has thus discussed, for the last salvo of sanctions, that of diamonds. The proposal came from Ireland, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. But, through significant lobbying work, Belgium opposed it, as it has done since the beginning of the conflict.
And for good reason: according to the English press agency Reuters, such a measure would affect the interests of Belgium, whose diamond industry represents 5% of exports and employs 30,000 people. The World Diamond Center in Antwerp, the largest diamond trading center in the world, estimates that it would lose 30% of its turnover if it could no longer sell diamonds from Russia, and that this would benefit other countries that do not apply sanctions against Moscow. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo himself considered, on September 14, that sanctions targeting Russian diamonds represented a "big loss" for his country, while ensuring that he had "never blocked measures related to the diamond sector ".
Last May, on the occasion of the sixth series of measures, the Twenty-Seven agreed on a ban on oil exports. The measure was designed as progressive and structured. This means that maritime imports, whether crude oil or refined products, will be phased out by the end of the year.
However, Greece, which has a large fleet in this area, does not intend to slow down its export market, even if it is one of the Kremlin's biggest sources of income. Greece considers that this would deal too much of a blow to its economy. Indeed, more than half of the ships carrying Russian oil belong to it, according to information from the maritime data site MarineTraffic, relayed by the New York Times. The country therefore continues to transport Russian oil to non-European destinations. Faced with this embargo, Greece still offers the transport of black gold at a reduced and capped price, to avoid bringing too much revenue to Russia.
According to an article in the New York Times, France, Hungary, Slovakia, Finland, among others, still depend on Russian uranium exports, in part to run their nuclear power plants. These exchanges would be worth nearly 200 million euros, according to Greenpeace, which is lobbying for its ban. Germany is one of the countries that have tried to bring the question of banning these imports to the negotiating table, but have so far failed to do so. Still, it could come back into the news if new measures were to be taken. Proponents of maintaining Russian uranium say that the ability of France and other countries to generate electricity with their nuclear power plants during an acute energy crisis is more important than any political or financial gains that could come from a EU ban.
"At the end of the day, that's the price of unanimity to keep this coalition going, and in the grander scheme of things, sanctions really work," Jacob Kirkegaard, a researcher at the Brussels office of the Brussels Office, told The New York Times. research group of the German Marshall Fund. “We would like to have everything included, diamonds and all other special interests, but my opinion is that if saving them is what it takes to keep everyone together, so be it,” he added.