US seeks to make Russia an exporter of ‘blood diamonds’

The United States and its Western allies are seeking to label Russian diamonds “conflict diamonds” following the nearly six-month invasion of Ukraine by the world’s largest supplier.

Russia produces about a third of the world’s diamonds. The United States, the largest importer of Russian diamonds, estimates that Russia exported more than $4.5 billion worth of diamonds in 2021.

“The proceeds of this production benefit the same state that is waging a premeditated, unprovoked and unwarranted war,” US State Department official George Cajati wrote in a letter quoted by The New York Times this week.

Cajati’s letter was addressed in May to the chairman of the Kimberley Process, which certifies exports of rough diamonds, ahead of the group’s scheduled meeting in Botswana in June.

US and UK officials boycotted sessions led by their Russian counterparts at the meeting, while journalists were asked to leave sessions they would normally be allowed to attend, the NYT reported.

The UN established the Kimberley Process in 2003 to remove conflict diamonds from the supply chain of the global diamond industry, worth $80 billion. The KP defines “blood diamonds” as precious stones used to fund rebel groups.

Russia is one of 85 participants in the Kimberley Process, which includes representatives from industry and civil society organizations.

Russia has blocked a proposal by Ukraine, the United States, the European Union, Britain, Canada and Australia to expand the internationally agreed definition of conflict diamonds to include state actors, Reuters reported at the time.

“Russian diamonds are involved in financing the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine,” Volodymyr Tatarintsev, deputy director of the Kimberley Process member State Gemmological Center of Ukraine, told the NYT.

Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Mali and the Central African Republic backed Russia’s objection to an hour-long discussion of the KP’s agenda in May, according to Reuters.

Russia, China and Belarus have vetoed talks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in June, the NYT added.

Russian Ministry of Finance said in a statement Wednesday that efforts to declare Russian diamonds non-compliant with the Kimberley Process “show a low level of awareness.”

The NYT, however, reported that Russia itself had until recently sought to broaden the definition of “blood diamonds” to apply to human rights, labor and environmental issues.

Moscow’s finance ministry also dismissed the Western-backed effort to redefine conflict diamonds as “political grandstanding,” according to a statement emailed to the NYT. He also defended the country’s diamonds as meeting environmental, social and governance standards and said they helped the economy of the diamond-rich republic of Sakha in northeastern Siberia.

“The livelihoods of one million people in Yakutia are entirely dependent on the stability of diamond mining in the region,” the ministry said, using a common name for the permafrost-laden republic of Sakha.

Western governments have already targeted the Russian diamond industry in sanctions passed following the invasion of Ukraine, with the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and the Bahamas banning their nationals to do business with the Russian mining giant Alrosa.

The Russian government and the Sakha Republic each hold a 33% stake in Alrosa, which accounts for almost a third of the world’s diamond production and 90% of Russian production.

The NYT reported that US sanctions contain loopholes that allow Russian diamonds to enter the US market after being cut and polished in India, which changes the origin of Russian gemstones to Indian.

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