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Russia Fights Efforts to Declare It an Exporter of ‘Blood Diamonds’

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to international soul-searching about overreliance on Russian oil and fuel, however a brand new drama is unfolding over one other of Russia’s main exports: diamonds.

Russia is the world’s largest provider of small diamonds. For years, engagement rings, earrings and pendants on the market in the US and past have included diamonds mined from deep within the permafrost in Russia’s northeast.

Now, the US and different international locations are taking motion that would formally label Russian diamonds as “battle diamonds,” claiming their sale helps pay for Russia’s lethal aggression in Ukraine.

“Proceeds from that manufacturing are benefiting the identical state that’s conducting a premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified struggle,” mentioned George Cajati, a U.S. State Division official, in a letter written in Might to the chair of the Kimberley Course of, a global group created by United Nations decision to stop the movement of battle diamonds.

The European Union, Canada and different Western nations, in addition to Ukraine and several other activist organizations, have joined in comparable requires a Kimberley Course of dialogue concerning the implications of the invasion of Ukraine, together with whether or not Russian gems must be thought-about battle diamonds.

Often known as blood diamonds, battle diamonds are generally regarded as gems offered to finance struggle. The Kimberley Course of, created within the wake of diamonds financing a lethal struggle in Sierra Leone and elsewhere, defines them extra particularly, as “tough diamonds utilized by insurgent actions or their allies to finance battle geared toward undermining legit governments.”

However “insurgent motion” doesn’t precisely describe Russia, and officers there vehemently object to labeling the nation’s diamonds as battle gems. They chalk up the hassle by Western governments to take action as “political demagogy,” in response to an emailed assertion from the press service of Russia’s Ministry of Finance.

The problem is coming into sharper focus as Western nations outraged by Russia’s actions in Ukraine prohibit Russian fuel and search for long-term options to their reliance on its fossil fuels. Revenues from Russia’s different large exports, corresponding to diamonds, have gained new international relevance each for Russia in addition to for international locations seeking to punish the nation for its actions in Ukraine.

The gems are one in all Russia’s prime non-energy exports by worth, accounting for greater than $4.5 billion of exports final 12 months, in response to U.S. authorities information.

Russian diamonds have for years been common with American jewelers weary of the taint of diamonds from African mines — even these removed from battle areas — that customers might confuse for blood diamonds. However the debate over Russian diamonds is exposing an often-overlooked actuality concerning the effort to rein within the murky $80 billion international diamond business, which commercializes the deepest of feelings and has spent years working to reassure those who its gems are reliable by Kimberley Course of certification.

Due to loopholes and technicalities, so-called moral diamonds don’t actually exist, many jewelers acknowledge. And the hassle to dam Russian diamonds underscores that reality. “We use the Kimberley Course of as the best greenwashing machine the world has ever seen,” mentioned Martin Rapaport, a number one diamond dealer whose value record is used as a benchmark for the wholesale commerce in polished diamonds.

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For Russia’s half, its officers say the nation’s diamonds had been in step with environmental, social and governance requirements lengthy earlier than they turned trendy within the company world. They are saying Russian mines contribute to the economic system of Yakutia, a desolate space of the nation’s Far East.

Diamond proceeds have paved roads, constructed colleges and hospitals, Russia’s finance ministry mentioned in an e-mail, including that funds are additionally made to institutional and personal buyers. “The livelihoods of 1 million individuals of Yakutia absolutely rely on the steadiness of diamond mining within the area,” the ministry mentioned.

However Ukraine officers say the diamonds contribute to Russia’s invasion.

“Russian diamonds are concerned in financing the struggle of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine, which makes these diamonds not simply battle, however bloody,” mentioned Vladimir Tatarintsev, deputy director of the State Gemmological Middle of Ukraine, which is a member of the Kimberley Course of.

Western officers have lined up beside the Ukrainians.

On the very day in February that Russia invaded Ukraine, the US added to its sanctions record Serge S. Ivanov, the chief govt of Alrosa, Russia’s greatest diamond producer and the world’s largest diamond mining firm. Mr. Ivanov is the son of one in all President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, who was additionally added to the sanctions record.

Later, the U.S. banned imports of Russian diamonds together with Russian vodka, caviar and different gadgets.

However the U.S. motion had a significant loophole: It utilized solely to Russian tough diamonds, gems that had been dug from the bottom however had but to be minimize and shined. And few tough diamonds from Russia attain the U.S. market.

After being pulled from the bottom, most diamonds are shipped overseas for transformation, no matter the place they’re mined. The overwhelming majority find yourself in sprucing facilities in India, which has no ban on Russian diamonds. As soon as the diamonds are remodeled and readied for delivery, their origin modifications. Diamonds mined in Russia are not Russian-origin diamonds; they’re labeled Indian-origin.

Boycotts of Russian diamonds had been launched by main jewelers corresponding to Tiffany. De Beers elevated efforts to hint the gems by the availability chain.

The U.S. escalated its motion not lengthy after, focusing on the mining large Alrosa, which is majority-owned by the Russian federal and regional governments. It added Alrosa to a U.S. Treasury record that basically bans U.S. nationals from doing enterprise with it. Canada, the UK, New Zealand, and the Bahamas took comparable motion.

However critics mentioned the ban failed to shut the loophole and left open the chance that Alrosa’s subsidiaries might nonetheless discover a strategy to get diamonds which are minimize and polished overseas into the U.S. And so they be aware that whereas the U.S. is the most important marketplace for Russian diamonds, Alrosa can nonetheless promote diamonds freely in different main markets corresponding to China, which has taken no motion towards Russian gems.

Regardless, shares of Alrosa, which the U.S. says generated greater than $4.2 billion in income final 12 months and is liable for 90 p.c of Russia’s diamond mining capability, have plummeted. It was successful for a corporation that 5 years in the past had launched a brand new advertising marketing campaign in America, hoping its Russian id could be a bonus in a nation the place savvy shoppers had been cautious of atrocities in diamond mining that fueled wars in African international locations.

“Alrosa has a really sturdy give attention to environmental and social points and conforms to the best requirements of company social accountability,” the corporate mentioned in an emailed assertion. Its web site highlights efforts geared toward defending water and soil, serving to Indigenous populations and making a park to guard reindeer and different wildlife.

The controversy over Russian diamonds reached the Kimberley Course of forward of the group’s scheduled assembly in June. A motion was already afoot by the U.S. and different Western international locations to find out whether or not Russia was exporting battle diamonds and to rethink Russia’s management roles within the group.

Russia itself had been among the many quite a few nations that for a number of years had been pushing inside the Kimberley Course of for an enlargement of the definition of battle diamonds, in search of to broaden it to use to points corresponding to human rights, labor and the atmosphere. However as a result of the group is ruled by consensus — all selections have to be unanimous among the many greater than 80 international locations — the motion has stalled.

Tensions over Russian diamonds cut up the Kimberley Course of member international locations alongside more and more acquainted geopolitical strains, with quite a few Western nations pitted towards Russia, which was backed by China, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan in addition to Mali and the Central African Republic, the place Russia has a giant presence together with by its mercenaries who function in diamond mines.

The Kimberley Course of “has much less and fewer to do with diamonds and in a method has develop into one other geostrategic theater,” mentioned Hans Merket, a diamond business and human rights researcher whose group is a part of civil society membership within the Kimberley Course of.

On the June assembly in Botswana, discussions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and its implications for the Kimberley Course of, ended after vetoes by Russia, China and Belarus. Journalists had been requested to go away classes they usually could be allowed to attend, some members mentioned, and talks with the group’s chairman turned tangled in disputes over whether or not Russia ought to participate. The U.S. and British representatives boycotted classes led by Russian representatives.

Mr. Merket mentioned the group had develop into “an organ of bureaucrats” who log out on diamonds which are problematic but obtain endorsements that falsely reassure jewellery consumers. “Customers anticipate one thing that isn’t true,” he mentioned.

The assembly left him and different members pissed off and anxious that vital work was being sidetracked.

A brand new course of awaits assessment for exporting diamonds from the war-torn Central African Republic, the place Russian mercenaries function within the diamond business and have been accused of human rights violations. Reviews of violence in diamond mines in Brazil and Venezuela will not be being investigated, some members mentioned. Allegations of violence involving safety officers at mines within the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Tanzania have gone unaddressed.

Inside the entrenched business, the place jewellery companies are handed down for generations, defenders of the Kimberley Course of say that regardless of the issues it largely works.

“It’s not an ideal world,” mentioned Edward Asscher, president of the World Diamond Council, which represents the diamond business within the Kimberley Course of. Nonetheless, Mr. Asscher, whose household diamond enterprise dates to the 1850s, mentioned he believed that 99 p.c of diamonds licensed by the Kimberley Course of had been conflict-free.

Nonetheless, pressure over Russian diamonds threatens to overshadow work at a Kimberley Course of assembly scheduled for November. “The Kimberley Course of can not keep silent following a army aggression of 1 participant towards one other,” mentioned Xavier Cifre Quatresols, a spokesperson for international affairs and safety coverage on the European Union.

And simply final month, comparable tensions stuffed the room at a gathering of diamond business leaders in New York, the place jewelers and merchants who lengthy have labored with Russian counterparts had been now within the uncomfortable place of distancing themselves from the gems.

Practically everybody in attendance agreed that, in a method or one other, the business wanted reform.

Ronnie VanderLinden, a pacesetter within the U.S. diamond business and longtime jeweler based mostly in New York Metropolis’s famed diamond district, mentioned that “all diamonds in the US are moral diamonds,” however acknowledged the system had flaws. “It relies upon,” he mentioned, “on what your definition of moral is.”

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