Ukraine in diplomatic spat with Belgium – report

Kiev is reluctant to sign off on a visit by the Belgian FM, who had traveled to Crimea, local media reported

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry is refusing to allow Belgian’s foreign minister to visit the country due to a trip she took in 2021 to the Crimean peninsula, which had not been approved by Kiev, local media reported on Thursday.

According to the news website Evropeyskaya Pravda, while Kiev has not officially banned Hadja Lahbib from entering Ukraine, it has found itself in a tough spot.

No one wants to undermine relations with Belgium, a EU and NATO member. But such actions cannot be tolerated either, because they will create a dangerous precedent,” the report says.

Lahbib, who worked as a journalist before being appointed foreign minister, attended the ‘Global Values’ festival held in July 2021 in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. She reportedly went to the peninsula not via the Ukrainian mainland but from another Russian city, which “was in violation of Ukrainian law.” As a result, the minister may be barred from visiting Ukraine for three years and slapped with a fine.

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FILE PHOTO. Gennady Korban.
Top Ukrainian official denied entry to country

After she returned, she made a number of statements that called into question whether Crimea belongs to Ukraine,” the report says, adding that Lahbib will not be able to maintain relations with Kiev without issuing an apology.

Crimea voted overwhelmingly to join Russia in a 2014 referendum after a coup in Ukraine’s capital. However, Kiev says it considers the peninsula to be Ukrainian territory occupied by Moscow.

The Belgian foreign minister had promised to visit Ukraine “soon,” but given the latest backlash, it is now unclear whether she will be able to follow through on that pledge.

On Thursday, Oleg Nikolenko, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, confirmed that Kiev is in talks with the Belgian side “to establish all the circumstances of the trip and make decisions regarding further bilateral contacts.”

The spokesman, however, welcomed Lahbib’s “assurances regarding further support for Ukraine in its fight” against Russia.

In an apparent attempt to respond to the backlash, Lahbib tweeted that her critics had missed that she was a journalist before becoming a minister. “The trip was part of my journalist work,” she reiterated.