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June 8, 2022

Ukrainian newspaper "Governmental Courier"

Founder - Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.

Honorary Consul of Ukraine in Belgium Kris Beckers: "In these difficult times, the Belgian government remains with Ukraine"

Honorary consuls are not professional diplomats, but they must have all the qualities that allow them to successfully and effectively represent the country in the foreign policy arena. Their main task is to help Ukrainian citizens abroad if they are in trouble, as well as to open the door to Ukrainian business.

Unlike ambassadors and consuls, honorary consuls in a country are usually not foreigners but citizens. An honorary consul cannot be a civil servant or a politician, but in order to perform his functions effectively, he must have wide connections and acquaintances in governmental, public and business circles of the country in which he represents the interests of Ukraine.

Honorary Consul of Ukraine in Belgium, Belgian businessman Kris Beckers visited our country many times before his appointment. According to him, he loved Ukraine at first sight, was fascinated by its hospitality, history, cultural heritage, traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. He was especially impressed by the openness of Ukrainians and their love for freedom.

Chris Beckers told in an interview with UK how Belgium is currently helping Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and whether it supports the abandonment of Russian energy resources.

- Mr. Beckers, what has changed in the work of the Honorary Consulate of Ukraine in Belgium since the beginning of the war?

This terrible unjustified war, which was started by Russia, affected not only the work of our Honorary Consulate, but also Belgium in general. Today, there are more than 40,000 Ukrainians in the country, to whom Belgium has officially granted temporary protection status. And the number of Ukrainians, mostly refugees, who come into contact with the Honorary Consulate, located in Borglun, Limburg Province, is greater than ever. They need help finding housing, schools for children, asking to solve problems with documents, and so on. We always try to help and do everything we can for them. Since the beginning of the war, we have opened a humanitarian aid distribution point at the consulate. We regularly generate humanitarian aid, which we send to Ukraine, but Ukrainian refugees can simply come to the consulate and take everything they need.

The consulate maintains close ties with the local administration, trying to provide all possible assistance to the local authorities. As the flow of refugees grows, so do the special needs of Ukrainians in education, housing, language learning, and more. In these difficult times, the Belgian government is trying to find answers to all challenges and stays with Ukraine.

- I know that you often communicate with representatives of the Belgian government and business. What is the attitude of the Belgian authorities and business circles to the need to support Ukraine?

Belgium provides Ukraine with diverse multilateral support. In February, in the first days of the war, Belgium immediately sent to Ukraine cargo with military equipment: helmets, bulletproof vests, night vision devices, as well as 3,000 machine guns and 200 anti-tank grenade launchers. In addition, through a special government mechanism for emergency humanitarian assistance, Belgium has sent to Ukraine special tents, blankets, plumbing fixtures adapted for use in cold weather, at a total cost of 230 thousand euros. This is how Belgium wanted to show its solidarity with Ukrainians living in extremely difficult conditions.

As part of EU sanctions against Russia, Belgium has blocked Russian financial transactions totaling 196.4 billion euros and frozen assets worth 2.7 billion euros. This is a huge amount of money. The Belgian Ministry of Finance said the frozen assets belonged to 877 Russian citizens and 62 organizations on the European sanctions list, and the blocked transactions were the result of other restrictions imposed on Russia by the European Union. In response to the sanctions, Belgian customs officers searched more than 23,000 cargo containers in the country's seaports and found luxury items in several of them, including a thousand luxury cars destined for Russian customers.

Belgium took an active part in an international conference of donors to help Ukraine, which took place in Warsaw in early May. Our state has provided 800 million euros for the humanitarian needs of Ukrainians. And the charity organization The Belgian Consortium 12-12 conducted a humanitarian campaign in support of Ukraine, raising 25 million euros.

Many Belgian companies operating in Ukraine continue to pay salaries to their Ukrainian employees, even those who can no longer work because they have moved to another region or gone to the front to defend their country. And for the families of Ukrainians who worked in the offices of Belgian companies in Ukraine and were able to go to Belgium, their employers provide free housing here and help them find work. Belgian farmers doing business in Ukraine send food parcels to the front.

- This week, the European Council within the sixth package of sanctions against Russia adopted an oil embargo. This decision was very difficult, because for decades the EU economy has been dependent on Russian oil and gas, so it is difficult for many countries to give up these relatively cheap energy sources. How has the Belgian government reacted to the oil embargo and is it going to abandon Russian gas in the future?

According to statistics, our country imports only 4-6% of natural gas from Russia. Of course, this does not mean that Belgium is not dependent on Russian gas. According to the federal regulator CREG, this dependence is about 40%. This is due to the fact that the energy market in the EU is regulated at European level. As for the oil embargo and the sixth package of sanctions that were adopted during the European Council summit, as far as I know, the Belgian Government is pleased that this agreement has finally been reached. After all, they believe that this will limit Russia's ability to finance the war against Ukraine. In addition, it was a powerful signal to Moscow and a manifestation of European unity. As for the consequences for Belgium, the abandonment of Russian oil will not have a critical impact on our economy.

- Powerful and diverse propaganda has become Russia's deadly weapon in this war. Is it felt in Belgium?

I can't say that it is not here at all, but Russian propaganda has no noticeable effect on the Belgians.

-You are probably talking to colleagues who have or had a business in Russia. What do they say about this war?

Many Belgian businessmen are dissatisfied with Putin's actions in Ukraine. For them, this means destabilizing the business climate and huge economic losses.

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