Head of Belgian MFA used to travelled to occupied Crimea in 2021 and refused to call it Ukraine

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

The new Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hadja Lahbib, visited occupied Crimea in July 2021.

This is reported by European Pravda.

The fact that Lahbib, then a TV presenter and journalist, stayed on the territory of the occupied peninsula is evidenced by her own and other posts on social media, as well as comments on TV. 

On 24 July 2021, for instance, she posted on Instagram about her arrival in Sevastopol. "Arriving in the Bay of Sevastopol, a strange destination, isn't it?" she captioned her photo. The following day Lahbib posted a photo of Sevastopol by night. 

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Допис, поширений Hadja Lahbib (@hadjalahbib)

Hadja Lahbib had come to attend the Global Values Festival organised by the Sevastopol Lunacharsky Academic Russian Drama Theatre. In 2021, it was held on 23-25 July. Lahbib was tagged in a Facebook post about the festival which she shared on her own page with the comment "Intense moments of creation". Excerpts from a choreographic performance from the festival can be seen on her Instagram, and later she herself spoke on live TV about the festival as the main purpose of her trip.

She also posted photos on Facebook from the Livadia Palace [located in a suburb of Yalta, Crimea] with an exhibition about the Yalta Conference and photos from Chekhov's villa in Yalta. These messages were posted on 26-28 July.

Later, in a broadcast for RTBF (a Belgian French-language TV channel), she was asked about the trip, focusing on the specific situation of the peninsula being occupied, and asked whether she was returning "from Ukraine or from Russia".

She did not give a direct answer, starting off by saying that "you need a Russian visa to land at Simferopol airport", and then quoting a Russian passerby from the Bay of Sevastopol who said that "Crimea has always had Russian culture and no connection with Ukrainian culture." 

"Of course, the answer would have been different if I had handed the microphone to a Crimean Tatar or a Ukrainian," Lahbib said.

Later in the same broadcast, while speaking about the trip, she continued to casually use the phrase that she went "to Russia" ("Is this festival in Crimea the subject of the documentary you are currently working on?" "Yes, and that's why I went to Russia…"). 

Peter De Roover, a Belgian politician and member of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), said that Hadja Lahbib’s Wikipedia page was edited shortly before her appointment and pointed out, among other things, the trip to Crimea.

"Your Wikipedia resume has been thoroughly cleaned up. Among other things, the following was deleted on 15 July: ‘2021: trip to Lebanon and Russia’. Until 15 July, your trip to Crimea was a trip to ‘Russia’, not ‘Ukraine’," he said.

How Hadja Lahbib arrived at the territory of the occupied peninsula - through Russia, violating the laws of Ukraine, or through "Chongar" - is not known for sure. What she said about needing to have a Russian visa for the flight to Simferopol may hint at her arrival by this route, but there is no indication on her social media either that she transited through one of the airports in the Russian Federation, or that she entered and left through the mainland territory of Ukraine. 

Reminder: Hadja Lahbib was appointed as the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs on 15 July, replacing Sophie Wilmès.

In 2021 the European Parliament dissociated itself from members who went to Crimea for Russia's referendum on constitutional changes that will allow Putin to remain in power until 2036.

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