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28/07: Coverage MFA Lahbib visit Crimea

Crimea

Last year, when she was still a journalist, current Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib (MR) visited Crimea. She travelled with a Russian visa via Russia to the Ukrainian peninsula that has been occupied by Moscow since 2014. Under Ukrainian law, the route via Russia is punishable by law and Kyiv can bar offenders from entering the country for three years. On her return, she spoke in a radio interview with RTBF about a visit ‘to Russia’ and released an uncritical report featuring only pro-Russian voices. On her Wikipedia page, it said until she became minister that the documentary was shot in ‘Lebanon and Russia.’ Ukraine’s reaction to Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib’s (MR) trip to Crimea indicates that Kyiv does not want to escalate the issue but also that it considers the matter far from finished. (De Standaard)

Lahbib’s trip to Russian-occupied Crimea, when she was a journalist, provoked numerous comments in the Ukrainian press, on social networks, and in the Belgian press. Opposition parties N-VA and Les Engagés were critical of the trip, which was made on a Russian visa and financed by a cultural organisation close to Moscow. The minister’s entourage invoked the excuse that it was done in a professional journalistic capacity and that the television emission was cancelled due to the rather one-sided reporting. The Ukrainian foreign affairs spokesperson reacted to the Belgian minister’s trip. He said that more information about the trip was needed before “making decisions on further bilateral contacts” but otherwise was rather appeasing, “we celebrate the minister’s assurance of further support for Ukraine.” (Le Soir)

In July 2021, Hadja Lahbib went to the Russian-annexed territory to attend a festival organised by “Russian Seasons,” a Russian government propaganda initiative sponsored by Gazprom. A daughter of Russian President Vladimir Putin was also involved in the organisation of the event. The fact that this trip was financed by a Russian cultural association raised sharp comments in the Ukrainian press, but also amongst queried diplomats. Although the planned television report did not materialise, the radio report broadcast on RTBF only gave the stage to pro-Russian interviewees. The issue of the annexation was also completely removed from the emission. (La Libre)

The new Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib (MR – Francophone Liberals) has written to her Ukrainian counterpart stating that Crimea is illegally occupied by Russia. She also expressed her support for Ukraine. However, she does not mention her own trip to Crimea. Lahbib is under fire because last year, then as an RTBF journalist, she travelled to Crimea via Russia. Today (28/07), it was revealed that this trip was paid for by the Russian organisation of the theatre festival she was going to attend. After N-VA had already raised the matter, criticism is now coming from the French-speaking opposition as well. Georges Dallemagne of the party Les Engagés thinks that Lahbib should give an explanation: “For me, the financing is central. I think that as a journalist, one should be able to travel where one wants and have whatever opinion one wants. But when one is paid to say that Crimea is Russian, that is an issue.” (VRT NWS)

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