Belarus threatens to cut gas supplies to Europe

The Belarusian authorities threatened on Thursday to retaliate against possible European sanctions in connection with the crisis on their border with Poland. «What would happen if we cut off the natural gas going there,» Alexander Lukashenko said.

Belarus, accused of fomenting a migration crisis on its border with Poland, has threatened to retaliate against possible European sanctions by closing the valves of a major gas pipeline running through its territory. In the event of punitive measures, Minsk «will respond», said President Alexander Lukashenko, referring to the possibility of interrupting deliveries from the Yamal-Europe pipeline, which carries Russian gas to Germany and Poland, among others.

«What would happen if we cut off the natural gas going there?» said Alexander Lukashenko, whose threat comes as European countries face soaring gas prices due to shortages.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who lives in exile, called the threat a bluff. «It would be more damaging for him, for Belarus, than for the EU and I can assume it’s a bluff,» she told AFP in an interview in Berlin, adding that she no longer believed the crisis could be resolved through diplomatic means.

Emergency humanitarian aid

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The situation on the border between Belarus and Poland, two central European countries of which the former is an ally of Moscow and the latter a member of the EU and NATO, is causing growing concern in the international community. The UN Security Council is due to discuss the issue on Thursday. On the ground, concern is focused on the fate of more than 2,000 people trapped in a makeshift camp on the Belarusian side of the border, where they are keeping warm by burning wood to endure temperatures close to 0°C.

Emergency humanitarian aid», including blankets, warm clothes and nappies, was delivered to them on Thursday, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

Punitive measures announced

Brussels, where the situation has reawakened fears of a migration wave similar to that of 2015, accuses the Belarusian regime of Alexander Lukashenko of having orchestrated the influx in revenge for Western sanctions, and has announced new punitive measures for next week.
At the United Nations in New York, European and US members of the Security Council issued a joint statement condemning an «orchestrated instrumentalisation of human beings» by Belarus in order to «destabilise the external border of the European Union».

Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei had earlier called on the EU to engage in dialogue, saying that Minsk was in favour of resolving the crisis «as soon as possible». Brussels accuses the Belarusian government of luring would-be exiles by offering them visas and chartering flights, then transporting them to the Polish border.

Moscow, the «solution»?

Faced with this impasse, the EU and Germany on Wednesday called on Russia, the main supporter of Minsk, to intervene. German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to «use his influence» with Alexander Lukashenko to put an end to what she described as the «inhumane» use of migrants.

In a second meeting on Thursday with Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin said that the solution to this serious migrant crisis would only come about through the «re-establishment of contacts between EU countries and Belarus», a Kremlin statement said, while two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers carried out patrols in the Belarusian sky.

Paris said on Thursday that Russia was «part of the solution, since Belarus’ dependence on Moscow is increasingly strong», especially in economic and politico-military terms.

A new kind of war

Faced with a growing influx of migrants at its border, including Kurds from the Middle East, Poland, which points to Moscow as the real instigator of the crisis, has deployed 15,000 troops, erected a fence topped with barbed wire and approved the construction of a wall.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday that his country was the target of a «new kind of war». This time, «the ammunition (used) is civilians,» he said in a statement issued on the occasion of Poland’s Independence Day.

Polish border guards reported 468 new crossing attempts overnight on Thursday. Polish Deputy Interior Minister Bartosz Grodecki said a group of «150 people» had tried to «force the border».
Since August, Poland has recorded a total of more than 32,000 attempts to enter its territory illegally, including 17,300 in October. According to the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, 10 people have died in the border area since the crisis began.

Lithuania, which has also seen migrants arrive at its border with Belarus, called on Thursday for the creation of a «humanitarian corridor» to evacuate migrants to the Belarusian city of Grodno, which has an airport, from where they could be sent «back home». Fearing it could be dragged into the crisis, Ukraine, another of Belarus’ neighbours, announced on Thursday that it was deploying an additional 8,500 troops to the border.