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Belarus President threatens to shut EU gas flow in border spat

European gas prices reversed earlier losses after the threat

Belarus | Gas price | Angela Merkel

Aliaksandr Kudrytski | Bloomberg 

belarus president

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to shut down a key pipeline carrying Russia gas to the European Union as the bloc considers new sanctions, escalating a dispute flaring over migrants seeking to cross from his country into the EU.

European gas prices reversed earlier losses after the threat. The continent is dealing with the worst energy crisis in decades amid limited Russian supplies of gas, among other factors.

The refugee tensions on the border between and Poland -- which the EU accuses Lukashenko of instigating in retaliation for its pressure on his government over its brutal crackdown on domestic opponents -- has spiraled in recent days, with several thousand people stuck on the frontier.

The EU, together with the U. K. and U. S., is planning more sanctions on the isolated authoritarian leader, who has turned to his closest ally in Moscow for support. About 20% of Russian gas flows to EU were sent via so far this year, mainly through the Yamal-Europe pipeline.

Russia Silent

Neither the Kremlin nor Russian gas giant Gazprom commented on Lukashenko’s latest ultimatum Thursday and it wasn’t clear whether he had the legal authority to do it. Since tensions with the West spiked last year in the wake of his crackdown on critics after presidential elections, Lukashenko has threatened a wide range of retaliatory moves, but followed through on only a few.

“We’re heating Europe and they are threatening us that they will close the border,” Lukashenko said at a meeting with officials. “What if we cut off natural gas flows there? Therefore, I would recommend the leadership of Poland, Lithuanians and other empty-headed people to think before speaking.”

Lukashenko said he asked Russia to deploy strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons to patrol his country’s border and mulled shutting down cargo transit to Europe as well as other possible measures to retaliate for any additional sanctions.

“We should not be intimidated, of course, by Lukashenko’s threats,” EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said, according to Politico.

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Facing the influx of refugees from the Middle East and other conflict zones on their borders with Belarus, Poland and Lithuania have demanded the EU take stronger action against Lukashenko.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, after meeting with U.

S. President Joe Biden, said Wednesday that the EU and the U. S. are preparing to penalize the regime for orchestrating a “hybrid attack” on the bloc.

“We have to protect our democracies from this kind of cynical, geopolitical power play,” she told reporters outside the White House.

Merkel Appeal

Earlier Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin brushed off a request by Chancellor to exercise his influence over Belarus in the crisis.

The bloc is discussing targeting airlines, possibly including Russian ones, in the new package, an EU official said. New penalties could be announced -- jointly with the U. S. and possibly the U. K. -- early next month, the person said.

“We will widen our sanctions against Belarus, so very rapidly at the beginning of next week, there will be a widening of the sanctions against elements,” von der Leyen said. “As far as I’m informed, the United States have prepared sanctions that will be in effect at the beginning of December.”

Poland estimated that thousands of migrants may be in the forests along the border, and even more on route to the frontier area from Belarus’s capital. Neighboring Lithuania, facing a similar problem, called on the United Nations to open a humanitarian corridor in Belarus.

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First Published: Thu, November 11 2021. 20:47 IST