Belarus leader threatens to shut EU gas flow in border spat

This undated file photo shows Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to shut down a key pipeline carrying Russia gas to the European Union if Poland closes the border as thousands of migrants seek to cross into EU territory.

“We’re heating Europe and they are threatening us that they will close the border,” Lukashenko said at the meeting with government on Thursday, citing the Yamal-Europe pipeline across Belarus, according to state-owned news agency Belta. “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.”

Presdient Alexander Lukashenko’s threat comes as Europe is dealing with the worst energy crisis in decades amid capped Russian gas deliveries and competition with Asia for liquefied-gas cargoes

Lukashenko’s threat comes as Europe is dealing with the worst energy crisis in decades amid capped Russian gas deliveries and competition with Asia for liquefied-gas cargoes. Russia, the key supplier of the fuel to the continent, started to boost gas deliveries earlier this week, yet so far the flows remain below the seasonal norm.

Benchmark European natural gas futures reversed earlier losses after Lukashenko’s statement. About 20 percent of Russian gas flows to EU were sent from Belarus territory so far this year, mainly through the Yamal-Europe pipeline, running via Belarus and Poland to Germany.

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The EU is considering more sanctions against the Lukashenko government over the refugee crisis. 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.

Neither the Kremlin nor Gazprom responded to requests for comment on Lukashenko’s threat.

Poland estimated that 4,000 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. 

US and European Union are preparing measures to penalize Lukashenko for orchestrating what they see as a hybrid attack on the block.

READ MORE: Poland fears 'major incident' as migrants head for border