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Belarus threatens to cut gas transit to EU as migrant crisis escalates


Alexander Lukashenko has threatened to chop the transit of gasoline and items by way of Belarus to Europe if the EU imposes additional sanctions on his regime over the migrant disaster on the Belarusian-Polish border.

The Belarus president was responding to an announcement by Ursula von der Leyen, European Fee president, on Wednesday that the bloc would widen its sanctions on Lukashenko’s regime, accusing Minsk of a “cynical geopolitical powerplay” in funnelling migrants to the EU’s borders in an try and destabilise it.

On Thursday Lukashenko warned Minsk would reply to any “unacceptable” sanctions.

“We’re heating Europe, and they’re threatening to shut the border,” he mentioned, based on Belarus state information company Belta. “What if we lower off gasoline to them? Subsequently I like to recommend that the leaders of Poland, Lithuania and the opposite headless individuals suppose earlier than talking. We must always not cease at something to defend our sovereignty and independence.”

European gasoline costs have soared this yr amid considerations over low provides forward of winter. World availability has tightened as economies rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic, with Europe competing with Asia for shipments of liquefied pure gasoline from suppliers such because the US, Qatar and Australia, whereas pipeline shipments to western Europe from Russia have been decrease than regular.

Costs eased this week amid indicators that Russia’s state-backed gasoline large Gazprom was starting to refill its storage services in Europe. Fuel markets weren’t instantly spooked by Lukashenko’s menace, rising solely barely. On Thursday morning the European benchmark was up 0.5 per cent at €71.85 per megawatt hour.

As a lot as 40 per cent of the EU’s gasoline comes from Russia, with a couple of fifth passing by way of Belarus in 2020, based on analysts. However EU lawmakers have accused Moscow of withholding provides to the bloc in an try to hurry up approval of the controversial new Nord Stream 2 pipeline by way of the Baltic Sea.

Thierry Bros, a former oil and gasoline adviser on the French financial system ministry and a professor at Sciences Po in Paris, mentioned Russia and Gazprom would in the end decide whether or not Lukashenko carried out his menace.

“They management the transit by way of Belarus and if Lukashenko was to attempt to lower provides, they’ve important leverage over his regime and the choice of rerouting gasoline provides,” he mentioned. “The important thing query is due to this fact whether or not Vladimir Putin helps Belarus on this menace.”

James Waddell at Power Elements, a consultancy, mentioned Lukashenko’s menace didn’t look credible: “[It would be] very onerous for the Kremlin to not be politically tied to any Belarus transit disaster and that might provoke an EU response.”

Lukashenko’s salvo comes amid rising worldwide concern over the scenario on the Belarus-Poland border, the place hundreds of migrants have gathered in current days. Many arrived in Belarus by air from international locations together with Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and European officers say the surge is being orchestrated by Minsk in an effort to destabilise the EU.

Polish officers mentioned on Thursday that a number of hundred migrants had tried to drive their method throughout the border within the space of Bialowieza the day prior to this.

Migrant smuggling consultants from Europol, the worldwide legislation enforcement physique, are travelling to Poland after Warsaw requested their help, the European Fee mentioned.

Requested about stories that Poland was pushing migrants again throughout the border, a fee spokesman mentioned governments ought to act in keeping with “basic rights” and that Brussels was “trying into humanitarian choices and [migrants’] protected return to their international locations of origin”.

Von der Leyen has mentioned the scenario with US President Joe Biden. Russia has, in the meantime, taken an more and more assertive stance, accusing the EU of fuelling “humanitarian catastrophe” for not letting the migrants in.

On Thursday, for the second day in a row, Russia despatched nuclear-capable bombers into Belarusian airspace. Lukashenko mentioned the transfer had been agreed with Moscow. “We’ve to continuously monitor the scenario on the border,” he added.

The defence ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania mentioned in a joint assertion that the scenario on the border posed “critical threats to European safety”, warning of a threat of “provocations and critical incidents that would additionally spill over into navy area”.

Further reporting by Richard Milne in Oslo and Andy Bounds in Brussels

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