Belarus is threatening gas deliveries from the EU due to a border dispute
Belarus has threatened to stop gas supplies to Europe if the EU imposes sanctions over a migrant crisis on its western border.
The bloc has accused Russian-backed President Alexander Lukashenko of arming thousands of people currently gathered in freezer camps on the border with Poland in an attempt to undermine EU security and divert attention from domestic political pressures, an allegation which Belarus denies.
As the EU reportedly prepares a new round of sanctions, Lukashenko said in an emergency meeting of the cabinet on Thursday that the country could cut supplies along the Yamal-Europe pipeline from Russia, adding further pressure on European leaders increased as the continent continues to benefit from the international energy crisis.
“We are heating up Europe and they are still threatening to close the borders,” the strong man’s leader, who has been in power since 1994, allegedly told cabinet ministers.
“What if we cut off? [the transit of] Natural gas to them? So I would recommend the leadership of Poles, Lithuanians and other mindless people to think before they speak. “
Natural gas prices rose nearly 7% on Thursday, according to Lukashenko’s comment.
The majority of migrants are from Syria, Yemen and Iraq, and Belarusian state-owned airline Belavia said on Friday it would not allow citizens of all three countries to fly from Turkey to Belarus at the request of Turkish authorities.
Belavia reportedly could be in line with EU sanctions, and questions have also been raised as to whether they could be extended to Russian Aeroflot or Turkish Airlines.
In a joint statement, the EU members of the UN Security Council, together with the USA, the UK and Albania, condemned the “organized instrumentalization of people whose lives and well-being were endangered by Belarus for political purposes, with the aim of destabilization” Neighboring countries and the external border of the European Union and distraction from their own increasing human rights violations. “
Brinkmanship or real escalation?
Experts disagree on whether Minsk’s defiant tone will lead to drastic political action, with much depending on the strategic priorities of Lukashenko’s longtime ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Timothy Ash, senior emerging market debt strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, said the situation “is likely to continue to escalate.”
“Putin would be very happy if the energy transit through Belarus were interrupted as he could blame Lukashenko while he continued to put pressure on Europe,” Ash said in an email on Thursday.
“It would also give him an excuse to formally intervene in Belarus itself – Russian planes seem to be already patrolling to secure Belarus’ borders with NATO.”
BELARUS, Nov. 12 – Thousands of irregular migrants face desperate conditions as they continue to wait at the Polish-Belarus border in hopes of making their way onto EU soil.
Stringer / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Ash added that the current direction of travel “feels a bit like slow-motion action on an actual conflict in Europe”.
Two Russian strategic bombers flew over Belarus on Thursday as part of a training mission, said the Belarusian Defense Ministry.
“Let them scream and squeak. Yes, these are nuclear-capable bombers, but we have no other choice,” Lukashenko is said to have said on Thursday.
He pointed out that the Belarusian Defense Ministry and the border troops were deployed together with the State Security “to maintain control over the movement of troops by NATO and Poland”.
“You can already see 15,000 soldiers, tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters and planes that were brought to our border without warning,” said the president, according to a reading by the Belarusian government.
However, Emre Peker, director of the European team at the Eurasia Group policy consultancy, said that due to revenue restrictions and likely opposition from Russia, Lukashenko was “extremely unlikely” to take notice of the threat to cut gas flows to Europe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reportedly told journalists in a conference call on Friday that Moscow had not been consulted in the face of Lukashenko’s threats to curb gas supplies to Europe.
“Russia relies on transit through Belarus to fulfill European treaties. The shutdown of the pipeline would damage Gazprom’s long-term market position and heighten concerns about the stability of Russian gas supplies, ”said Peker.
“Interrupting gas flows would also cost Lukashenko $ 300 million a year in transit income that Belarus cannot afford.”
Peker noted that this figure is comparable to the economic impact of EU sanctions in June on Belarusian oil and potash exports and “would far exceed the likely impact of new EU sanctions”.
He also suggested that diplomatic, commercial and legal challenges would prevent the EU from imposing sanctions on Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines, but Brussels is likely to hit Belavia to quickly punish Belarus.