‘Should know better’ Lukashenko calls VDL’s bluff and threatens to cut off EU gas supplies

Belarus-Poland: Migrants detained attempting border crossing

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The Belarusian leader told reporters on Wednesday that he is prepared to violate international agreements should Poland completely shut its borders to refugees seeking entry into the European Union. Recent weeks have seen thousands of refugees and migrants from the Middle East gather along the Poland-Belarus border, sparking a bitter diplomatic row between the two nations. Mr Lukashenko has now resorted to using pipeline access as a bargaining chip in hopes of forcing the EU to accept the influx of people.

However, his threats have sparked an outcry from Moscow, which has been accused of orchestrating the refugee crisis alongside Minsk.

After Mr Lukashenko said he was ready to suspend the flow of energy from Russia’s state-owned Gazprom into Europe, the Kremlin warned Belarus against breaching its contractual agreements.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed Belarus is acting under “unprecedented, unjustified and aggressive” pressure from the West.

But he also said President Vladimir Putin “is counting on this not resulting in any breaches of our obligations towards European gas buyers, especially at such a tough time for the Europeans.”

Mr Lukashenko, however, appears to have brushed off the warnings from its closest ally.

He told the Belarusian Telegraph Agency (BelTA): “As Poland together with others takes more action against Belarus, do they think I am going to stick to some contracts?

“Come on they, should know better.”

Both Belarus and Russia have been accused of flying refugees into Minsk and transporting them to the Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian borders to sow chaos across the economic bloc.

However, the three countries remain undeterred in their decision not to let people through and have increased security measures while also threatening to completely close their borders.

Belarus: Gunshots heard at Polish border amidst migrant crisis

But Mr Lukashenko called the EU’s bluff as Belarus is a major transit hub for Russian gas into Europe.

The majority of the EU’s gas is imported from abroad and Russia is by far the biggest supplier.

And with winter rapidly approaching, many experts fear dwindling supplies and unsteady flow from the East could lead to a full-blown energy crisis.

It is probable Mr Lukashenko is well aware of this conundrum and is banking on it to gain leverage over the bloc.

He said: “Poland has this idea to close the border with Belarus. Fine, let them do it.

“If they close it, then they need to think how they are going to buy energy from Russia.”

In a bid to deescalate the situation, the EU has proposed implementing temporary measures to address the border crisis.

Officials in Brussels proposed on Wednesday curtailing some migrant rights to allow for faster deportations and stays in border camps for up to four months.

The proposals were put forward by the European Commission (EC) and, if approved, will weaken procedures meant to protect refugees.

This comes after the EU and NATO have threatened action against Belarus and Russia ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Latvia this week.

At the same time, EC President Ursula von der Leyen has proposed increasing border management funding to £169million ($226million) to help Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

She said: “If we look at the situation at the EU border with Belarus, we have mobilised all our diplomatic power, reaching out to our partners, but also to the countries of origin – this has been very successful – to convince them to take responsibility, for their population not to be trapped in Belarus.

“We have made use of sanctions against individuals and authorities involved in these hybrid attacks.

“And we are very closely coordinating our sanctions with the United Kingdom, with the United States and with Canada. So we do have efficient tools.”

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