MOSCOW (Reuters) -Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday raised the possibility he could shut down the transit of natural gas to Europe via Belarus in retaliation against any new European Union sanctions imposed over his country’s handling of migrants.
The EU on Wednesday accused Belarus of mounting a “hybrid attack” on the bloc by encouraging thousands of migrants fleeing poverty and war-torn areas to try to cross into Poland, and is gearing up to impose new sanctions on Minsk.
Lukashenko, backed by close ally Russia, has dismissed the allegations and blamed the 27-nation bloc and the West for fuelling the crisis at his country’s border with EU states.
On Thursday, he raised the possibility of cutting off the Yamal gas pipeline that carries Russian gas across Belarus en route to Poland and Germany.
“We are heating Europe, they are still threatening us that they will close the border. And if we shut off natural gas there?,” Lukashenko said in comments published by the state news agency Belta.
“Therefore, I would recommend that the Polish leadership, Lithuanians and other headless people think before speaking,” he was cited as saying.
Europe’s gas market, where prices have hit record highs in recent weeks, would be highly sensitive to any interruption in the flow of Russian gas via Belarus.
The EU has paved the way for new sanctions against Belarus as early as next week.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov and Tom Balmforth; writing by Mark TrevelyanEditing by Andrew Osborn)