The dictator of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukachenko, threatened on Thursday (11) to cut the supply of Russian gas that passes through his country’s territory towards the European market.
The leader made his threat in a meeting with ministers to discuss the crisis with Poland, his neighbor who accuses him of forcing the passage of refugees attracted from countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Warsaw says Lukachenko works under Russian Vladimir Putin.
“We’ve warmed up Europe, and they’re still threatening us with border closures. What if we cut natural gas for them? So I would recommend that the leaders of Poland, Lithuania and other brainless peoples think before we speak,” he said.
Of the 5 main gas pipelines that carry the Russian product to Europe, where Moscow dominates 40% of the market, 1 passes through Belarus: the Yamal-Aurora Borealis, which flows precisely into Poland. It has the capacity to send 84 billion cubic meters of gas annually, or 27% of the total available to Russia.
The threat is especially aimed at Europeans on the eve of winter and in the context of the supply crisis for the product, the continent’s second main energy matrix, which has led to rising prices and the accusation that the Russian giant Gazprom was holding back supplies.
The dictator’s reaction is also directed at the threat of the EU (European Union) to apply another round of sanctions to at least 30 Belarusian individuals and organizations.
The country is already suffering punishment due to the repression that the dictator applied to the opposition after winning yet another shell election, in August of last year. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaia, exiled in Lithuania, told Agence France Presse that the EU should not negotiate with Minsk.
Lukachenko also spoke about the provocation by Polish troops against Belarusian soldiers in the border region where about 4,000 of the 15,000 refugees now live in their country. There is no evidence of this, but the tension is clear, with both countries reinforcing their positions.
Poland is, like Lithuania, a member of both the EU and NATO, the military club of the West that opposes Russia, Lukachenko’s only major ally — in Putin’s plans, the countries would ideally be unified into a proposed State of the Union.
The crisis had been gaining weight in recent months, but on Monday (8) it exploded, with Poles accusing Belarus of forcing immigrants to try to invade its territory. Dozens of people were arrested and Warsaw, accused by human rights NGOs of brutally treating refugees.
In the Polish capital, thousands of people marched to commemorate the local independence day, with protesters calling for the expulsion of any immigrants who managed to enter the country. The right-wing conservative government is one of the most controversial in the EU.
This Wednesday (10), there were 468 invasion attempts by refugees. On Thursday, the report of the death of a 14-year-old Kurdish boy emerged, still unproven.
Russia, for its part, maintains its support for Lukachenko’s bellicose rhetoric. After putting two Tu-22M3 bombers on patrol in the neighboring country on Wednesday, it dispatched two even more powerful planes, Tu-160 bombers, on Thursday.
Both models made mock attacks. “Yes, these are bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons. But we have no other option. We have to see what they are doing beyond our borders. Let them moan and scream,” said, with his usual subtlety, Lukachenko.
The show of force comes at a time of renewed friction between Moscow and Kiev, with the concentration of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border, denounced by the US as worrisome.