Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday threatened to take the drastic action of cutting off the Yamal-Europe natural gas pipeline at a moment the European Union is both preparing fresh sanctions on Minsk, and mulling closure of the EU border altogether with Belarus.
"We deliver heat to Europe, they still threaten us that they will close the border. And what if we cut off natural gas? Therefore, I would recommend that the Polish leadership, Lithuanians and other heedless people think before speaking," Lukashenko told a meeting of his cabinet in Minsk.
Russian energy giant Gazprom operates the Yamal-Europe pipeline which runs across Russia, Belarus, Poland, and into Germany. The 2,600 mile natural gas transit line has significantly increased its volume to Europe in recent days, according to Lukashenko.
Countries border Belarus have this week declared states of emergencies while sending military reinforcements as thousands of mostly Middle Eastern migrants have sought to force their way through key crossings, particularly near northeast Poland.
Germany has been the latest country to join Poland in directly accusing the Lukashenko government of "trafficking" in migrants as a geopolitical weapon against Europe. Both Belarus and Russia have responded by accusing the EU of fueling the crisis in the first place, both through its foreign policy which destabilizes the Mideast-North Africa region, and its sanctions targeting Belarus.
Lukashenko in his Thursday comments strongly hinted he's ready to escalate and that its the West that must back down if they hope to relieve the crisis of migrant pressure:
"But it is up to them. If they close it (the border) let them do it," Lukashenko said. At the same time, he ordered the Foreign Ministry "to warn everyone in Europe: if they introduce additional sanctions that are 'undigestible' and 'unacceptable' for us, then we should respond."
"How to respond, we agreed with you about it half a year ago," the President of Belarus said.
Migrants on the Belarus-Poland border pic.twitter.com/Gx3kgJOKpI— Ali Özkök (@Ozkok_A) November 11, 2021
Already the EU closure of at least on major crossing into Europe demonstrates what could happen to East European trade and transit if the whole border is shut to the ex-Soviet Republic.
Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni was cited in the following Thursday respond to Lukashenko's threats over the ordeal:
In addition to another round of EU sanctions, Poland closed one of the main border crossings with Belarus earlier this week. One of the remaining border points is reporting trucks have to wait more than 50 hours to cross.
"We should not be intimidated, of course, by Lukashenko's threats," Gentiloni told a news conference presenting the Commission's new economic forecasts.
What's essentially a pipeline blackmail threat as a frigid winter is approaching came on the heals of the defense ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania describing "the security crisis unfolding on the Polish-Belarusian and Lithuanian-Belarusian border as very alarming." It said Belarus is deliberately escalating, "which is posing serious threats to European security."