Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that his Belarusian counterpart had not consulted with him before raising the possibility of cutting off Europe’s natural gas supply. He added that such a move would damage ties between Moscow and Minsk.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday threatened to retaliate against any new EU sanctions against his country over the issue of migrants stranded on the border with Poland. He suggested that he could stop the transit of Russian gas and other goods through Belarus.
His warning sparked a temporary rise in the price of gas in Europe, which supplies about a third of the gas from Russia, including through the Yamal-Europe pipeline, which runs through Belarus, Poland and Germany.
The Belarusian section of the Yamal-Europe pipeline is owned by the Russian state-owned company Gazprom.
“I have spoken to (Lukashenko) twice recently and he never mentioned it to me and did not even let me know,” Putin said in an interview with state television. These are his first public comments regarding the threat made by the Belarusian president.
“Certainly in theory, Lukashenko, as president of a transit country, could order that our (gas) supplies be cut off. “But that would mean a breach of our gas transit contract, and I hope that will not happen.”
For years, Russia has been Belarus’ closest ally, helping with everything from securing dry money to providing cheap energy to military aid. Mr Lukashenko’s comments come at a sensitive time for Russian energy exports to Europe.
Analysts say Mr Lukashenko’s comments on the gas are likely to test Mr Putin’s patience as Russian gas supplies are already at the center of a heated debate with Europe.
European gas prices and, consequently, energy bills are rising this year, which was boosted by the recovery from the pandemic causing an increase in demand, forcing customers from Europe to Asia to compete among themselves to secure the most many supplies.
Some European politicians have accused Moscow of not doing enough to cut prices.
The European Commission said on Friday that if Mr Lukashenko were to end his threats, it would further damage gas supplies.
During Saturday ‘s interview, Mr Putin said that if Belarus cut off supplies, it would cause major damage to the European energy sector and would not help develop Russia’ s relations with Belarus as a transit country.
Russia, which this week has begun increasing the amount of gas it is sending with the aim of replenishing its deposits in Europe before the winter season, has said the amount will increase as soon as its newly built Nord Stream 2 pipeline received the green light from Germany.
Nord Stream 2 is another Russian pipeline designed to bypass transit countries, especially Ukraine.
The Kremlin calls the pipeline a “purely commercial project” and has vehemently denied that political issues lie behind it.
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