Russian president Vladimir Putin on Saturday expressed disapproval of a threat by Belarus’ leader to cut off Russian gas supplies to the European Union.
“He can, I guess, it’s no good, though, and I’ll talk to him about it … in case he just said it out of anger,” Putin told Russian TV channel Rossiya 1 in response to Alexander Lukashenko’s threat to turn off the gas taps.
“This would be a violation of our transit contract and I hope it will not come to that,” Putin said, referring to agreements governing the flow of Russian gas along pipelines running through Belarus. Cutting off the gas “would not contribute to the development of our relations with Belarus as a transit country,” he warned.
The Russian president also claimed not to have heard Lukashenko’s gas threat which was relayed on Thursday by Belarussian state media. Lukashenko made the threat as the EU considered more sanctions on his regime in response to the migrant crisis on the Belarus-Poland border.
“To be honest, this is the first time I’ve heard about it, because I’ve talked to Alexander Grigorievich [Lukashenko] twice recently, and he has never told me about it, never even hinted at it,” Putin said.
On Friday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia will respect its gas contracts with Europe. “Russia has been, is and will remain a country that fulfills all obligations to provide European consumers with gas,” Peskov said, according to Deutsche Welle.
Putin blamed the EU for the crisis which has stranded thousands of migrants on the border between Belarus and Poland. “We should not forget where these migrant-related crises came from. Is Belarus the reason for these problems? No, the reasons were created by the Western countries, the European countries themselves,” he claimed in the Rossiya 1 interview.
“Russia has absolutely nothing to do with it,” Putin added.
He also denied Belarussian and Russian airlines’ involvement in flying migrants from the Middle East to Belarus.
“Our aviation companies do not carry these people. None of our companies transport them. By the way, Belavia, as [Lukashenko] told me, does not carry them, either. They book charters,” Putin said. Belarus’ state-owned airline Belavia is expected to be targeted next week in new sanctions under consideration by EU countries.
Tensions between Minsk and Brussels have been escalating since the EU imposed sanctions on Lukashenko’s regime after he imposed a crackdown on opponents following presidential elections in October 2020 that were widely seen as fraudulent.
EU leaders accuse Lukashenko of instumentalizing illegal migration in a “hybrid attack,” through his efforts to push migrants to the borders in response to those sanctions.
Amid growing fears for the safety of migrants caught in the standoff, Polish police found the body of a young Syrian man Saturday near the border with Belarus. Migrants have made several efforts to push past the Polish border fence, which is protected by 15,000 troops, police and border guards. They have also been making efforts to cross into Latvia and Lithuania.
Meanwhile, military tensions between NATO countries and Russia are also intensifying as Russia amasses troops on its border with Ukraine. The risk of an accidental armed conflict is higher than during the Cold War, Gen. Nick Carter, Chief of the U.K. Defense Staff, said in an interview Saturday. The U.K. has sent a detachment of troops to Poland to provide “engineer support” on the border with Belarus.
Putin blamed Western nations for heightening tensions, saying U.S. and NATO exercises in the Black Sea were a “serious challenge” for Russia.
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