The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Russia assures E.U. it will continue delivering gas despite Belarus pipeline threats

Polish police guard the Poland-Belarus border on Nov. 12. (Polish police/Reuters)

MOSCOW — Russia on Friday brushed aside a Belarusian threat to cut supplies of Russian natural gas to Europe, soothing European gas markets and circumventing President Alexander Lukashenko’s attempt to escalate his confrontation with Europe.

European leaders accuse Lukashenko of orchestrating a migrant crisis on Belarus’s border with the European Union in retaliation for sanctions, a claim Minsk denies. Lukashenko’s approach has hardened Europe’s position, with new sanctions being weighed.

Lukashenko’s ally Russia has backed the Belarusian leader so far, but the Kremlin’s rejection of his threat to cut Russian gas supplies transiting Belarusian territory to Europe showed limits to the degree of support from Moscow, especially where its gas interests are concerned.

Belarus’s Lukashenko warns Europe: Sanction us again and we could cut gas supply

Making clear that Moscow would not accept a minor transit player dictating its gas supply to Europe, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would honor its obligations to Europe on gas regardless of what Minsk might do.

“Russia has been, is and will be a country that honors every obligation on gas supply to European consumers, as well as contractual obligations,” Peskov said. “Russia’s reliability as a supplier and a partner under current and future contracts is beyond doubt.”

Peskov said the Belarusian leader did not consult Moscow before he spoke, although Putin has been in regular contact with Lukashenko.

“No, they [Lukashenko’s statements] are not coordinated in any way. Yes, he is our ally, but it’s a sovereign state,” Peskov said.

Natural gas prices in Europe fell back Friday after Peskov’s remarks. On a benchmark futures market in the Netherlands, prices stabilized after a spike Thursday, Reuters reported.

European leaders do not recognize Lukashenko’s legitimacy, rejecting the August 2020 presidential election and refusing to communicate with him. German Chancellor Angela Merkel twice turned to Putin this week to ask that he use his influence with the Belarusian leader to end the border crisis.

Putin responded that E.U. leaders must engage directly with Minsk. Russia says it has no part in the migrant crisis unfolding on the border of Belarus and Poland.

With growing numbers of migrants stranded in freezing conditions in a forest on the border of Belarus and Poland, the Turkish civil aviation authority announced Friday that because of the crisis it would block citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen from flying to Belarus.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had earlier warned of possible E.U. sanctions against third-country airlines facilitating the flow of migrants.

“Due to the problem of illegal border crossings between the European Union and Belarus, it has been decided that the citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen who want to travel to Belarus from Turkish airports will not be allowed to buy tickets and boarding until further notice,” a statement from the Turkish aviation authority said Friday, offering refunds.

Migrants trapped in Poland-Belarus standoff: What to know

Poland has deployed thousands of troops to the border to prevent migrants from entering its territory, and Lithuania has constructed a 13-foot-high razor-wire fence on its border with Belarus.

Polish officials have accused Belarus of pushing migrants across the border into Poland, a claim Belarus denies. Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said Friday that Belarus’s neighbors, including Poland, seemed ready to start a war on the border and “draw Europe into it.”

Belarusian and Russian paratroopers conducted a joint tactical training exercise in Belarus as part of a readiness check, the ministry said Friday.

The Turkish decision to stop citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen from flying to Minsk plugs one route being used by migrants trying to reach Europe via Belarus, but others remain. Dozens of special flights are departing from Middle Eastern countries to Minsk every week.

The Belarusian airline Belavia announced Friday that it had stopped citizens from the three countries flying from Turkey to Belarus “consistent with the decision of the Turkish authorities.” But it continues to operate other routes, as do many other airlines.

The E.U. has introduced four sanctions packages since October last year over the “fraudulent” 2020 election, the repression of opposition figures and activists, and the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in May to arrest independent Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

Lukashenko’s government appears to be shifting migrants out of Belarusian cities and towns to a growing camp on the border, where authorities say more than 1,700 people have camped in the forest.

The migrant crisis came to a head Monday when a large column of migrants, escorted by armed Belarusian forces, walked toward the border with Poland to try to cross into the European Union.

The Belarusian State Border Committee said Friday that another group, of about 100 migrants, was moving toward the border.

“The situation remains tense. The camp is periodically replenished with new arriving groups of people. Refugees are seeking medical assistance due to long periods in conditions where temperatures are falling,” the committee said, according to BelTA, the country’s state news agency.

The Iraqi government has offered to arrange flights to help its citizens who wish to return from Belarus.

Trapped between Poland and Belarus, 32 Afghans — and their cat — have become symbols of Europe’s new border crisis

As Belarus border crisis deepens, Europe and U.S. on course for more sanctions

Belarus’s Lukashenko warns Europe: Sanction us again and we could cut gas supply