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.
Lukashenko to his ministers last week:
“They have started to intimidate us with the fifth package. With regard to this fifth package, the prime minister has been instructed to think of retaliatory measures.
Poland is threatening us with the border closure. They are welcome to do it. The fewer opposition-minded people will go there. But the point is not about that.
I have just heard what these brainless people have been babbling about. They are contemplating the closure of transit through Belarus. But it will not go through Ukraine as the Russian border is closed there. There are no routes through the Baltic states. But if it is us who will close it for Poles and, for example, Germans, what will happen then? We should not stop at anything when defending our sovereignty and independence.”
“We provide heat to Europe, and they are threatening us with the border closure. What if we block natural gas transit? Therefore, I would recommend the leadership of Poland, Lithuanians and other brainless folk to think hard before opening mouth. But it is up to them. They are welcome to close the border.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should warn everyone in Europe that if they impose additional sanctions, ‘indigestible’ and ‘unacceptable’ for us, we will hit back. We agreed with you six months ago on the way we would do it.”