Putin says he doesn’t know of Belarus threat to cut natural gas to Europe

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that Belarus had not consulted him on the possibility of a cut in Russian natural gas supplies to Europe, adding that such a move could threaten Minsk’s ties with Moscow, an ally fundamental.

On Thursday (11th), Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko threatened to retaliate against the European Union if there are new sanctions on Minsk in relation to a migration crisis between Belarus and the bloc. Lukashenko suggested he could cut off the transit of natural gas and other goods flowing from his country.

The statement caused a rise in gas prices in Europe, which buys about a third of its supplies from Russia, including via the Yamal-Europe pipeline, which runs through Belarus to reach Germany and Poland.

The Belarusian stretch of the Yamal-Europe pipeline is controlled by the Russian state-owned natural gas company Gazprom.

“I spoke recently [com Lukashenko] twice and he hasn’t mentioned such a possibility to me once, he hasn’t even made a suggestion,” Putin said in an interview with state TV, which broadcast the Russian president’s first remarks about the Belarus threat.

“Of course, as president, Lukashenko could, in theory, order cuts in our gas shipments to Europe. But that would mean opening a wound on our gas transit contract, and I hope that doesn’t happen,” Putin added.

Russia has been Belarus’s closest ally for years, helping with loans or cheaper energy supplies, as well as military assistance. However, Lukashenko’s comments come at a sensitive time for Russian exports to Europe.

Analysts reckon Lukashenko’s comments about natural gas tested Putin’s patience in an already central debate with Europeans.

Gas prices in Europe – and hence energy tariffs – are on the rise this year as the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic generates a spike in demand, which forces consumers from Europe to Asia to scramble for supply.

Some European politicians accused Moscow of failing to implement additional price control measures beyond just shipping contractually agreed volumes of gas.

The European Commission announced on Friday that if Lukashenko complied with his threats, it would eventually hit energy providers.

During Saturday’s interview, Putin said that if Belarus cut off supplies, it would do “great damage to the European energy sector” and would not help “in improving Belarus’ relationship as a transit country. [de gás natural]”.

“I’ll discuss it with him [Lukashenko] in case that wasn’t just something said in the heat of the moment,” Putin said.

Russia, which began ramping up gas supplies this week to supply European stocks as winter approaches, said more gas could be shipped if the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline receives positive approval from Germany.

Nord Stream 2 is another pipeline built that would need to transit between countries, especially through Ukraine, which already has a history of deadlocks with Moscow.

For its part, the Kremlin claims that the pipeline is a “purely commercial project” and denies that policy is behind it.

Reference: CNN Brasil

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