Belarus warns against new EU sanctions, says could cut gas

Pressure is building to address the plight of hundreds of migrants, mainly Kurds from the Middle East, who are stuck at the Belarus-Poland border in freezing weather.

Belarus’s strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko vowed on Thursday to respond to any new sanctions imposed over the migrant crisis on the country’s border with Poland, including by potentially cutting off the transit of natural gas to Europe.

"If they impose additional sanctions on us… we must respond," Mr. Lukashenko said in comments to officials released by the presidency.

"We are warming Europe, and they are threatening us," he said, pointing out that Russia’s Yamal-Europe gas pipeline transits through Belarus to Poland.

Pressure is building to address the plight of hundreds of migrants, mainly Kurds from the Middle East, who are stuck at the Belarus-Poland border in freezing weather.

The UN Security Council was to meet later on Thursday for emergency talks on the crisis, after international appeals to deal with the refugees’ plight.

The West accuses Mr. Lukashenko of luring the migrants to Belarus to send them across the border, in revenge for sanctions imposed last year after a heavy crackdown on the opposition.

EU officials say they expect to approve new sanctions over the migrant crisis next week.

"We are in a situation in which the proper consequences (for Minsk) are overdue. This is what we want, together with our European partners," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Thursday.

‘New kind of war’

Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said Minsk wanted the crisis "resolved as quickly as possible" and was ready to talk to the EU, but the bloc was refusing dialogue.

Poland has deployed 15,000 troops along the border, put up a fence topped with barbed wire and approved construction of a wall on the frontier with Belarus.

In a statement released for Poland’s Independence Day on Thursday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his country was facing a "new kind of war" whose "ammunition is civilians".

Poland accuses Belarus of using intimidation to force migrants to breach the frontier and refusing to allow them to leave border areas.

Belarus has in turn accused Poland of violating international norms by blocking the migrants and violently beating them back.

Migrants have been trying to cross the border for months but the crisis came to a head when hundreds made a concerted effort on Monday and were pushed back by Polish borders guards.

They set up a camp on the border, sheltering in tents and burning wood from local forests to keep warm, blocked by Polish guards behind razor-wire. Belarus says some 2,000 people are living at the camp.

The migrants have been making sporadic attempts to cross, with border guards reporting 468 attempts overnight Thursday.

Fear in Polish town

Residents in the Polish town of Sokolka near the border said they were worried by the growing tensions but voiced support for the Polish government’s tough stance.

Thousands of migrants have also crossed or attempted to cross from Belarus into the eastern EU member states of Latvia and Lithuania in recent months.

European leaders have been putting pressure on Mr. Lukashenko’s main backer, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned Mr. Putin on Wednesday to ask him "to use his influence" to stop what she called an "inhumane" instrumentalisation of migrants.

Poland has accused Mr, Putin of masterminding the crisis, a claim the Kremlin has dismissed as "irresponsible".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday accused the West of mounting an "anti-Belarusian campaign", and said Russia and Belarus had "closely coordinated our approaches" to countering it.

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