Thousands of refugees are at the border of Belarus and Poland, with Minsk accused of inflaming the crisis to undermine Warsaw’s security. The row has seen Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threaten to cut off gas supplies to Europe if sanctioned by the EU.
Mr Lukashenko grimly warned that if the EU imposed “additional sanctions on us… we must respond”.
He said: “We are heating Europe, and they are threatening us.
“And what if we halt natural gas supplies?
“Therefore, I would recommend the leadership of Poland, Lithuanians and other empty-headed people to think before speaking.”
In an article titled ‘Putin is stoking chaos in Europe and laughing at the West’s weakness’ Con Coughlin, Defence Editor for The Telegraph, quoted European officials, who accused the Russian president of stoking the border crisis.
He noted officials are convinced that Mr Putin is personally involved in Mr Lukashenko’s pushing of refugees to Poland.
Mr Coughlin added: “As one Polish official remarked this week, ‘It is going on with Russian consent’.
“Mr Lukashenko himself conceded the dangers of Russian involvement, commenting that, ‘if we make some mistake, it will draw in Russia, the largest nuclear power.’”
The editor then continued to say the crisis’ timing “fits the Russian leader’s disturbing habit of exploiting international gatherings to further his own agenda”.
He continued: “The most likely explanation for the Kremlin’s conduct is an attempt by Moscow to increase pressure on European leaders to approve the Nord Stream 2 pipeline running from the Baltic to Germany.
“Mr Putin has since eased the reduction in gas exports, causing a sharp drop in global prices, but his willingness to undertake actions that directly threaten European security reflect the
Russian leader’s unrelenting desire to cause maximum disruption in Europe.
He concluded: “So, even if Mr Putin is not directly responsible for the tensions on Poland’s border, he stands to emerge as the major beneficiary of the crisis.”
Anastasiia Stognei, from BBC Russian, also noted “the gas Mr Lukashenko is threatening to shut off is not his – it belongs to Russia”.
She then added: “Any decisions about its fate will be taken in Moscow. And the Russian capital is a far more pragmatic place than Minsk.
“Mr Lukashenko has no incentives to argue with the Kremlin – after all, his authority is propped up by financial support from Russia.
“Judging from what Moscow had said about the future of Nord Stream-2 pipeline, the question of gas supply to Europe can be used for leverage.
“But that is a question of supply, not of shutting it off altogether.”
Paolo Gentiloni, the EU’s economy commissioner, said the bloc “should not be intimidated” by Mr Lukashenko’s threats.
However Dr Katja Yafimava, from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, told the BBC Mr Lukashenko should be taken seriously.
She said: “The fact that these pipelines are physically on the Belarusian territory gives Belarus a certain leverage.
“If the EU pushes Belarus too hard, it may act on this threat.”
She also noted the act could push up gas prices across Europe, including in the UK.