Russia has distanced itself from Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's threats to halt the flow of Russian gas across the country to Poland and Germany, but has stopped far short of discouragement.
Rising geopolitical tensions over the movement of several thousand Middle Eastern migrants to the Belarus borders with Poland and Lithuania pushed spot gas prices up at European trading hubs on Thursday.
Speaking from Moscow today, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Belarus is a “sovereign state and it is not obliged” to agree its actions with Russia.
Peskov reiterated past statements that Russia remains a “reliable gas supplier that fulfills all of its contract obligations to deliver gas to European customers”.
Lukashenko faces a new round of European Union sanctions for facilitating the flow of migrants to member state borders in the past two months in what is widely regarded as his attempt to undermine political and social stability within the bloc.
Migrants arriving at the Belarus capital of Minsk by air were reportedly transported by police to the border with Poland where they have since become stranded, with Poland refusing them entry and Belarus police preventing them from going elsewhere in the country for shelter.
Speaking on Thursday, Lukashenko refused to dismiss the possibility that Belarus may halt operations of the two transit pipelines that carry Russia gas to Poland and onwards to Europe.
He said operations could halt if Poland fully closes its border with Belarus and European authorities pass new sanctions against him and his entourage.
However, industry analysts in Moscow have pointed out that Belarus would have to coordinate with Russia over any measures to reduce or halt gas transit flows.
Any unilateral action to restrict the flow of transit gas via Belarus is also likely lead to serious damage to pipelines due to an excessive increase in pressure, according to Mikhail Krutikhin a partner at Moscow-based consultancy RusEnergy.
Russian gas giant Gazprom has full control over transit gas pipelines in Belarus, which emans Belarus authorities would have to inform the monopoly of such a plan well in advance, Krutikhin said.
Russian involvement suspected
In Europe, Russia has been blames repeatedly for its alleged political and financial support of Lukashenko.
Last year, Lukashenko claimed victory at presidential elections and authorised a strong and violent response from law enforcement against hundreds of thousands of street protesters.
Relations with the European Union deteriorated in May when Belarusian national carrier Belavia was banned from EU skies after a Ryanair flight was forced to divert to Minsk and a dissident journalist arrested.
Russia has repeatedly denied any role in the escalation of tensions on the Belarus-Polish border.
However, Russian state television networks have staged round-the-clock coverage of the migrants crisis, giving considerable airtime to Belarus’ accusations against Poland and other European countries.
Peskov has not denied that the Kremlin is actively monitoring the situation on the border following the mobilisation of Polish and Lithuanian military personnel and the introduction of a state of emergence in border regions.
“We must be on the alert”, Peskov said, referring to the arrival of military troops at the Belarus border and the movement of Nato planes and troops in countries “that describe Russia as enemy”.
Earlier this week in Tallinn at the Annual Baltic Conference on Defence, Estonian Defence Minister Kalle Laanet was quoted as saying that “the potential for escalation is extremely high”.
Gas shipments subside
Meanwhile, according to the German transmission operator Gascade, Russian gas supplies from Poland to Germany via the Yamal Pipeline started to decline again in early morning of 11 November after the flow was resumed in the evening of 8 November.
The operator reported inbound deliveries of 717,000 cubic metres of gas per hour on the morning of 12 November against the peak of 1.4 million cubic metres per hour on 10 November.
According to Krutikhin, Gazprom has been acting in “completely anti-market manner" during the European summer, forgoing the opportunity to send additional gas to the continent to satisfy rising demand and generate higher revenues.
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