Belarus has temporally closed a pipeline carrying oil supplies from Russia to a number of European Union member states, citing maintenance work.
The Belarusian operator, Gomeltransneft Druzhba, reportedly began repair work on a branch of the ‘Friendship’ pipeline, which connects oil fields in Central Russia to consumers in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Germany. The oil supplies will now decrease.
Russian energy export giant Transneft confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that supplies could face short-term disruption, due to the impromptu work, which will take until the weekend. Officials, however, said monthly export volumes should not be affected.
A week ago, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to choke off the gas supply from Russia to Europe through critical pipelines should the EU hit his country with a new raft of sanctions.
Belarus has one of the largest gas pipelines supplying natural gas to Europe.
“We are heating Europe. They still threaten us that they will close the border. And if we shut off natural gas there?” Lukashenko asked.
For weeks, thousands of migrants have been stranded in the freezing forests and swamplands of the Poland-Belarus border, as Warsaw has closed the frontier and prevented them from crossing over. The refugees, mostly from West Asia, Afghanistan, and Africa, are trying to enter the European Union.
The EU accuses Minsk of orchestrating the migrant crisis at the border in retaliation for existing sanctions imposed by the bloc on the country. The bloc’s foreign ministers agreed on Monday that the existing sanctions targeting Belarus would be expanded, even though Lukashenko denied the allegations. He insists the humanitarian catastrophe has been created by the EU, which has turned its back on the people fleeing war.
Poland migrant crisis could last for years
Poland’s defense minister warned on Wednesday that the crisis could last months, accusing the migrants of attacking the border. Mariusz Blaszczak said there had been further attempts at crossing the border during the night, in the latest escalation of a months-long standoff on the EU’s eastern border.
“We have to prepare for the fact that the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border will not be resolved quickly. We have to prepare for months or even years,” Blaszczak told Poland's Radio Jedynk.
The Polish police fired tear gas and water cannons at people trying to cross the border into the country on Tuesday. Both Belarus and Russia condemned the use of force against the refugees, with Moscow saying it was prepared to help resolve the crisis.
Belarus offers shelter, food to refugees
Belarus, meanwhile, has begun moving hundreds of refugees to shelters, offering them their first humanitarian aid in weeks. The Belarus Red Cross said Wednesday that some 1,000 migrants were being put up in a "logistical center" close to the Bruzgi-Kuznica checkpoint.
According to Yuri Karayev, an aide to Lukashenko, 1,100 migrants had already been moved from the area near the crossing known as ‘the jungle.’ Some 800 people remained camped along the border, he said.
Polish authorities also confirmed Belarus was taking away refugees in buses.
“I have received information that Lukashenko has provided the first buses which migrants are boarding and leaving,” said Maciej Wasik, a Polish deputy interior minister.
Lukashenko said on Monday that his government had deported around 5,000 migrants to their home countries.