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Belarus to halt Russian energy flow to Europe amid tensions with Poland

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko visits a center for migrants on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, on November 26, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko says his government will suspend Russian energy flows to Europe in response to Poland's closure of the border with his country amid a migrant crisis.

Citing the president, RIA news agency reported on Wednesday that Minsk was ready to halt one of the largest gas pipelines supplying natural gas to Europe.

He made the remark after Poland extended controversial emergency measures restricting access to its border with Belarus at midnight on Tuesday. The Polish Interior Ministry announced the extension of a controversial state of emergency that bars all non-residents — including journalists and aid charities — from the border area. The ban will be applied to 183 populated areas and enters force on Wednesday.

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.

Under the state of emergency declared in the border region in September, the media and aid charities were completely banned from entering the border zone.

Warsaw says the restrictions were necessary for security reasons, but the opposition says the ban was intended to cover up rights abuses. Poland's Human Rights Ombudsman has criticized the new law, saying it gives the interior minister the right to limit freedom of movement and to limit access to information about what is happening on the border indefinitely.

At least 12 migrants have lost their lives since the crisis began in the summer, aid groups say, calling for a de-escalation and a humanitarian response to the problem.

Last month, Polish police fired tear gas and water cannons at people trying to cross the border.

Belarus then began moving hundreds of the refugees to shelters, offering them their first humanitarian aid in weeks.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this week that Poland shared responsibility for the migrants' "acute suffering" in the border area.

The West accuses Belarus of coordinating an unprecedented wave of asylum seekers in retaliation for existing sanctions imposed by the bloc on his country. Lukashenko has denied the allegation.

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