Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has threatened to cut gas supplies to Europe, as a crisis on the border with Poland escalated with hundreds more migrants arriving in Minsk to be transported to the EU’s external frontier.
Mr Lukashenko vowed a harsh response after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said there would be further sanctions against his regime.
“We are heating Europe, and they are threatening to close the border,” he said, according to the Belta news agency.
“What if we cut gas to them? Therefore I recommend that the leaders of Poland, Lithuania and others who have lost their heads think before speaking. We should not stop at anything to defend our sovereignty and independence.”
His warning came as thousands of migrants were stranded along the Polish border in freezing conditions, with hundreds more arriving in Minsk hoping to make the journey to the EU.
Mr Lukashenko has aided their passage as part of what has been dubbed “hybrid warfare” against the bloc. Warsaw has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating the crisis from behind the scenes.
Tens of thousands of far-right demonstrators marched through Warsaw on Thursday, as Polish ministers said they were braced for imminent “attacks” on its border with Belarus.
The Polish government has sent some 15,000 troops to the frontier and closed down a key border crossing in response to the growing crisis.
“As perceived by the other side . . . since we have to act on almost two fronts — to secure both the Independence March and the border — it could mean that we’ll be weak somewhere,” Bartosz Grodecki, the Polish deputy interior minister, told Polsat News.
Videos posted on social media showed large crowds gathering in the Belarusian capital with sleeping bags and backpacks, despite a ban on public gatherings that was introduced to quash opposition to the Lukashenko regime.
Tens of thousands of migrants have arrived in Belarus by air from countries including Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Lukashenko is responsible for this suffering. He abuses people to put the EU under pressure,” Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, said.
Mrs von der Leyen has said the EU would widen its sanctions on the Belarusian regime, accusing Minsk of a “cynical geopolitical powerplay” in fuelling the migration crisis.
The bloc is expected to sanction up to 30 Belarusian officials and entities linked to the Lukashenko regime, including Belavia, the country’s national air carrier.
Sanctions could also target Belarus’ main airport in a bid to make it more difficult for airlines to bring migrants and refugees to Minsk.
The measures, due to be finalised next week, could stop EU firms supplying Minsk National Airport, two European diplomats told the Reuters news agency.
Poland has called on Brussels to also target Aeroflot, the Russian state-controlled airline, over allegations it is also involved in transporting migrants to Belarus.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, denied that the air carrier has had any involvement in the crisis, despite Moscow publicly supporting Belarus in recent days.
With the Kremlin’s growing involvement in the crisis, EU nations have warned of the prospect of military confrontation.
In a joint statement, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia called the situation “the most complex security crisis for our region, Nato and the European Union in many years”.
James Heappey, the armed forces minister, urged Nato to stay out of the border crisis as bringing in the military would be “very, very dangerous”.