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Belarus leader threatens to shut EU gas transit in migrant standoff

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced on Thursday that he’d consider shutting down gas transit to the European Union if Poland closes the border as thousands of migrants seek to cross from his country into EU territory, according to Bloomberg.

“If they impose additional sanctions that are unpalatable and unacceptable to us, we will have to answer,” Lukashenko said to state-owned news outlet Belta during a meeting with his government officials in Minsk. 

The authoritarian leader also said he asked Russia to deploy strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons to patrol his country’s border and mulled shutting down cargo transit to Europe as well as other possible measures. 

Thousands of largely Middle Eastern migrants remained camped out near the border with Poland on Belarusian territory, hoping to find shelter in the EU. Neighboring Lithuania, facing a similar problem, called on the United Nations to open a humanitarian corridor in Belarus.  

Europe’s gas market, where prices have hit record highs in recent weeks, would be highly sensitive to any interruption in the flow of Russian gas via Belarus.

The EU has paved the way for new sanctions against Belarus as early as next week.