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15 May, 2008 14:38

Belarus warns EU against imposing sanctions

The Belarusian President has warned Europe against joining the U.S. in imposing punitive measures against its companies. In an interview with Reuters, Aleksandr Lukashenko told the EU to remember that Belarus is a transit country for oil and gas to Europe

In a thinly veiled threat, Lukashenko said Europe could suffer if it follows U.S. policy.
“The U.S. is trying to make the EU impose sanctions against Belarus. This will bring no good to Europe,” he told Reuters.

“But if Europe needs this – go ahead! But don't forget that half of European oil, half of European oil products and 30 % of gas comes through Belarus,” Lukashenko added.  

Belarus is among the transit countries for Russian oil and gas exports to Europe. Analysts say if Minsk resorts to cutting off energy supplies in an attempt to put pressure on the EU, it will directly affect Russia's reputation as a reliable energy partner.
New Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has recently spoken about the need to reduce transit risks.

“We have to be independent and that will only be possible if we develop our own infrastructure, including export infrastructure,” he said.

But developing alternative transport methods, including building new pipelines, could take months, or even years, to complete. In the meantime, Russia depends on Belarusian pipelines to deliver 10 per cent of its oil exports and 20 per cent of its gas to the EU.

However, according to Vitaly Tretyakov, Editor–in-Chief of ‘World Energy Politics’, Minsk is unlikely to follow through on its threats.

“In a similar situation, the EU politically sided with Ukraine when it was stealing Russian gas and therefore disrupted deliveries to the EU,” he said.

But since President Lukashenko “is not so much loved in the West as President Yushchenko”, he won’t be able to do it for a long time", Tretyakov said.   

So far, Russian officials have declined to comment.  

Belarus – U.S. diplomatic row

On Thursday, the U.S. said that it had imposed extra economic sanctions on Belarus in response to alleged human rights abuses in the country. The new sanctions cover Lakokraska, Polotsk Steklovolokno and the Belarusian Oil Trade House, which are related to state-owned oil refiner Belneftekhim.

The U.S. and the EU accuse the Belarusian leader of rigging the presidential election in 2006 and have imposed a travel ban on him and other top officials.

The jailing of opposition politician Aleksandr Kozulin has further strained relations with Washington. In March 2008, economic sanctions against “Belneftekhim” were imposed.

In an escalation of the row, Belarus expelled several American diplomats from Minsk.