In a bold move, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus has threatened to shut off Russia’s gas supplies to Minsk unless Moscow expands efforts to help refugees in the conflict-torn region, Moscow.com reported Monday.
“We’ll cut all gas that comes to the Minsk region from Russia and the consumer is our neighbor,” Lukashenko said in a televised address, according to the outlet. “We can’t waste our energy, our resources on those … who are causing so much troubles and suffering for Belarus and Central Asia.”
He also criticized President Vladimir Putin for turning a “blind eye” to the plight of refugees and migrants, many of whom are fleeing conflict in Syria and the civil war in neighboring Iraq.
The exchange is the latest in a strained relationship between the two neighbors that began in 2014 when Lukashenko accused Putin of “blackmail.”
The Belarusian leader was reacting to Russia’s decision to retaliate against Belarus for not selling Russia a stake in gas pipeline company Belarus Post.
Putin responded by withholding funds for a program to build a new military base in Belarus, out of a concern that Lukashenko was weakening Russia’s defense capabilities.
Lukashenko’s dispute with Moscow intensified last year when Lukashenko sharply cut off Russia’s access to a section of a gas pipeline.
He has since announced plans to build a new pipeline across his country to bypass Russia and offer cheaper energy supplies to EU member states.
In February, the U.S. government sanctioned Belarus over Lukashenko’s “cozy relations” with Russia. At the time, his office denounced the move as another “blatant attempt by Washington to contain his country’s ability to play a legitimate role in the European regional and global politics.”