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Europeans freeze, sneeze and on their knees as Brussels tightens sanctions on Belarus

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What’s next for hundreds of millions of hard-pressed Europeans if Belarus delivers on the threat to cut off gas transit to the EU in the event of further provocations by the Bloc’s unelected leadership?

Belarus is threatening to cut off European gas supplies from Russia via the country’s pipeline network if more sanctions are imposed over the ongoing migrant NATO inflamed crisis on its western border.

How can Belarus cut energy exports to Europe? Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has warned he could interrupt the Yamal-Europe pipeline, which crosses Belarus from Russia and supplies natural gas to EU countries. The bellicose president is not known for issuing empty threats.

Why is it a problem? The situation raises fresh fears over worsening natural gas shortages and rising energy prices in Europe. The Kremlin has made it clear it does not want to see any disruption in gas supplies, warning it would be a major mistake if it were.

How does gas transit through Belarus? The transnational Yamal-Europe pipeline transports significant quantities of gas from the Yamal Peninsula in the Russian Arctic to Poland and Germany via Belarus. The pipeline is 4,107 kilometres in length, and the Belarusian section of the route is 575 kilometres long.

Why is the pipeline route through Belarus critical? The pipeline through Belarus has become an additional export corridor that has increased the flexibility and reliability of Russian gas supplies to Western Europe.

The other routes are problematic. The Ukrainian pipeline network is old and unreliable, and Moscow has accused Kiev in the past of siphoning stolen gas destined for Europe. The Baltic Sea route is direct, but Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline is facing German obstacles with certification in the EU.

How much gas goes through Belarus? About 20% of Russian natural gas exports to the EU transit through Belarus, mostly through the Yamal-Europe pipeline, making it a key artery for energy supplies to Europe.

Why should Europe take the threat from Belarus seriously? Europe has been struggling with gas shortages and skyrocketing energy prices for ‘the little people’ of the European Union. Experts warn that sustained cold weather could see Europe’s gas storage facilities, which are currently just 62% full, completely emptied by February.

To make matters worse, Norway, which once covered around 22% of Europe’s annual energy consumption, has been running out of natural gas deposits in the North Sea. 

Why is losing Belarus in the energy supply line important? Any disruption to gas supplies now could force market prices even higher, raising concerns over household energy bills and plunging millions into deeper poverty whilst wrapped in blankets. Shutting down a vital pipeline would place an additional supply constraint on the European energy market. 

What could be the solution to European supply shortages? To avoid energy shortages, the EU could speed up the certification process for Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Unlike other Russian pipelines, Nord Stream 2 (NS2) has an advantage in that it bypasses eastern Europe and can deliver natural gas directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea.

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