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Kremlin downplays renewed threat from Belarus' Lukashenko on gas transit block

Highlights

As standoff continues with EU over border crisis

Lukashenko first raised prospect of blocking transit Nov 11

Gazprom agrees 2022 price protocol with Minsk

Russia on Dec. 1 played down a renewed threat by Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko that he could block the transit of Russian gas to Europe.

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Lukashenko first said Minsk could block gas transit in comments on Nov. 11 as the standoff with the EU intensified over the current migrant crisis and again raised the prospect in a Russian media interview carried out Nov. 30.

The Kremlin -- as before -- said Dec. 1 that Belarus was a sovereign state and able to carry out its own actions, but added that Russian President Vladimir Putin expected that the issue would not disrupt Moscow's gas supply commitments.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, cited by Russian news agency Tass, said Dec. 1 that the new comments represented the "position of the President of Belarus, of a sovereign, independent state."

But, Peskov said, "President [Putin] expects that this will in no way lead to a disruption in the fulfillment of our obligations to European gas recipients, especially at this difficult time for Europeans."

Lukashenko was cited as saying that if Poland closed the border with Belarus "then they need to think how they are going to buy energy from Russia."

"As Poland together with others takes more action against Belarus, do they think I am going to stick to some contracts? Come on. They should know better," he said in the interview with Russia's Rossiya Segodnya media outlet, according to Belarusian state news agency Belta Dec. 1.

Belarus transits Russian gas via the Yamal-Europe pipeline into Poland and on to Germany, and is a key route for Russian deliveries to Europe.

Flows enter Poland from Belarus at three points -- Kondratki, Tietierowka and Wyskoje -- and have averaged 83 million cu m/d so far in 2021, according to data from S&P Global Platts Analytics.

Deliveries began to be curtailed in August and have remained volatile ever since.

The renewed threat from Lukashenko comes as European gas prices remain at sustained highs, due in part to lower-than-expected imports from Russia and low storage stocks.

According to Platts price assessments, the TTF day-ahead contract hit an all-time high on Oct. 5 of Eur116.10/MWh and has remained volatile through the remainder of October and into November.

The TTF day-ahead contract was priced Nov. 30 at Eur90.80/MWh, a 500% year-on-year increase.

Price protocol

Separately, Russia's Gazprom signed Dec. 1 a protocol with Belarus on gas prices for 2022.

"The document defines the procedure for setting prices for the supply of natural gas to Belarus in 2022," Gazprom said.

A protocol signed earlier this month had defined the supply for next year and a preliminary agreement setting prices at 2021 levels.

Russia supplies gas to Belarus under price protocols lasting one calendar year, and usually signed in December.

Putin said in mid-September that Russia would keep the price for Belarus unchanged next year, which is currently set at $128.5/1,000 cu m.