EU sanctions won't affect energy transit-Belarus-INTERVIEW

By David Brunnstrom

BRUSSELS, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Belarus will respond proportionately to new sanctions imposed by the European Union, its ambassador to the EU said on Tuesday, but the transit of Russian oil and gas to Europe will not be affected.

The EU approved extra sanctions against Belarus on Monday in response to Minsk's violent crackdown on protests after the disputed December re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

EU foreign ministers agreed to ban Lukashenko and about 150 other officials from travelling to the bloc. They also extended a list of people affected by an EU asset freeze to include those involved in the December crackdown.

Washington has also extended the number of officials covered by previous travel and financial restrictions and revoked temporary authorisation for deals with Belarussian petroleum and chemicals conglomerate, Belneftekhim.

Belarus said it would take "proportional and effective measures" in retaliation -- possibly involving visa restrictions on officials from EU states.

Vladimir Senko, the Belarussian ambassador to the EU, said Belarus would react after the publication of the names on the EU visa-ban list.

"Naturally there would be quite a proportional response," he told Reuters.

However, Senko said Minsk considered the transit of Russian oil and gas via its territory as a separate issue.

"We believe that it has, practically, not a direct link with the actual situation," he said.

"Because our idea is that we should and we must overcome such kind of an approach and these temporary ... issues should not undermine basic elements of our cooperation and we consider the problem of gas and oil transit as such, naturally."


Belarus is an important transit route for Russian energy, with a fifth of Russia's gas supplied to Europe crossing its borders, as well as a significant proportion of Russia's oil.

Senko described the EU sanctions as "senseless", arguing that the December presidential election has been conducted "in a much more fair and constructive way than ever before".

He said a policy of isolating Belarus would be counter-productive and the best way to encourage "evolutionary change" was through engagement by the European Union.

"It is very much essential to get a progressive tendency in developments and not to expect radical, rapid change overnight," he said.

European energy traders were worried last month by a row between Minsk and Moscow that left Belarus without inflows of Russian oil for several weeks.

Russia started pumping crude oil to Belarus refineries for the first time in 2011 on Jan. 25 after a halt that hit European fuel supplies and raised fears of a political row that could leave Europe short of Russian crude.

The dispute over Russian oil prices came despite a recent thaw in relations between Moscow and Minsk which saw the Kremlin tacit approve Lukashenko's re-election. (Editing by Louise Ireland)


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