Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday ordered the stoppage of Russian natural gas supplies to Europe after Russia cut supplies to Belarus by a third over a debt dispute.
"I have now ordered the government to shut down transit through Belarus until Gazprom pays for transit," Lukashenko said during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in televised remarks.
Russia had announced that it was reducing supplies to Belarus by 30 percent in daily volume because Minsk had failed to resolve a debt to Gazprom of nearly 163 million euros. But for its part, Belarus says Gazprom owes it more than 247 million euros in transit fees.
The EU Commission on Tuesday responded to the standoff by calling on both Minsk and Moscow to respect their "contractual obligations."
"We expect the gas flow to the EU will not be affected and we expect contractual obligations to be fulfilled," said Marlene Holzner, EU Commission spokeswoman on energy.
A quarter of the gas consumed in the EU comes from Russia. And Holzner said six percent of Europe's natural gas consumption is pumped through the pipeline in question. Lithuania is heavily dependent upon the flow while Germany and Poland use it mainly to top up their reserves.
But the EU spokeswoman said she had not received any word of supply problems from other member states. She also added that even if Belarus shuts down transit, Moscow could still deliver gas to Europe via other pipelines such as the one that flows through Ukraine.
Last January, a gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine led to supplies being cut off to several EU states in the midst of a bitterly cold winter.