Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Friday threatened to retaliate with reciprocal measures if any sanctions were imposed against his country over an Aug. 9 presidential election which opponents say was rigged.
Speaking during a dairy factory visit in the country's east, Lukashenko threatened to cut off transit routes through the country and boycott Lithuanian ports if sanctions were imposed.
"I've instructed the government to submit a proposal on reorienting all trade flows from Lithuanian ports to other ones," Belta state news agency quoted Lukashenko as saying. "Let's see how they live with that."
Lukashenko, who is facing the biggest challenge of his 26-year-old rule, also ordered that half the army of the country of 9.5 million enter combat preparedness in response to what he said were threats from the West.
European Union foreign ministers on Thursday sought sanctions against Belarus to pressure Lukashenko into holding new elections. Lukashenko denies electoral fraud and has persistently rejected the opposition's calls to hold a new vote.
German chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters she had tried to speak to Lukashenko by phone but he had declined. Speaking of a reserve police force which Russian President Vladimir Putin said had been created on Lukashenko's request, she said:
"I hope that such troops are not deployed."
"(Freedom to demonstrate, freedom of expression) have to be fought for there. The people must be allowed to do that themselves without interference from outside – from anywhere," Merkel added.
EU ministers are currently considering travel bans and asset freezes on up to 20 people responsible for a crackdown on demonstrators two weeks after an election they say was rigged.
It already has an arms embargo on Belarus but in 2015, in a bid to improve ties with Lukashenko, the bloc eased economic sanctions that had been in place in 2004.
However, Western powers are keen to balance sympathy for a nascent Belarusian pro-democracy movement with concern this could trigger a Russian-backed crackdown. Disruptions to energy supplies are also a fear.
Belarus is a conduit for Russian oil exportrs to Europe via the Druzhba pipeline. Energy supplies continue to flow smoothly, Polish oil and gas pipeline operators told Reuters.