Russia has accused Lithuania of “openly hostile” restrictions on rail freight traffic to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad in the wake of EU sanctions, fueling tensions with the Baltic states. If cargo transit between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia via Lithuanian territory is not quickly and fully restored, Russia “reserves the right to take action to protect its national interests,” the Foreign Ministry in Moscow warned on Monday. Brussels stressed that the measures were in line with EU sanctions, but announced a review of the guidelines on sanctions.
According to the ministry, the Lithuanian chargé d’affaires was summoned to Moscow to protest against the “provocative” measures. From the Russian point of view, the restriction on the delivery of goods violates an agreement between Russia and the EU from 2002. However, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the measures were in line with the EU’s response to the Russian war of aggression against the EU Ukraine imposed sanctions.
Kaliningrad – the former East Prussian Königsberg – is located on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Poland and has no direct land connection to Russia. Landsbergis said on the sidelines of the EU foreign ministers’ consultations in Luxembourg that the transport restrictions would affect steel products and other goods made from iron ore.
However, according to Kaliningrad governor Anton Alikhanov, 40 to 50 percent of imports could be affected by the “blockade” – in addition to metal, coal, building materials and technological goods.
The Kremlin spoke of an “unprecedented” decision by Lithuania that violated all principles. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “The situation is more than serious.” It will now be examined with a view to “reactions”. He did not specify the nature of these countermeasures.
The relations between Russia and Lithuania as well as the two other Baltic countries Latvia and Estonia are already extremely tense due to the Ukraine war. The Baltic states fear becoming the next target of Russian military aggression. The three countries belong to both the EU and NATO.
Landsbergis said on the freight restrictions: “It’s not Lithuania doing something – it’s the European sanctions that came into force on June 17th.” The restrictions are “in consultation with the European Commission and in accordance with the directives of the European Commission” has been implemented. The affected customers have also been informed.
For his part, Borrell emphasized that it was not a matter of a “blockade” of Kaliningrad, but merely a ban on the transport of certain types of goods. “Overland transit between Russia has not been stopped or banned,” the EU foreign policy chief said at a press conference in Luxembourg. However, the EU will review the guidelines on sanctions again, Borrell promised.
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Ukraine, meanwhile, underlined its solidarity with Lithuania. “Russia has no right to threaten Lithuania,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter. “We welcome Lithuania’s principled position and firmly support our Lithuanian friends.”