Russia has sparked concern in Brussels after threatening Lithuania over its ban on the transit of certain goods across Lithuanian territory to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
“Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions,” Nikolai Patrushev, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top allies warned Lithuania today, June 21.
“Appropriate measures are being worked out in an interdepartmental format and will be taken in the near future,” he was quoted as saying. “Their consequences will have a seriously negative impact on the population of Lithuania.”
Sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, Kaliningrad is a strategically and militarily important territory for the Russian Federation and its army, often referred to as the Kremlin’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier”. Kaliningrad is home to the headquarters of the Russian Baltic Sea Fleet, and Russia has nuclear weapons stored there, according to Lithuanian intelligence.
The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are firm supporters of Ukraine, leading to Lithuanian state rail operator LTG declaring on June 17, that they would no longer permit the transit of Russian goods sanctioned by the EU through Lithuanian territory. This grinds to a halt the delivery of such goods to Kaliningrad.
The Kremlin responded to the ban as “unprecedented” and “illegal.” Meanwhile Russia’s Kaliningrad Regional Governor, Anton Alikhanov, said that the ban would affect around half of Kaliningrad’s imports, including metals, coals, construction material and advanced technology intended to help Russia in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that: “If cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the Russian Federation via Lithuania is not fully restored in the near future, then Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests.”
The heightened hostilities saw citizens in Kaliningrad panic-buying over the weekend, after Russian media sources spread rumors that Lithuania was preparing to cut off railway and gas pipe links to the region.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has accused Russia of peddling propaganda regarding claims of the ban being a ‘blockade’, and stated that Lithuania is simply enforcing the bloc’s sanctions on Russia.
“I am always worried about Russian retaliation,” he said. “First, there is no blockade. The land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia has not been banned. Second, transit of people and goods that are not sanctioned continues. Third, Lithuania has not taken any unilateral national restrictions.”
“We are in a precautionary mood. We will double-check the legal aspects in order to verify that we are completely aligned with any kind of rule. But Lithuania is not guilty. It is not implementing national sanctions. Whatever they are doing has been the consequence of previous consultation with the commission.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted on June 20: “Russia has no right to threaten Lithuania. Moscow has only itself to blame for the consequences of its unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine. We commend Lithuania’s principled stance and stand firmly by our Lithuanian friends.”
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