European attention is focused these days on Lithuania following Russia’s threat to retaliate for Lithuania’s blockade of the transport of goods through its territory to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. Moscow has considered that this is an “unprecedented measure” and has indicated that it reserves the right to “retaliate to protect its national interest.”
The comments set off alarm bells in Brussels, where EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Lithuania was simply applying the EU sanctions regime. However, Borrell acknowledged that he was concerned about the risk of retaliation and that he would verify that all the rules were followed.
“Russian retaliation is always worrying,” he said, stressing that the information being transmitted from the Kremlin is not entirely true. “There is no blockade. Land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia has not been prohibited. The transit of people and goods is also not sanctioned and, moreover, Lithuania has not adopted any unilateral national restrictions. Everything they are doing has been the result of prior consultation with the commissionwhich has given him the guidelines to follow”, settled.
Over the weekend, after authorities in Kaliningrad warned that Lithuania was preparing to close rail and gas pipeline connections with Russia, citizens came to buy massively, for fear of scarcity of goods.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, further escalated tensions Monday by threatening a response to what he said was an “illegal move.” “This decision is unprecedented. It is a violation of everything, it is illegal. The situation is more than serious… We need a deep and serious analysis to elaborate our response”.
Wedged between Lithuania to the north and east, and Poland to the south, Kaliningrad is about 1,300 kilometers from Moscow and it depends on much of its supplies arriving by rail.
Moscow accuses Vilnius of violate both the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement of 1994 such as the 2002 Joint Declaration on transit between Kaliningrad and the rest of the territory of the Russian Federation. “It is not a decision by Lithuania, but simply the implementation of what was agreed by the EU,” replied Gabrielius Landsbergis, foreign minister of the Baltic country.
In this regard, the governor of Kaliningrad, Anton Alijanov, warned Lithuania that the Baltic ports “cannot exist, whether they like it or not, outside the Russian Federation.” “As for transportation,The response measures are very obvious and extremely painful (for Lithuania). If we exclude transit through Russian territory, then their competitiveness is not drastically reduced, but simply nullified,” he stressed.
Alijanov admitted that the partial Lithuanian blockade will affect up to 50% of the goods received by the territory, mostly metals, cement and construction materials, for which he accused Vilnius of trying “strangle” the local economy. “It is an openly hostile step. We do not want to buy these products from Europe. We are dedicated to supplying our region or exporting mainly to Russian territory the goods that we produce here,” he told Russian public television.
It is a “great variety of merchandise”, although he clarified that coal will not be affected until August 10 and diesel or gasoline until December. “In order to solve the problem of transit through Lithuania, the European Commission (EC) simply has to introduce amendments to the EU sanctions,” she stressed. Otherwise, he warned, he will lose a lot of money, since transit is one of the main sources of financing for the Lithuanian railway systemwhich is “deficient” and needs to invest in infrastructure.
Alikhanov was convinced that with the increase in the number of merchants from St. Petersburg, the inhabitants of Kaliningrad will not suffer from a shortage of basic products, although the transit will be “longer and more expensive”. A month ago Russian President Vladimir Putin rebuked Alikhanov for blame the Russian “special military operation” in Ukraine of the Kaliningrad problems.