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Transit restriction to Kaliningrad: “Of course it’s part of a blockade”

Transit restriction to Kaliningrad: “Of course it’s part of a blockade”

Status: 06/21/2022 09:22 a.m

Lithuania has announced that it will restrict transit traffic to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Russia speaks of a “blockade” and announces reactions. The Lithuanian government disagrees.

By Annette Kammerer, ARD Studio Moscow, currently Berlin

Kaliningrad is a piece of Russia unconnected with the rest of the vast empire. If you want to go to Kaliningrad from Russia, you have to go through Lithuania. And that is now becoming a problem, at least for freight transport. Because Lithuania has announced that it will restrict transit traffic to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Goods sanctioned by the EU should no longer be able to be transported by rail from Russia to Kaliningrad via Lithuania.

“I estimate that about 50 percent of the goods that are imported and exported are affected. First of all, these are building materials, cement, metal structures, metals themselves, everything related to construction,” explains the Kaliningrad governor, Anton Alikhanov.

Part of the sanctions against Russia

The reason for this is what is now the sixth package of sanctions that the European Union has issued against Russia because of the Ukraine war, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Monday in Luxembourg. It is not due to Lithuania, but to the European sanctions that have now come into force. “The branch of industry that is now initially implementing these sanctions is the Lithuanian railways. And they are informing their customers that from June 17th no more sanctioned goods, neither steel nor steel products, may be transported through Lithuania.”

It is a step that was already expected in Russia and thus also in Kaliningrad. Nevertheless, the situation is extremely serious, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned on Russian television. It was a decision “that knows no precedent. It generally hurts everything.”

Russia understands that the decision is related to the sanctions imposed by the European Union. However, according to Peskow, extending this to the transit of goods is considered illegal. When asked whether this was tantamount to a “blockade” of Kaliningrad by Lithuania, the Kremlin spokesman answered unequivocally: “Yes, of course it’s part of a blockade.”

threat to Lithuania

In addition to Peskov, Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, also announced reactions to Lithuania: “If the transit of goods between Kaliningrad and the entire territory of Russia via Lithuania is not fully resumed in the near future, then we reserve the right to to act to protect our own national interests.”

Despite this, Kaliningrad’s governor, Alikhanov, proudly announces that his city is well prepared for a blockade: What has previously come over land is now to be shipped to Kaliningrad. The city has therefore already put a new ferry and another ship on the route. According to Alikhanov, there is currently enough freight capacity in the Baltic Sea that they are already using and inquiring about.

Negative effects for the EU?

The movement of goods would probably only become more expensive and slower. But the sanctions for the Lithuanian side are bad, the governor prophesied, thereby confirming a warning repeatedly given by Valdimir Putin himself: that in the end the European sanctions would primarily harm the EU itself. “The Baltic States, their ports and their transport system cannot exist without the Russian Federation, no matter how much they want it to.” A look at the map showing which ports can be supplied with goods shows: “If there will be no more transit from Russia, then it will not just go downhill for the Lithuanian railways, but it will go to zero,” says Alikhanov.

Whether that’s true remains to be seen. And also how much is behind the threats from Russia. The only thing that is clear so far is that the sanctions against the Russian exclave are even to be expanded. By the end of the year, Lithuanian railways will no longer transport oil or coal from Russia to Kaliningrad.

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