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all eyes on Lithuania as sanctions close Russian land access to Kaliningrad

Writer : Stephen Corridor, Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Politics, Worldwide Relations and Russia, College of Bathtub

Tensions between Russia and Nato, already stretched significantly by the invasion of Ukraine, have ratcheted up even additional over Kaliningrad, a small piece of Russian territory sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic coast and lower off from mainland Russia.

Kaliningrad is a Russian oblast (area), of just below half 1,000,000 individuals on the Baltic sea. It sits between Lithuania to its north and east and Poland to its south and is about 1,300km from Moscow. It was claimed by the Soviet Union from Germany after the second world warfare and has been managed by Moscow ever since.

Learn extra:
Kaliningrad: Russia’s ‘unsinkable plane service’ deep in Nato territory

When the sixth spherical of EU sanctions on Russia got here into impact on June 17, Lithuania introduced that sanctioned Russian items to Kaliningrad could be banned from transit by means of Lithuania. The sanctions have an effect on oil and refined oil merchandise, and any know-how that could possibly be used for navy functions. Different merchandise on the record have been cement, building supplies and steel items.

The choice jeopardises an settlement signed in April 2003 between the EU and Russia which allowed individuals and items from Kaliningrad to acquire a transit doc for prepare journey throughout Lithuania to Russia. The EU’s excessive consultant for overseas affairs and safety coverage, Josep Borell, backed the choice, saying that Lithuania was appropriately implementing EU sanctions.

Moscow reacted instantly and strongly, threatening “severe penalties”, which, as but, haven’t been specified.

On June 20, Lithuania’s chargé d’affaires was summoned to the International Ministry and informed to cancel the restrictions or face the penalties. A senator on Russia’s higher home – the Federation Council – Andrey Klimov, referred to as on the EU to “right Vilnius’s impudent little stunt”, whereas the top of Russia’s Safety Council, Nikolai Patrushev, said that “acceptable measures” that will have a “severe unfavorable affect on the inhabitants of Lithuania”.

The heightened tensions between Vilnius and Moscow observe scorching on the heels of a dialogue in Russia’s State Duma on June 8 – the decrease home of parliament – about revoking the Soviet Union’s recognition of Lithuania’s independence. By making a stand over transiting items to Kaliningrad, Lithuania can also be highlighting its sovereignty.

Menace within the Baltic

The deteriorating relationship between Russia and the west after the previous’s invasion of the Donbas in 2014 noticed Russia deploy short-range Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad in 2016 that would attain the Baltic State capitals and two-thirds of Poland. In April 2022, the Russian Baltic Sea Fleet air drive ran simulated bombing campaignsin Kaliningrad. With greater than 1,000 personnel – and at a time of heightened battle over Ukraine – this was an enormous concern for Vilnius.

On June 22, the Russian navy simulated missile assaults on Estonia with the Baltic Sea Fleet closely concerned and helicopters violating Estonian airspace. Understandably, the Lithuanian authorities worry being lower off.

The Suwałki hole is a stretch of land 100 kilometres lengthy stretching alongside the Lithuanian and Polish border dividing Belarus from Kaliningrad. The Suwałki hole has lengthy been Nato’s weak level as Russia may rapidly isolate the Baltic States. Though nonetheless an unlikely prospect this might be Nato’s weakest level. So Russian navy drills in Kaliningrad are seen with alarm in Vilnius.

And, whereas Lithuania has the smallest Russian minority within the Baltic States, Moscow’s propaganda makes a lot of the ethnic Russian inhabitants in the same method to its insistence that Crimea and the Donbas area are intimately tied by means of cultural and linguistic hyperlinks to the Russian “motherland”.

Map showing Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

Why Kaliningrad issues.
Rokas Tenys by way of Shutterstock

So the ban on the transit of sure items to Kaliningrad represents an essential stand by Lithuania in opposition to Russia. Whereas the unique ban was on the transit of sanctioned items by prepare, Vilnius prolonged the ban to items moved by lorry on June 21.

There may be little Russia can do as it’s unlikely to assault a Nato member. Russian flights have been banned from EU airspace three days after invading Ukraine and transport firms rapidly stopped working in Russian ports. Russia shall be left searching for out there home transport, which may take months.

Learn extra:
Ukraine warfare: because the battle at sea intensifies, Russia’s prospects of victory look additional off than ever

For Lithuania, it’s a calculated threat. Since mid-2021 Lithuania now not straight depends on Russia for power, having related to the European energy grid. Subsequently, it’s a focused motion by Lithuania that leaves Russia with little scope for motion.

Vilnius versus Moscow

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Lithuania has despatched greater than €115 million (£99 million) in navy assist By comparability, Italy has despatched €152 million in navy assist, and its GDP is increased at US$1.89 trillion (£1.54 trillion) in 2020. In the event you mix its humanitarian and navy help to Ukraine, Lithuania has despatched 0.2% of its GDP. That is 0.02% lower than the US. In 2020, Lithuania’s GDP stood at US$56 billion. Against this, America’s GDP in 2021 was US$23 trillion.

Nicely earlier than the Russian invasion – in July 2021 – Lithuania referred to as for Ukraine to be given Nato membership. It has repeated this name for the reason that battle began in February. Lithuania was additionally among the many first EU states to request that Brussels present funding for Ukrainian refugees. Lithuania has been a principal advocate for Ukraine changing into an EU member and campaigned for Brussels to start talks to facilitate that transfer.

The Russian authorities has referred to as Lithuania’s actions a “blockade”. However individuals and unsanctioned items can nonetheless transit throughout Lithuania and other people from Kaliningrad can nonetheless enter Poland and Lithuania and not using a visa.

Reflecting Russia’s usually surreal worldview, the authorities declare that it’s unlawful by worldwide regulation to blockade Kaliningrad. But when it’s actually a blockade, it’s a poor one – and Moscow is aware of all about blockades, having lower off Ukrainian ports, inflicting the present world meals disaster. Lithuania has but once more proven that it’s ready to stand as much as autocrats.


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