Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said Moscow will respond to ‘hostile actions’ and threatened a ‘serious negative impact’ for Lithuanian people
The war of words between the Kremlin and the EU hotted up yesterday in the wake of Lithuania’s decision to stop sanctioned material passing through the country to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
Russia, angered by the move to prevent goods being sent by rail to Kaliningrad increased tensions promising to make the people of Lithuania suffer.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also summoned the European Union Ambassador to Moscow yesterday, as officials warned that the row could exacerbate relations already strained to breaking point in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.
Kaliningrad, the size of Wales, is sandwiched between EU members Poland and Lithuania, and has no direct land border with the rest of Russia. The stranded enclave’s road and rail links with the rest of the country must cross Lithuania or Poland, which are applying EU sanctions on key Russian imports.
However, Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev said during a visit to Kaliningrad yesterday that these sanctions were hostile measures.
“Of course, Russia will respond to hostile actions. Appropriate measures are in the works, and will be adopted in the near future,” said Mr Patrushev, a former KGB spy and top ally of President Vladimir Putin.
“They will have a serious negative impact on the people of Lithuania.”
Lithuanian authorities moved to restrict rail traffic through its territory in the direction of the territory starting Saturday, as part of the EU sanctions. The EU measures cover commodities like oil, cement, metal, iron, and coal, which the region relies on mainland Russia for.
Kaliningrad Governor Anton Alikhanov claims that blocked between 40 to 50 per cent of total shipping – although he also said two ships were already ferrying goods between Kaliningrad and St Petersburg would fill the supply gap.
The sanctions also prompted panic buying in Kaliningrad over the weekend, amid rumours that Lithuania was preparing to close off rail and gas pipe links to Russia.
Nonetheless, the Kremlin responded with outrage. “The decision is indeed unprecedented. It violates every possible rule,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “We believe that the sanctions are illegal, too.”
Lithuania insists it is only implementing the EU sanctions, while leaving the transit of passengers and non-sanctioned goods intact.
“There is no Kaliningrad blockade,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said. “Lithuania is implementing EU sanctions.”
She also hit back at the language used by Moscow to protest the sanctions. “It’s ironic to hear rhetoric about alleged violations of international treaties from a country which has violated possibly every single international treaty,” Ms Simonyte said.
She was echoed by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, who said, “It’s not Lithuania doing anything: it’s European sanctions that started working from June 17,” he said.
He also lambasted Moscow for inflaming the situation with wild accusations. “I think there was some false information, not for the first time, announced by the Russian authorities, but I’m glad that we have a chance to explain this,” he said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also defended Lithuania. “There is no blockade,” he said.
“The land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia has not been banned. Second, the transit of people and goods that are not sanctioned continues. Third, Lithuania has not taken any unilateral national restrictions.”
With a population of about a million, Kaliningrad was seized by the Soviet Union from Germany after the Second World War, when it was known as Königsberg.
Renamed after Bolshevik revolutionary Mikhail Kalinin, the German population was expelled and Soviet citizens move in.
Russia’s Baltic Fleet is headquartered in Kaliningrad along with tens of thousands of soldiers and nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missiles. Millions of tonnes of oil, coke and coal pass from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad by rail through Lithuania.
About 100 Russian transit trains pass through Lithuania every month.
The most easterly part of Kaliningrad is 100km from Belarus in the east.
Known as the Suwałki Gap, the space runs along the Lithuanian-Polish frontier.
EU and NATO officials say Moscow could attempt to use concerns about Kaliningrad to escalate tensions with the West and even just justify an armed incursion to create a land link to the enclave.