Russia threatens Lithuania with retaliation for blocking transit of goods to Kaliningrad

Wedged between Poland and Lithuania and separated from Belarus by the Suwalki Passage, the only access route from the three Baltic States to the rest of the member countries of the European Union [UE] and NATO, the enclave of Kaliningrad is important for Russia for at least two reasons. Indeed, this territory is a symbol of the victory over Nazi Germany [il s’appelait naguère « Koenigsberg »] while being one of the last remnants of the Soviet period. And its possession allows Russia to consolidate its military position in the Baltic region, notably through the deployment of denial and access denial capabilities. [A2/AD].

Given its geographical position, the only land access route to this enclave passes through Lithuania, which, moreover, is home to one of the four tactical groups set up by NATO as part of its enhanced forward presence. [eFP]. Otherwise, it is also accessible by boat [ou par avion]via the Baltic.

One of the fears of the Russian authorities is that Kaliningrad could be subject to a blockade in the event of a conflict. This explains, in part, its militarization. However, since June 17, Vilnius has banned Russian goods subject to EU sanctions [charbon, matériaux de construction, métaux, bien technologiques] to transit through its territory. And the entry into force of this decision was immediate.

However, on April 6, the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Grouchko, had warned against “any potential action” likely to be attempted against Kaliningrad. “I really hope that common sense in Europe will not allow games to be started around Kaliningrad. […] I think many understand that it would be playing with fire,” he told Tass.

Also, the reaction of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will not be long in coming. “We demanded [à la Lituanie] the immediate lifting of these restrictions, ”he said on June 20. And if the passage of goods “is not restored in full, then Russia reserves the right to act to defend its national interests”, he warned, before indicating that he had summoned the responsible Lithuanian businessman stationed in Moscow.

In addition, Russian diplomacy said it considers the Vilnius decision “openly hostile” since, according to it, it “violates Lithuania’s international legal obligations, namely the 2002 joint declaration of the EU and the Russian Federation on transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the Russian Federation”.

For its part, and denouncing an “unprecedented decision”, the Kremlin, via its spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, considers that the “situation is more than serious” and that “an in-depth analysis is necessary to elaborate the replies”. It remains to be seen what retaliatory measures Russia is likely to take, knowing that it can no longer use the “weapon” of gas, Lithuania having freed itself from it thanks to the GIPL gas pipeline. [Gas Interconnection Poland-Lithuania].

Anyway, Lithuania maintains that it is only applying the sanctions decided by the EU against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. The Vilnius decision was taken “in consultation with the European Commission and in accordance with its guidelines”, said Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister.

Russia threatens Lithuania with retaliation for blocking transit of goods to Kaliningrad – Military Zone