On June 18, Lithuanian railways stopped transit of EU sanctioned goods from Russia to Kaliningrad oblast. The transit abolition implies that certain goods cannot be delivered from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad and vice versa. As declared in the statement of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, Sergey Ryabokon, Charge d’affaires of the Russian Federation in Lithuania, was invited to the meeting. He was handed a diplomatic note explaining the restrictive EU measures that apply to goods of certain categories transported by rail to and from Kaliningrad. In the address to the diplomat, it was highlighted that Lithuania has not imposed any unilateral, individual or additional restrictions on transit, but only consistently applies EU sanctions, which have different entry dates and transition periods.
However, in the Kremlin and Kaliningrad Duma (regional parliament) the restriction was viewed differently. The state representatives opted for the word ‘blockade’, when referring to the transit ban. It should be noted that in Russian language the word is associated with the Leningrad (Saint-Petersburg) blockade during World War Two, a heinous event, during which more than 632000 people died. Thus, the language used in mass media is all too strong and propagandistic, illustrating the Russian post-structuralist approach in state-sponsored journalism.
What products were exposed to the transit sanctions? In accordance with the fourth package of EU sanctions, restrictive measures against the import and transit through the EU of Russian steel and other ferrous metal products finally entered into force on June 17, 2022. From July 10, there will be a ban on cement, alcohol and other products, from August 10 – on coal and other solid minerals, from December 5 – Russian oil. These goods compose one half of all the goods, entering Kaliningrad oblast via railway.
After the adoption of the transit ban, Russian politicians and state media began a vivid talk about casus belli – grounds for war declaration. Senator Andrei Klishas stated:
‘An attempt to establish an actual blockade of the Kaliningrad Region by Lithuania is a violation of Russia’s sovereignty over this region and may be the basis for very tough and absolutely legal actions on the part of Russia’. Another senator, Andrei Klimov wrote: ‘… And the European Union, if it does not immediately correct the brazen exit of Vilnius, will itself disavow for us the legitimacy of all documents on Lithuania’s membership in the EU and will untie its hands to solve the problem of Kaliningrad transit created by Lithuania by ANY means we choose…’He also called Lithuania’s ban declaration‘ a direct act of aggression towards Russia, which forces involuntary self-defence’. ‘First Channel’ in Russia lives up to its name and is arguably among the most prominent means of discovering information for the people, who just watch television. This channel produced a special episode, highlighting Lithuania’s hostile actions and the losses the country suffers from the breaking of the Russian ties.
“Russia’s response to Kaliningrad will be not only in the diplomatic plane.” – Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova on the situation around the transit ban of sanctioned goods via Lithuania to the Kaliningrad region. Lithuania and the EU were told about “the inadmissibility of such actions and the need to change the steps taken and return the situation to a legitimate legitimate course.”
Despite the government declaring one statement about the illegitimacy of Lithuania’s ‘hostile’ actions after another, bus route Kaliningrad – Vilnius will resume for the first time since 2020. It is restricted to certain categories of citizens (EU students, workers, death of relatives, medical travelling) but it is resumed nonetheless, despite the geopolitical tensions.
However, on June 20, the Baltic Fleet reported: ‘The manoeuvres were conducted in the Baltic Sea and at combat training grounds in the Kaliningrad Region’. The exercises involved 10,000 people, up to 60 surface warships, boats and support vessels, about 45 aircraft and helicopters, as well as up to two thousand units of combat and special equipment according to Meduza.
Joint Statement on Transit between the Kaliningrad Region and the rest of the Russian Federation signed in Brussels in 2002 is Russia’s go-to means of proclaiming Lithuanias’ actions illegal. First and second sections of the Joint Statement are the ones cited the most, for the sections touch on the importance of the transit between Kaliningrad and Russia and responsibility of Russia and Lithuania to maintain it. However, the Kremlin tends to omit the second section and that is for a reason. The second section of the joint section states: ‘The Parties recognize that the transit regime will not infringe on the sovereign right of the Republic of Lithuania to exercise the necessary control and to refuse entry to its territory.’. Thus, this last sentence of section two declares Lithuania’s ban legal. Moreover, Lithuania is simply applying the sanctions of the EU, which we agreed a long time ago. They came into effect just recently. Hence, the vehement reaction of the Russian state.
According to Reuters, the European Union is leaning towards a compromise with Moscow over the transit ban so as to ease the situation in the region. Germany is the leading force in the compromise. That could be accounted for by the fact that German troops are located in Lithuania, hence, the desire to eschew the direct conflict. Russo-German historical ties could also contribute. The agency is speculating that the final decision over the transit will be issued on July 10.
As Kaliningrad’s future remains to be seen, the governor, Anton Alichanov, seems certain in the lifting of the ban, or at least in its alleviation, mentioning the risks and economic drawbacks of the ban, to which the EU is exposed, according to him.