Russia reacted with fury after Lithuania banned the passage of sanctioned goods through its territory and into Kaliningrad. But Lithuania says it only supports EU sanctions and the European bloc has supported them.
The dispute now threatens to escalate tensions between Moscow and the European Union, which has unveiled several packages of sanctions on Russian goods.
Here’s what you need to know about Kaliningrad, its history, and its importance to Russia.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, experts fear Kaliningrad could become a flashpoint in tensions between Moscow and Europe.
It is the westernmost territory of Russia, and the only part of the country surrounded by the countries of the European Union; Lithuania stands between it and Belarus, an ally of Russia, while Poland borders it to the south.
On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the move was unprecedented and that Russia considered it illegal. “It’s part of a siege, of course,” he said. Other Russian officials threatened to retaliate.
Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, said that “Russia will certainly respond to such hostilities. Actions are being drawn up in an interdepartmental form and will be taken in the near future. Their consequences will be serious negative. For the residents of Lithuania “, according to the Russian news agency. RIA Novosti state-owned.
Products subject to sanctions that the European Union has banned from being exported to Russian territory include construction machinery, machine tools and other industrial equipment, according to Russia’s state news agency TASS, citing the Ministry of Economic Development. Some luxury goods are also included.
The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday that Lithuania had not imposed “unilateral, individual or additional” restrictions.
The Lithuanian charge d’affaires in Moscow was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday and told that if freight transit to the Kaliningrad region is not fully restored, Russia reserves the right to take measures to protect its national interests.
But the European Union, whose sanctions are imposed by Lithuania by blocking transit, has supported its member state.
Speaking to Reuters, Dmitry Leskov, a representative of the regional government, had to urge residents not to panic buying in response to the row.
What is Kaliningrad?
Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania. It was captured by Soviet forces from Nazi Germany in April 1945 and then became part of Soviet territory as a result of the Potsdam Agreement. Its name was changed from German Königsberg in 1946.
It has a population of about one million, the majority of whom live in or near the capital of the same name. The exclave region is considered one of the most prosperous in Russia, characterized by a large-scale industry. Its port, Baltiysk, is the westernmost port in Russian territory and, remarkably, is ice-free all year round.
The city’s main streets are lined with fine examples of old German architecture alongside gloomy, concrete Soviet apartment buildings.
But the importance of Kaliningrad comes mostly from where it is located on the map. A thin strip of land south of Kaliningrad separates it from Belarus and connects the Polish and Lithuanian territories. Known as the Suwalki Pass or Gap, it is the only land link between the Baltic states and the rest of the European Union.
Kaliningrad is also the headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet. On Monday, RIA Novosti news agency reported that the fleet began pre-planned missile and artillery exercises, saying that “about a thousand soldiers and more than 100 units of military and special equipment from artillery and missile units are participating in the maneuvers.”
In 2002, the EU and Moscow reached a travel agreement between Russia and Kaliningrad, before Poland and Lithuania joined the EU in 2004. When those countries joined, the backwaters became surrounded on three sides by EU territory. Russia says the 2002 agreement has now been violated.
Kaliningrad’s importance became even greater for Russia with the planning of Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Dmitriy Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s National Security Council, said in May that the accession plans meant that “it will no longer be possible to talk about any non-nuclear status of the Baltic states – the balance must be re-balanced.”
Russia has not admitted to having nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, but in 2018 the Federation of American Scientists concluded that Russia had significantly modernized a cache of nuclear weapons storage in the region, based on analysis of satellite imagery.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lithuania has urged NATO to increase the deployment of troops on its territory. In April, President Gitanas Nosida said the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battalion should be transformed to “at least” the size of a brigade, and called for a reinforcement of the Sualki Corridor.
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