Tensions are erupting in the Russian enclave between Lithuania and Poland, with Russia warning of “practical” retaliatory measures if the European Union does not lift the ban on mineral goods stuck in transit. High-ranking EU diplomats are scrambling to defuse the time bomb in Kaliningrad, annexed by Russia after World War II, and have warned that the situation could escalate into a very dangerous situation very quickly. Officials insisted this arose as an unintended consequence of the EU’s fourth sanctions package, which saw the bloc ban imports of steel and ferrous materials from Russia.
But as of last Saturday, customs agents stopped freight trains for checks because the railway, which supplies goods from Russia to Kaliningrad, passes through Lithuania and then the territory of the European Union.
But the head of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, now threatened “a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania.” He did not go into details of what this might entail.
And if this problem is not resolved quickly, “retaliatory moves will be inevitable” and “will not be in the diplomatic dimension,” warned Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, she said: “With regard to retaliatory measures, potential counter-steps are being worked out in an interdepartmental format.
“Both Lithuania and the European Union have been informed through their diplomatic missions in Moscow that such measures are unacceptable and that the steps taken must be rescinded and the situation returned to the legal and legitimate track.
“If this fails, then, of course, retaliatory moves will be inevitable. This has been emphasized at all levels in Moscow.”
And she warned: “As for the question, how will they be? Will they be exclusively in the diplomatic dimension? The answer is no. They will not be in the diplomatic dimension. They will be practical.”
Anton Alikhanov, governor of the Kaliningrad region, warned that Lithuania’s actions were illegal and violated agreements because when the country joined the European Union, it ensured unimpeded transit to the region.
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Estonia also intervened, calling on Russia to stop sending threats and noting that Moscow was flexing its strength ahead of next week’s NATO summit in Madrid, where Sweden and Finland are hoping for support to join the Western defense alliance.
The Lithuanian prime minister said lessons had to be learned and that security had to be in place given that Belarus, neighboring Russia, had acted as a partner, allowing its territory to be used as a springboard for an invasion of Ukraine.
“We need a significantly higher presence in the area,” she told the BBC’s Katja Adler, citing a corridor stretching 62 miles of land that connects Lithuania and the other Baltic states to Poland.
“The Suwalki Gap is a very important place, not only for my country or Poland, but also for NATO, because this is a short corridor and its defense and security need to be taken seriously.”