Russia warned Lithuania that stopping goods from Kaliningrad, its neighboring exclave, to Moscow would have a serious negative effect on the population.
After Lithuania imposed new EU sanctions on Saturday in response to the war in Ukraine, the EU ambassador to Russia was summoned to the Kremlin’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.
Lithuania has blocked rail links between Kaliningrad, a Russian territory bordering it, and Russia via Belarus.
Markus Ederer, EU Envoy, told Moscow officials that Kaliningrad has not been completely isolated. However, some goods have been approved and other goods can be moved using different means.
However, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said that appropriate measures were being taken to address what he called Lithuania’s “hostile” actions.
Sky News examines the history of Kaliningrad as well as the implications of the new sanctions for Russian relations with Western countries.
Kaliningrad, a Russian city, is part of the larger Kaliningrad region. This was claimed by the Russians in the Second World War.
Kaliningrad, originally known as Konigsberg was part of Germany up until 1945 when the Red Army seized it from the Nazis.
It was renamed Russia in 1946 after the war. The Germans who had lived there before were expelled and replaced by Russians.
It lies between NATO and EU states of Lithuania and Poland, and is home to approximately 430,000 people.
It is the capital of the Baltic Sea, and also home to Russia’s Baltic Sea Navy Fleet.
The Soviet Union fell in 1991. It was allowed to continue as part of Russia while neighboring countries of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia were made independent.
Sky News spoke with Professor Michael Clarke, a military and defense analyst and ex-director-general of RUSI. He said: “When Soviet Union collapsed, Kaliningrad was kept apart from Lithuania.
It was extremely polluted, and Lithuania wasn’t interested in cleaning it up.
“So they were happy for it to remain as part of Russia, and for rail connections to Russia via Belarus to continue.
“It seemed like an acceptable compromise at the time, as nobody expected Russia would become so hostile back then.”
However, with Vladimir Putin at the helm, Moscow has grown increasingly hostile to the West and NATO in particular.
The relationship between Kaliningrad, Russia and its neighbors began to deteriorate when Vladimir Putin started modernizing the Black Sea fleet in 2006.
They got worse in 2018, when Russia installed its Iskander missile systems there.
Professor Clarke stated, “It’s nuclear capable, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are nuclear weapons there.”
“But NATO believes that nuclear weapons are stored there.”
The Baltic states were among Kyiv’s most vocal supporters following the Russian invasion in Ukraine in February. They are concerned about their security as the Kremlin attempts to expand its sphere.
This has led to tensions running at an all-time high between Russia’s exclave in Europe and its European neighbors.
What’s Lithuania done?
Since the invasion of Ukraine in February, the European Union has been steadily expanding its sanctions against Russia like other Western powers.
It banned heavy goods, such as coal, metals and timber, that were destined for Russia in March.
Lithuania, a member of the EU, began to enforce these sanctions on Saturday. Its state rail operator LTG, which controls Lithuania’s train transport, no longer allows those goods to travel through the country via train.
Moscow cannot now transport goods from Kaliningrad to Russia via Russian flights, as they are also prohibited.
Anton Alikhanov, the governor of this country, stated that only half of all imports will be allowed through.
The Kremlin deemed the move illegal.
Viktorija Satrych–Samuoliene is the director of strategy at the Council on Geostrategy and says Russia wants to “push” the false narrative that Lithuania is “blockading Kaliningrad completely.
She said: “The current attempt by Russia to play the victim in this situation has primarily three aims.
“To further mobilize the Russian population in support of the Kremlin’s revisionist, aggressive agenda, to cause anxiety and doubt in Europe regarding the agreed sanctions and to divert attention away from ongoing Russian atrocities against Ukraine.”
Are we to be concerned? Could the war reach Lithuania?
According to the Kremlin, the new sanctions could have serious and negative consequences for the citizens of Lithuania.
Analysts say that this will not be in the form of military intervention, as in Ukraine. Both Kaliningrad’s immediate neighbors are NATO members.
It could be subject to retaliation by all 30 NATO countries if Vladimir Putin invades on any side.
Professor Clarke stated that there is not much Russia can do to resolve the crisis, except they want to increase the tension along Kaliningrad’s 40-mile border to Belarus – a strip known as the Suwalki Gap.
“But I don’t think anyone believes Russia will do that,”
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Sky News security and defence editor Deborah Haynes believes that Moscow may resort to ‘grey zones’ tactics like cyber-attacks or misinformation campaigns as a response.
Professor Clarke says Russia will use the situation to amass further ammunition against NATO, whose military buildup in the region is the main reason for the invasion of Ukraine.
Professor Clarke states, “It’s another thing the Russians want to use against NATO.” It adds to their list of differences.”
When asked if the war could be extended to Lithuania, he replied: “We stated from the beginning that if Russia wins this war in Ukraine then the Baltic States will become vulnerable.”
“This is not a crisis issue. However, all crises can escalate and are unpredictable.
“We don’t need to panic about it but we should be watching it.”