Kaliningrad: to avoid a “victory” for Russia, Lithuania will not challenge Brussels

Kaliningrad: to avoid a “victory” for Russia, Lithuania will not challenge Brussels

Lithuania said on Thursday (July 14) it would not attempt to challenge a European Commission clarification allowing rail transit through its territory for sanctioned civilian goods to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

“It would not be rational to spend our time and energy discussing whether a kiloton of steel can be transported by rail from one part of Russia to the[exclave russe de] Kaliningrad »Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė told reporters in Vilnius.

“Any further dispute over this would be a real victory for the Kremlin. »

In a bid to defuse growing tensions between Lithuania and Russia, the European Commission on Wednesday (July 13) updated its guidelines on the movement of sanctioned goods between mainland Russia and its exclave of Kaliningrad.

Moscow will be allowed to transit sanctions-listed civilian goods through Lithuania, an EU member state, by rail in quantities comparable to pre-invasion deliveries .

However, the EU executive added that national authorities in member states would be required to “check whether transit volumes remain within the limits of the averages of the last three years” to make sure “that there are no unusual flows or business patterns that could allow circumvention[des sanctions]”.

Goods subject to EU sanctions, such as steel and cement, however, will not be allowed to transit by road, the statement read.

Speaking in Vilnius a day after the decision, Ms Šimonytė said that Lithuanian institutions welcome clarifications regarding military and dual-use goods, technological transit as well as control of quantity of goods.

Lithuanian institutions will take into account the clarifications “but not because we believe there has been anything wrong since June 17, but because there have been no official clarifications or explanations”she added.

Lithuania will maintain restrictions on trade flows to Kaliningrad while it develops new rules.

“Controls will have to be put in place for certain sanctioned goods […]. Lithuania will have to establish rules for checks, and until then the existing procedures will remain in place”Ms. Šimonytė said, without giving a timeline for the creation of the new rules.

According to her, if Vilnius accepted this clarification, it would be ” by respect “ guidance from the European Commission, by unit in the application of EU sanctions and, ” above all “in the name of transatlantic unity.

If Lithuania refuses to accept and align itself with the clarifications, the case will have to be taken up by the EU’s highest court, and Ms Šimonytė believes that it would be “irrational” to continue discussions.

“If we gave a lot of time to this debate, it would be a real victory for the Kremlin. »

Instead, the Lithuanian prime minister said the EU should focus on maintaining support for Ukraine and fresh sanctions against Moscow.

In recent weeks, the European Union has stressed that the restrictions would be in line with the technical application of its sanctions regime, refuting the Russian narrative of any “blockade” of the exclave, civilian goods having been able to circulate and no rail transport having been stopped.

No position change

The Kremlin said on Thursday that there was still work to be done regarding the European Union’s ban on the transit of sanctioned goods to the Russian territory of Kaliningrad.

“The work and the contacts will continue, because there are still a number of questions to be answered”Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

Russia said it welcomed the clarification, although Kaliningrad’s governor said retaliatory measures remained “on the table” if the exclave were to be cut off from the Russian mainland.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Telegram that “the EU has reluctantly admitted that the conditions for transit to our Kaliningrad region are fair”.

However, to counter criticism that the EU has caved in to Moscow, EU officials stressed that in practice the application of sanctions agreed in previous sanctions packages on the transit of goods does not change.

“Our directions [sur le transit vers Kaliningrad] are part of our regular technical exchanges with Member States and I think it is really important to make it clear that there is absolutely no change in position”said Daniel Ferrie, spokesman for the European Commission, Thursday in Brussels.

“Our orientations simply recall the rules, the sanctions”said Mr. Ferrie, adding that the new regulations have not “not discussed with Russia”.

While some bloc officials have privately criticized the scale and intensity of Lithuania’s checks on Russian trains, pointing to the potential for escalation in the Baltic region, others point out that it has Russia’s weak spot for future sanctions measures.

‘We have exposed Russia’s weak point, where we can really hit them if we want to’an EU official told EURACTIV.

“And if they want to come into confrontation and retaliate against Lithuania, they will have to face the possibility of a conflict […]and they will think twice about it”continued the official.

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