Russia on Monday threatened Lithuania with retaliation after it banned rail transit from Russia to the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad to comply with European Union sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
Russia has demanded that Lithuania immediately lift the ‘illegal’ ban, with the Foreign Ministry in Moscow saying that if transport links are not fully restored ‘Russia reserves the right to take action to defend its interests national”.
“This decision, indeed unprecedented, is a violation of everything and even some. We understand that it is linked to the relevant decision of the European Union to extend sanctions to transit (of goods). We consider it also as illegal,” Kremlin spokesman. Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.
Lithuania, meanwhile, has defended its decision to ban rail transit from Russia to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave home to some 430,000 people. It is surrounded by Lithuania and Poland, another EU country, to the south and isolated from the rest of Russia.
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Trains carrying goods for Kaliningrad pass through Belarus and Lithuania. There is no transit through Poland. Russia can still supply the exclave by sea, without falling under EU sanctions.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said his country was simply applying the sanctions imposed by the EU, of which it is a member. He clarified that the measures put in place on Saturday had been taken after “consultation with the European Commission and in accordance with its directives”.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Lithuania’s chief diplomatic representative to Moscow for an official protest and alleged the Baltic nation was acting in violation of international agreements. Lithuania then summoned the Russian envoy to Vilnius to tell him that the ban was in line with EU sanctions and that there was no blockade of Kaliningrad.
Lina Laurinaityte Grigiene, a spokeswoman for customs, said the items affected include Russian steel “which cannot be transported within the territory of European countries”.
“Land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia is not stopped or blocked. All goods that are not subject to sanctions travel freely,” she said.
She added that next month similar sanctions will be applied on concrete and alcohol products, from August 10 on coal and from December no Russian oil will be allowed on EU territory.
Kaliningrad Governor Anton Alikhanov estimated that the ban would affect around 50% of all goods moving to Kaliningrad by rail. He also said he would call on Russian authorities to take action against Lithuania and seek to ship more goods by ship.
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The EU has imposed a number of import and export restrictions on Russia as part of its economic sanctions. The bloc said it excluded products related to health, pharmaceuticals, food and agriculture.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.