The Russian Exclave of Kaliningrad and the Lithuanian "Sting"
Giorgi Paniashvili, Analyst
General Overview of the Situation at Hand
On June 18, 2022, Lithuania banned rail transit of EU-sanctioned products passing through its territory from Russia to Kaliningrad.
As a result of the ban, Lithuania is no longer transiting products such as coal, metals, cement, timber, construction materials and high-tech equipment to Kaliningrad through its railways. There is a high probability that the transit ban will affect Russian oil products from as soon as August.
In addition to rail transit, the Lithuanian authorities have also imposed a strict ban on road freight transit routes.
According to the assessment of the governor of the Kaliningrad region, the transit ban applies to products that make up about 40-50% of all cargo entering the region.
The Lithuanian “sting” left Russia upset, though the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania clarified that this prohibiting measure was agreed with the European Commission and was implemented under its supervision.
As a result, Moscow is facing serious problems/disruptions in supplying one of its strategically important regions with vital products. The Kaliningrad region is the westernmost and most European land of Russia, bordered by Poland to the south, Lithuania to the north and east, and the Baltic Sea to the west. As such, Russia does not have direct land access to this territory, though a number of products can be brought to Kaliningrad by sea and air.
Currently, despite a very strong reaction, the Kremlin is trying to get Brussels and Lithuania to negotiate a lift on the restrictive transit ban imposed on the region.
Russia's reaction to the incident
The Lithuanian "sting" turned out quite unpleasant for Russia and generated a substantial reaction from Moscow:
Kaliningrad Governor Anton Alikhanov was the first to respond to the imposed transit restriction, accusing both the European Union and Lithuania of gross violations of international law, demanding explanations, and announcing that this ban is an attempt to “choke” the region's economy.
In the footsteps of the Russian governor, who was baffled at and angry with the transit ban, the Russian Foreign Ministry did not hesitate to react strongly. In connection with the introduction of partial restrictions on transit, on June 20, Lithuania's temporary chargé d'affaires Virginia Umbrasene was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, where she was presented with a clear and loud protest from the Russian side. The Russian Foreign Ministry assessed Lithuania’s actions as "provocative" and "openly hostile".
The diplomatic protest note of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia also contained threatening elements. In particular, according to the Russian side, if the railway transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of Russia through the territory of Lithuania is not restored, Russia “reserves the right to take measures to protect its national interests.”
The Chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, Grigory Karasin, added to the aggressive reaction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying that Russia reserves the right to take decisive measures so that its region does not end up in a blockade. In addition, probably based on his old contacts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he added that according to his information, “a rather rude conversation” was held with the Lithuanian diplomat.
The matter of the Kaliningrad transit ban was brought under the direct control of the Kremlin, and was commented on by the Kremlin's press spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, who noted that the situation is “unprecedented and extremely serious,” containing "blockade elements," and responsive actions would require a thorough analysis.
Andrei Klimov, Chairman of the Federation Council's Sovereignty Protection Commission, went alarmingly far in his evaluations and judgments of the issue, saying that if the EU did not immediately correct this “audacious outburst” by Vilnius, it would disavow Lithuania's EU membership documents, thereby opening the possibility for Russia to solve the situation by any means necessary.
Klimov was supported by another colleague from the Federation Council - Andrei Klishas, who said that the transit ban is a violation of Russia's sovereignty and could be a basis for harsh actions by Russia.
On June 21, the former head of the FSB and the secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, made a special visit to the Kaliningrad region, assessing the transit ban as another harmful provocation by the West and publicly promising that Russia would develop countermeasures and implement them in the near future, insinuating a negative impact for the population of Lithuania.
Is Lithuania Actually Violating Anything?
Official Vilnius stood firm against the wave of accusations and threats coming from Russia. Lithuania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has quietly but clearly stated that this ban has been agreed with the European Commission, and by imposing this particular transit ban, the country is solely complying with the fourth package of EU sanctions against Russia.
Lithuania is confidently aware of the ongoing situation and is well versed in its international legal position.
Freedom of transit to Kaliningrad is guaranteed by the 1994 Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation between Russia and the European Union. Nevertheless, it is Article 99 of this international agreement that gives the parties the right to take necessary measures in order to protect their security. In addition is the 2020 decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the "Rosneft" case, according to which the reservation provided for in Article 99 can also be used to impose EU restrictive measures.
The transit agreements concluded between Lithuania and Russia are also subject to EU law, as it has superior legal weight.
Thus, Lithuania relies on the above-mentioned legal EU argument in its relations with neighboring Russia.
How Probable Is the Economic and Humanitarian Blockade of Kaliningrad?
Here, first of all, it should be noted that only the transit of products sanctioned by the European Union was banned, not all cargo. This means that the rail and road transportation of authorized cargoes through Lithuania to the Kaliningrad region, as well as passenger transportation, has not been interrupted and is being carried out as usual. Therefore, any talks regarding any sort of economic blockade and/or creation of humanitarian problems is only a figment of the Kremlin's propaganda fantasy.
Further, in addition to Lithuanian transit, cargo can also be delivered to the Kaliningrad region by sea and air. It is true that the launch of new sea and air transit routes will be relatively more expensive and time-consuming, but if efforts are made, Russia will cope with this new challenge and save its European exclave from further problems.
Experts in the field also believe that there may be a shortage of several types of products in the Kaliningrad region, as well as expected price increases and some delays in timely delivery, although in the end, the region is unlikely to be put on the edge of economic hardship and humanitarian disaster.
Foreign Political and Security Risks
Lithuania is a full-fledged member state of NATO and the European Union, so any military retaliation by Russia in response to the transit ban would be a risky and dangerous idea. Russia, which is deeply involved in Ukraine, does not really need new military-political adventures, especially with a NATO member country. Therefore, the probability of a military confrontation is not high.
However, Russia may use such rogue practices as it has in the past, perhaps violating Lithuanian air and sea spaces with ships or aircraft loaded with sanctioned products. It is also possible that Lithuanian manufacturing and businesses, which are somehow connected to Russia, will face problems. In this regard, it should be noted that Lithuania has already freed itself from Russian energy dependence, and its economy is not intertwined with Russia or its market. Therefore, such “revenge” will be less effective.
In addition, Lithuania and Russia are not vested in complex political cooperation, so nothing there can be reduced and/or damaged.
At this stage, Russia will have to adapt to the difficulties related to the transit ban on products sanctioned by the European Union, and must try to solve the situation at hand through negotiations.
Most likely, in order to supply Kaliningrad with cargo, Moscow will have to launch additional sea or air routes to Kaliningrad. Prices and shipping times will increase, which will create serious obstacles in a number of sectors of Kaliningrad's economy.
Ultimately, the Lithuanian "sting" will have a negative impact on the economy of the European exclave of Russia and will put an additional burden on the Russian federal budget.
It is no secret that Georgia's friend, Lithuania, together with the European Union, is trying to make Russia pay a high price for its blatant invasion of Ukraine. The transit ban partially serves this purpose.
Small Lithuania, in addition to its security, is also risking economic retaliation; however, it is well aware that at this point in time, only a principled and coordinated policy secured with its EU partners can be the most realistic guarantee of its long-term economic stability and security.
- War in Ukraine and Russia’s declining role in the Karabakh peace process
- Seventh Package of Sanctions and Embargo on Russian Gold
- What could be the cost of “Putin’s face-saving” for European relations
- In line for the candidate status, Georgia will get a European perspective. What are we worried about?
- The break-up of the Hungarian-Polish coalition - an opportunity for the EU
- Failed Tskhinvali Referendum
- The War and Georgia
- "Autocratic Peace"
- “Rural Orbanism”- Polarization as a determinant for Hungary's political future
- Illegal Presidential Elections in the Tskhinvali Region: Why Bibilov Lost and What to Anticipate in Future
- How to Respond to Russian Ultra-Orthodox-Historic-Hegemonism?
- The War in Ukraine and the UK’s New Role in Eastern Europe
- What Will the Abolition of the OSCE Minsk Group Bring to the South Caucasus?
- The Presidential Election in France and Europe’s Political Future
- Will Pashinyan Be Able to Make a Drastic Turnaround in Armenian-Azerbaijani Relations?
- Why Has the Abkhaz Side Become More Active on Social Networks?
- Why a Neutral Ukraine Is Not on Putin’s Mind (Ukraine’s Neutral Status Is Getting Closer, but What Does It Mean to Putin?)
- Europe's energy future - challenges and opportunities
- Uncontrolled Mass Immigration and the Position of the Georgian Government
- Changes in Putin's propaganda narratives since the Russian invasion of Ukraine
- Ukraine will soon embark on a path of practical integration into the European Union. What about Georgia?
- Positions and Actions of Turkey in the Russo-Ukrainian War
- NATO’s possible expansion in Northern Europe and its significance for Georgia and Ukraine
- Political Winter Olympics in Beijing
- What Is behind Putin’s Sudden Gambit in Ukraine?
- Abkhazia in 2021: Energy Crisis, New “Minister” and Political Controversy
- L'Europe pourra-t-elle éviter le “déjà vu” ? (France, President of the Council of the European Union, and the Tensions in Eastern Europe)
- US-Russia Relations and the Issue of Ukraine
- The New Targets of Ramzan Kadyrov’s Regime
- What are the Prospects of the Eastern Partnership Summit Set on 15 December?
- The Upcoming EaP Summit - Why the Trio Initiative Should Finally Find Its Way
- What Will the Post-Merkel Era Mean for the EU’s Russia and Eastern Neighbourhood Policy?
- What Lies Behind the Growing Cooperation of the Georgian and Hungarian Governments
- “Doberman” as a Minister: Inal Ardzinba’s Prospects and Challenges
- The Belarus Crisis: How to Enhance Our Resilience Against the Russian Strategy for Its Near-Neighborhood
- Moldova’s Gas Crisis Has Been Russia’s Yet Another Political Blackmailing
- EU-Poland’s worsened relations and what it means for the EaP
- Lessons From Germany on Political Culture: What Georgia Can Learn From the German Parliamentary Elections
- Belarus One Year On: An Insecure Regime Under Russian “Protection”
- Why Did Iran-Azerbaijan Relations Become Strained?
- Russia’s Parliamentary Elections - What Can Be Said About the Regime’s Stability
- An Emerging Foreign Policy Trend in Central and Eastern Europe: A Turn from China to Taiwan?
- Vaccination: “To Be, or not to Be”…
- Can Georgia use China to balance Russia?
- Sharia Patrols in Kabardino-Balkaria: A Growing Trend or a Local Conflict?
- Belarus’ exit from the Eastern Partnership and what to expect next
- Pacta Sunt Servanda: Agreements must be kept
- The West vs Russia: The Reset once again?!
- Associated Trio, What is Next?
- Formation of a New “Political Elite” in Abkhazia - Who Will Replace the Old “Elite?”
- The symbolism of the EU flag and why a true Christian would not tear it down and burn it
- The Cyber-Dimension of the Geneva Summit
- Securitization of the Arctic: A Looming Threat of Melting Ice
- Europe in Anticipation of the Results of a “Harmful Deal”
- (Re)Mapping the EU’s Relations with Russia: Time for Change?
- USA, Liberal International Order, Challenges of 2021, and Georgia
- The Political Crisis in Moldova: A Deadlock without the Way Out?
- Russia's Testing or Bullying?
- ‘Vaccine Diplomacy’: A New Opportunity for Global Authoritarian Influence?
- Deal with the ‘Dragon’: What Can Be the Repercussions of the China-EU Investment Agreement?
- The End of the Russian Natural Gas Monopoly in Balkans
- Who did the judge sentence: Navalny, Putin or Russia?
- Biden’s Conundrum
- 2020 Developments in Abkhazia: “Elections,” the Pandemic and Deeper Integration with Russia
- The Hungarian Crisis: Is the EU Failing against Authoritarianism?
- Could Belarus Become a Prelude to the Great Polish-Swedish War 400 Years Ago?
- Vladimir Putin's Annual Grand Press Conference - Notable Elements and Messages
- COVID 19 Pandemic Economic Crisis and Reducing the Instability of Georgia’s National Currency
- Russia’s Energy Policy in the Tskhinvali Region
- Who Won and Who Lost with the War in Karabakh?
- What Russia has Gained in Karabakh
- What Armenia Did and Did not Lose as a Result of the Ceasefire Declaration in Karabakh
- Protests in Belarus, Lukashenko and the Russian Federation
- Some Thoughts on the Use of the Term „Post-Soviet Space“
- Georgia’s European Way During the Period of Pandemic Deglobalization
- Turkey's Caucasus Policy Against the Backdrop of the Latest Armenia-Azerbaijan Tensions
- Khabarovsk Krai Protests as an Indicator of the Russian Federation’s Stability
- Trio Pandemic Propaganda: How China, Russia and Iran Are Targeting the West
- From Russia with… a Canny Plan
- “Elections” in Abkhazia: New “President’s” Revanche and Challenges
- Georgians Fighting the Same Battle 99 Years Later
- Confrontation between Russia and Turkey in Syria
- Political Crisis in Occupied Abkhazia
- What is the Significance of Killing General Qasem Soleimani?
- What Will the New Dialogue Format with Russia Bring for Georgia?
- On the “Russian Culture Center” in Georgia
- Whither Economic Policy?
- Main Messages of Russian Propaganda
- Massive Cyberattacks On Georgia Calls For Defense And Resilience
- What do we know about the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation and Georgia?
- New Focuses of the Anti-Occupation Policy
- Georgia's Problems are not Addressed at G7 Meetings: Who is to Blame?
- Vladimir Putin’s Main Messages in his Interview with the Financial Times
- Georgia and Russia’s Post-modern Fascism
- Dugin has Come Out as a Supporter of Georgia – How Did This Happen?
- The Outcome of the European Parliament Elections - What Does it Mean for Georgia?
- Deterring Russia
- On NATO, Russia and Pat Buchanan
- Modern Russia’s Own Wars of Religion
- Bolton’s visit to Moscow– what to expect in U.S-Russia relations?
- The Risk of the Renewal of the Karabakh Conflict after the Velvet Revolution in Armenia
- The Situation in Syria’s Idlib Province, Interests of the Parties and Threats
- The Helsinki Summit and its General Results
- Why It Is Necessary to Know the Day the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 Started
- Georgia’s Position in the Westernization Index 2018
- Why Did the Results of the G7 Summit in Charlevoix not Meet Our Expectations?
- How to Win Cold War 2.0
- The Russian “Ambassador’s” Rotation in Abkhazia
- Why did the Foreign Ministers of G7 not remember Georgia during their 23 April 2018 Toronto Meeting?
- Georgia and the American Strategy
- Putin’s Pre-Election Economic Promises: Myth and Reality
- Let Geneva Stay the Way it is
- Turkey’s Military Operation in Afrin – a New Phase in the Syrian Conflict
- Kremlin New Appointments and the Occupied Regions of Georgia
- Dangers Originating from Russia and Georgia’s Security System
- Eurasian Custom Union and problems of Russian – Georgian FTA
- Is Georgia’s Export Growth Sustainable?
- Russia’s Influence over the Field of Security in Tskhinvali Region is Growing: Support for Full Integration
- What Awaits the People of Gali?
- Growth of Military Spending and Relations with Russia: Azerbaijan trying to Gain Advantage over Armenia
- Disrupt and Distract: Russia’s Methodology of Dealing with the West
- Russian Diplomats in Georgia – who are they, how many of them are there and what are they up to
- Putin’s Visit to the Occupied Abkhazia: Was our Reaction Actually Adequate?
- Pence’s Visit to Georgia: Several Lessons and What We Should be Expecting
- Is it Acceptable for Georgia to Declare Neutrality?
- Georgia’s European Perspective in the Context of EU’s Future Evolution
- Brexit Negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom have been re-launched: What will be their Influence on Georgia?
- How to Stop the “Creeping Occupation”
- Kremlin’s Policy in the Occupied Regions of Georgia Moves to a New Stage
- Syrian Civil War in the Context of Regional Security
- The Winnable Second Round of Russia’s Neighbors’ Struggle against Its Imperialism
- Turkey’s Domestic and Foreign Policy in the Context of Regional Security
- Post-Soviet States – Struggle for the Legitimation of Power
- Parliamentary Elections in Armenia – The Triumph of the Governing Party
- Current Foreign Policy of Georgia: How Effective is it in Dealing with the Existing Challenges?
- Observations on the Agreement Reached with Gazprom
- New Russian Weaponry in the Caucasus and Its Impact on Georgia’s NATO Aspiration