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EXPLAINER: Why Russia-Lithuania tensions are rising

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New tensions between Moscow and the West are rising after Lithuania determined to halt the transport of some items by its territory to the Russian area of Kaliningrad as a part of European Union sanctions on the Kremlin.

The Kremlin warns it would retaliate towards the sanctions, stemming from its invasion of Ukraine, in a means that may have a “significant negative impact” on the Lithuanian individuals, elevating fears of a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO.

A have a look at why tensions are rising over Kaliningrad, part of Russia on the Baltic Sea that’s separated from the remainder of the nation:

RUSSIA’S WESTERNMOST TERRITORY

The Kaliningrad area as soon as was a part of the German province of East Prussia, which was taken over by the Soviet Union after World War II consistent with the 1945 Potsdam settlement among the many Allied powers. East Prussia’s capital of Konigsberg was renamed Kaliningrad, for Mikhail Kalinin, a Bolshevik chief.

An estimated 2 million of Germans fled the territory within the last months of World War II, and people who stayed had been forcibly expelled after hostilities ended.

The Soviet authorities developed Kaliningrad as a significant ice-free port and a key middle of fishing, encouraging individuals from different areas to maneuver into the territory. Since the Cold War period, Kaliningrad additionally has served as a significant base of Russia’s Baltic fleet.

But because the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of the Baltic nations, Kaliningrad finds itself separated from the remainder of Russia by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, now all NATO members. To the south is Poland, one other NATO member.

MILITARY BASTION

As Russia’s relations with the West have soured, Kaliningrad’s army function has grown. Its location has put it within the forefront of Moscow’s efforts to counter what it described as NATO’s hostile insurance policies.

The Kremlin has methodically bolstered its army forces there, arming them with state-of-the-art weapons, together with precision-guided Iskander missiles and an array of air protection methods.

As the area’s army significance has grown, its dependence on items coming by Poland and Lithuania has made it significantly weak.

TRANSIT HALTED

Lithuania emphasised that the ban on the motion of sanctioned items was a part of the fourth package deal of EU sanctions towards Russia, noting it solely applies to metal and ferrous metals beginning on June 17.

The authorities in Vilnius rejected Russia’s description of the transfer as a blockade, stressing that unsanctioned items and rail passengers can nonetheless transfer by Lithuania.

In line with the EU resolution, coal will probably be banned in August and shipments of oil and oil merchandise will probably be halted in December.

MOSCOW MULLS A RESPONSE

Moscow formally protested the halt of shipments to Kaliningrad as a violation of Russia-EU agreements on free transit of products to the area.

Kaliningrad Gov. Anton Alikhanov stated the ban will have an effect on as much as half of all gadgets introduced into the area, together with cement and different development supplies.

Nikolai Patrushev, the highly effective secretary of Russia’s Security Council and an in depth confidant of President Vladimir Putin, visited Kaliningrad on Tuesday to fulfill with native officers. He described the restrictions as “hostile actions” and warned that Moscow will reply with unspecified measures that “will have a significant negative impact on the population of Lithuania.”

Patrushev didn’t elaborate, but Alikhanov suggested that the Russian response could include shutting the flow of cargo via the ports of Lithuania and other Baltic nations.

However, Lithuania has significantly reduced its economic and energy dependence on Russia, recently becoming the first EU country to stop using Russian gas. It no longer imports Russian oil and has suspended imports of Russian electricity. The transport of most Russian transit via Lithuanian ports already has been halted under EU sanctions, but Moscow could move to restrict transit for cargo from third countries through Lithuania.

Putin will decide Russia’s respond after receiving Patrushev’s report.

Russia’s standoff with Lithuania is part of their rocky relationship that dates back to Moscow’s annexation of the country, along with Estonia and Latvia, in 1940. The three pressed their move toward independence under former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and regained it when the USSR collapsed in 1991.

FEARS OF ESCALATION

Some in the West long have feared that Russia could be eyeing military action to secure a land corridor between its ally Belarus and the Kaliningrad region via the so-called Suwalki Gap, a 65-kilometer (40-mile) strip of land in Poland along the border with Lithuania.

The rhetoric on Russian state TV has risen to a high pitch, with commentator Vladimir Solovyov accusing the West of brinkmanship that has set the clock ticking toward World War III.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas warned Wednesday of the hazard of Russian provocations amid the Kaliningrad tensions. “When you have a military force and they are ruled by the half-witted — I apologize for the expression — of course you can expect everything,” he said, adding that Lithuania feels confident and relies on its NATO allies.

With the bulk of Russia’s military bogged down in Ukraine, any use of force in the Baltics could be beyond Moscow’s conventional weapons capability.

A Russian attempt to use force against Poland or Lithuania would trigger a direct conflict with NATO, which is obliged to protect any of its members under its charter’s mutual defense clause known as Article 5.

On Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price emphasized Washington’s “ironclad” dedication to that clause, which he described as NATO’s “bedrock” precept.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov responded by warning the EU and NATO towards “dangerous rhetorical games” over Kaliningrad. “Certain influential and powerful forces in the West are doing all they can to further exacerbate tensions in relations with Russia,” he stated, including that “some simply have no limits in inventing scenarios when a military confrontation with us would look inevitable.”

——

Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius, Lithuania, contributed.


EXPLAINER: Why Russia-Lithuania tensions are rising.
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