What’s going on with Kaliningrad?


Moscow found itself at the center of yet another Eastern European conflict after Lithuania prohibits certain goods from traveling by rail through its territory to reach Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave nestled between Poland and the Baltic. Lithuania, notably a member of the European Union and NATO (just like Poland), claims that its decision was taken after consultation with the EU and that it is in line with the bloc’s Russian sanctions. But the Kremlin, predictably, did not take the news to heart. Here’s everything you need to know:

What and where is Kaliningrad?

The Russian outpost of Kaliningrad is located on the Baltic Sea, just north of Poland and south of Lithuania. The roughly Area of ​​5,830 square mileswhich is detached from mainland Russia, was originally part of Germany until Moscow took control in 1945. It was then ceded to the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, and its name was changed from Königsberg to Kaliningrad, by The Washington Post. The German population of the region was also forced to leave.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Kaliningrad became part of Russia and maintained “relatively close economic ties with European states in the years that followed”. Job writing. This rosy relationship changed, however, once Russian President Vladimir Putin took power, “particularly after Russia’s 2014 attack on Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea led to sanctions and condemnation from the EU”.

What’s the drama now?

Lithuanian state-owned rail operator LTG said last Friday it would no longer allow EU-sanctioned Russian goods to cross Lithuania on their way to Kaliningrad. Slave Governor Anton Alikhanov estimated the change would impact around 50% of the region’s imports. Sanctioned products include “construction machinery, machine tools and other industrial equipment”, according to CNN. Regular commercial travel and the transport of non-EU sanctioned goods can continue uninterrupted, and Kaliningrad can still receive Russian goods by sea.

Either way, the Kremlin is not happy and has asked Lithuania to immediately rescind the ban. On Monday, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia viewed Lithuania’s move as illegal and “part of a blockade, of course”. And Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, apparently went further, Attention “Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions.”

“Measures are being developed in an inter-ministerial format and will be taken in the near future. Their consequences will have a serious negative impact on the Lithuanian population,” he added, quoted by CNN according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Lithuania, meanwhile, stood by its decision – as did the EU, although the European Commission is preparing guidance for Lithuania to clarify sanctions and hopefully ‘defuse the dispute’, reports The Financial Times.

Why is Kaliningrad important for Russia?

The enclave plays a key military role for Russia, especially given its position between two NATO members. Moscow has “methodically bolstered” its forces in the region, “equipping them with state-of-the-art weaponry, including precision-guided Iskander missiles and a range of air defense systems.” Reuters reports. Such weapons can in particular “be positioned within easy striking distance of Western Europe”, adds the Job.

Kaliningrad is also Moscow’s only Baltic Sea port that is “ice-free all year round” and is home to Russia’s Baltic Sea Fleet, Germany notes. Deutsche Welle.

What does this mean for Lithuania?

Russia has threatened “hostile actions” that will have a “significant negative impact” on Lithuania, but such retaliation has remained without details so far. At the very least, Kaliningrad Governor Alikhanov suggested the backlash could possibly involve “closing the flow of goods through ports in Lithuania and other Baltic countries.” Reuters abstract. That said, however, Lithuania can be well placed to withstand certain economic backlashes, having “significantly reduced its economic and energy dependence on Russia”. It was the first EU country to stop using Russian gas and no longer import Russian oil.

But “when you have a military force and they are ruled by idiots – I apologize for the expression – of course you can expect anything,” Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas conceded on Wednesday. , in reference to Russia. Still, the country feels confident, he added, for Reuters.

And what could this quarrel mean for NATO?

The three Baltic states fear that Russia’s war in Ukraine will spread and “an emboldened Russia will attempt to seize a strategically key stretch of land along the Polish-Lithuanian border” known as the name of Suwalki Gap, the Job writing. If the roughly 40-mile passage, which connects Kaliningrad to Russian ally Belarus, falls under Moscow’s control, the Baltic countries could be left without a “land corridor to the rest of NATO”. It should also be noted that any attack on Lithuania, Estonia or Latvia would trigger NATO’s Mutual Defense Treaty, and that “any attempt to defend them would have to pass Kaliningrad and the missiles stationed there”. The New York Times adds.

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