Russia threatened retaliation against Lithuania Monday after it barred rail transit from Russia to the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad to comply with sanctions imposed by the European Union over the war in Ukraine.
Russia demanded that Lithuania immediately lift the “unlawful” ban, with the Foreign Ministry in Moscow saying that if transport links are not restored in full “Russia reserves the right to take action in defense of its national interests.”
“This decision, indeed unprecedented, is a violation of everything and then some. We understand that it is connected to the relevant decision of the European Union to extend the sanctions to transit (of goods). This we also consider unlawful,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.
Lithuania, meanwhile, defended its decision to bar rail transit from Russia to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave 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.
Trains with goods for Kaliningrad travel via Belarus and Lithuania. There’s no transit through Poland. Russia can still supply the exclave by sea, without falling foul of EU sanctions.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said his country was simply implementing sanctions imposed by the EU, of which it is a member. He said the measures implemented Saturday were taken after “consultation with the European Commission and under its guidelines.”
Russia’s foreign ministry summoned Lithuania’s chief diplomatic representative in Moscow for a formal protest and alleged the Baltic nation was acting in breach of international agreements. Lithuania later summoned the Russian envoy in Vilnius to tell him the ban was in line with EU sanctions, and that there was no blockade of Kaliningrad.
Lina Laurinaityte Grigiene, a customs spokeswoman, said affected items include Russian steel “that cannot be transported over the territory of European countries.”
“The land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia is not stopped or blocked. All goods that are not under sanctions travel freely,” she said.
She added that next month, similar sanctions will be implemented on concrete and alcohol goods, from Aug. 10 on coal and from December no Russian oil will be allowed into EU territory.
Kaliningrad Governor Anton Alikhanov has estimated that the ban would affect some 50% of all goods flowing towards Kaliningrad by rail. He also said he would call on Russian authorities to take measures against Lithuania and would seek to have more goods sent by ship.
The EU has imposed a number of import and export restrictions on Russia as part of its economic sanctions. The bloc said it has excluded products related to health, pharma, food and agriculture.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.