Lithuania rail checks focus attention on isolated Russian enclave of Kaliningrad
Lithuania is threatening to effectively cut off rail links to Russia’s Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad and isolate it from the rest of Russia.
Approximately 50 per cent of Kaliningrad’s imports from Russia passes through Lithuania, once a minor Soviet republic.
While the Ukraine invasion in February was supposed to end Russia’s encirclement, it now appears Vladimir Putin is being pushed around by a country of 2.8 million.
Kaliningrad is acutely vulnerable. With a territory approximately the size of Northern Ireland, its population of about a million needs cement, iron, seeds, eggs, fuel and most other supplies apart from munitions. Most of its supply routes can easily be cut by its neighbours.
The new rail guidance is understood to uphold checks on Russian goods trains and trucks to enforce sanctions but to allow the movement of metals and construction materials if they are for Russia’s internal market, which includes Kaliningrad.
According to the region’s governor, the Lithuanian measures have cut off up to half of Kaliningrad’s imports, including fuel, building materials and electronics.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte has said Russia is lying over claims of a Kaliningrad rail blockade.
“Lithuania is complying with the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia for its aggression and war against Ukraine,” Simonyte said.
Russia must use freight ships to move the banned goods to Kaliningrad. However, capacity is limited: at the moment there are only two of these ships in operation in the Baltic, although the exclave’s governor said there would be seven more by the end of the year.
A diplomat told The Times that Lithuania increased checks to squeeze Russia and focus Nato’s attention on the Baltic states ahead of next week’s summit.
Kaliningrad, which seldom ices over in the winter, is the headquarters of Russia’s Baltic fleet.
Nato’s vulnerable Suwalki Gap also focuses western minds. The 100km land corridor between Lithuania and Poland links Kaliningrad and Belarus, a loyal Russian ally. An attack could block the Baltic states from the rest of Nato.
“We need a significantly higher presence in the region,” said Simonyte, who is expected to ask the Nato summit for a greater permanent troop presence.
Lithuanian defence minister Arvydas Anusauskas stressed the danger of Russian military “provocations we won’t be able to predict”. The minister, rather undiplomatically, said: “When you have military forces and they are led by morons, pardon my French, of course, you can expect anything, but we are realistic, we have allies.”
Kaliningrad. Picture credit: Pexels