Explainer: why Russia-Lithuania tensions are rising – Times of India

New tensions are rising between Moscow and the West after Lithuania decided to halt the transport of some goods through its territory to Russia’s territory. Kaliningrad As part of EU sanctions on the Kremlin.
The Kremlin has warned that it would retaliate against sanctions stemming from its invasion of Ukraine, which would have a “significantly negative impact” on the Lithuanians, raising fears of a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO.
A look at why tensions are rising over Kaliningrad, a part of Russia on the Baltic Sea isolated from the rest of the country:
Russia’s westernmost region
The Kaliningrad region was once part of the German province of East Prussia, annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II in line with the 1945 Potsdam Agreement between the Allied Powers. Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia, was renamed Kaliningrad for Bolshevik leader Mikhail Kalinin.
An estimated 2 million Germans fled the area in the final months of World War II, and those who stayed were forcibly expelled after hostilities ended.
Soviet authorities developed Kaliningrad as a major ice-free port and a major fishing center, encouraging people from other regions to move to the area. Since the Cold War era, Kaliningrad has also served as a major base for Russia’s Baltic Fleet.
But since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of the Baltic countries, Kaliningrad finds itself separated from the rest of Russia by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, now all NATO members. To the south is Poland, another member of NATO.
military stronghold
As Russia’s relations with the West have soured, Kaliningrad’s military role has grown. Its location has placed it at the forefront of what Moscow has described as hostile to NATO policies.
The Kremlin has systematically strengthened its military forces there, equipping them with state-of-the-art weapons, including precision-guided Iskander missiles and a range of air defense systems.
As the region’s military importance grew, its reliance on goods coming through Poland and Lithuania made it particularly vulnerable.
transit stopped
Lithuania insisted that the ban on the movement of approved goods was part of the EU’s fourth package of sanctions against Russia, noting that it only applies to steel and ferrous metals starting June 17.
The government in Vilnius rejected Russia’s description of the move as a blockade, insisting that unrestricted freight and rail passengers could still pass through Lithuania.
In line with the EU decision, coal will be banned in August and shipments of oil and oil products will be halted in December.
Moscow considers a response
Moscow formally opposed stopping the shipment as a violation of the Russia-EU agreements on the free transit of goods to Kaliningrad.
Kaliningrad government Anton Alikhanov said the ban would affect half of all goods brought into the region, including cement and other building materials.
Nikolai Petrushev, a powerful secretary of the Security Council of Russia and a close confidant of the President Vladimir Putin, visited Kaliningrad on Tuesday to hold a meeting with the local authorities. He described the sanctions as “hostile action” and warned that Moscow would respond with unspecified measures that “will have a significant negative impact on the population of Lithuania.”
Petrushev did not elaborate, but Alikhanov suggested that the Russian response could include shutting down the flow of cargo through ports in Lithuania and other Baltic countries.
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. Transport of most Russian transit through Lithuanian ports has already been halted under EU sanctions, but Moscow may move to restrict transit for cargo from third countries through Lithuania.
Putin will decide Russia’s response after receiving Petrushev’s report.
Russia’s standoff with Lithuania is part of their rocky relationship, which dates back to Moscow’s annexation of the country with Estonia and Latvia in 1940. All three made their move toward independence under former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and regained it after the collapse of the USSR. 1991.
likely to increase
Some in the West have long feared that Russia may be trying to secure a land corridor between its ally Belarus and the Kaliningrad region through the so-called Suwaki Gap, a 65-kilometre (40 mi) strip of land in Poland. Watching the action. border with Lithuania.
Rhetoric on Russian state TV has reached a high pitch, with commentator Vladimir Solovyov accusing the West of turning the clock toward World War III.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvidas Anusukas warned on Wednesday of the danger of Russian provocation amid Kaliningrad tensions. “When you have a military force and they are governed by half-hearted – I apologize for the expression – of course you can expect everything,” he said, adding that Lithuania feels confident and its NATO relies on allies.
With a large number of Russian forces trapped in Ukraine, any use of force in the Baltics could be beyond Moscow’s conventional weapons capability.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kailas said he did not think there was any military threat to Lithuania, adding that Russia was trying to increase pressure on the EU to ease sanctions.
“Russia is very good at playing with our fears so that you know we backtracked on our decisions,” Kalas said in an interview with the Associated Press.
A Russian attempt to use force against Poland or Lithuania would initiate a direct conflict with NATO, which is obliged to defend any of its members under a mutual defense clause of its charter known as Article 5. Is.
On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price stressed Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to the clause, which he described as a “base” doctrine of NATO.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov responded by warning the EU and NATO against “dangerous rhetorical games” on Kaliningrad. “Some influential and powerful forces in the West are doing everything possible to further increase the tension in relations with Russia,” he said, adding that “some have no limits to invent scenarios when our A military confrontation would seem inevitable.”