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Russia threatens to hit back as Lithuania bans rail transit to Kaliningrad

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MOSCOW: Russia on Monday demanded the immediate lifting of Lithuania’s “openly hostile” restrictions on the rail transit of EU-sanctioned goods to Moscow’s exclave of Kaliningrad that borders Lithuania and Poland.

Moscow accused the Baltic nation of banning the rail transit of goods subject to sanctions imposed by the European Union over Russia’s miliary campaign in Ukraine.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday that it had summoned Lithuania’s charge d’affaires in Moscow to protest the “provocative” and “openly hostile” measures.

“If in the near future cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the territory of the Russian Federation through Lithuania is not restored in full, then Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests,” the ministry said.

According to the ministry, the transit ban violates a 2002 Russia-EU agreement The Kremlin said Lithuania’s decision was “unprecedented” and “in violation of everything there is”, and suggested that retaliatory measures would follow.

“The situation is more than serious and it requires a very deep analysis before formulating any measures and decisions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Earlier on Monday, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the ban was imposed in compliance with European sanctions over Ukraine.

“These are European sanctions that started to work from June 17,” he told journalists in Luxembourg, specifying that in this case it concerned the rail transport of steel products.

‘No right to threaten Lithuania’

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba criticised Russia following the statement from Moscow’s foreign ministry.

“Russia has no right to threaten Lithuania. Moscow has only itself to blame for the consequences of its unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine,” Kuleba said in a statement on social media.

According to Kaliningrad governor Anton Alikhanov, the ban will affect between 40-50 percent of all imports to the exclave.

The list includes coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology.

Speaking to Russian state TV on Monday, Alikhanov said the situation was “unpleasant but solvable” and the goods could be delivered by sea.

These goods were not intended for trade in Europe but for “supplying” the region, he added.

Wedged between EU and Nato members Lithuania and Poland, the heavily militarised exclave of Kaliningrad does not share a land border with Russia.

Grain blockade

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday that Russia should be held “accountable” if it keeps blocking the export of vitally needed grain from Ukraine.

“One cannot imagine that millions of tonnes of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime,” Borrell said at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers.

The West has demanded Moscow stop blockading Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to allow vast stores of grain to be taken to world markets as fears rise of famines in vulnerable regions.

Published in Dawn,June 21st, 2022

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