Lithuania blocks transit to and from Kaliningrad. Again…

A freight train arrives to the border railway station Kybartai, between Kaliningrad and Lithuania in Kybartai. Photo: PAP/EPA/VALDA KALNINA

Lithuania found a way to block transit to Kaliningrad in spite of the European Union’s decision that sanctions normally applicable against Russia should not apply to the transit between the Kaliningrad Region and the rest of Russia via EU territory.

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Lithuania banned the rail transit of certain sanctioned goods between the Kaliningrad Region and mainland Russia passing through its territory back in June. Russia alleged this was a blockade and began making threats, although as Lithuanians kept calmy stressing, Kaliningrad remained accessible via sea, only certain commodities (building materials, concrete, ferrous metals) were banned from being transported through Lithuanian territory, and passenger traffic was not affected. The Lithuanian government also pointed out that these are EU sanctions, which Lithuania is merely implementing.

Ultimately the EU decided that the transit between Kaliningrad and Russia proper, via an EU member state’s territory, would not constitute a breach of sanctions. Vilnius complied, although it warned that the Kremlin may see this as a weakness.

But if decision-makers in Brussels cannot muster enough courage to stand up to Russia, the Lithuanians, whose country’s population is just 2.8 mln people seem to be made of harder stuff.

Šiaulių bankas is the only bank that services transactions linked to the entire transit of Russian goods via Lithuania, and it announced that it will cease all dealings with Russia by September. And since transit cannot be paid for, it cannot happen.

“I personally handed in a note on the Šiaulių bankas,” Russian chargé d'affaires in Lithuania, Sergey Ryabakon told the state-controlled Rossiya 24 TV channel. “Until September 1 there is still time to change this decision.”

It is interesting to note, that Russia protested so vehemently against Lithuania implementing the EU ban on certain products, yet now, after successfully cowing Brussels into making an exception, finds itself losing the ability to ship ANY commodities via Lithuanian territory since Šiaulių bankas will completely cease dealing with Russia, and not just in relation to sanctioned products.