NATO member Lithuania risks triggering all-out war with Russia as Putin blasts export bloc

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Lithuania banned the transit of goods sanctioned by the European Union through Lithuanian territory to and from the exclave on Saturday, June 19, citing EU sanction rules imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The transit ban has ramped up already high levels of tension between Russia and NATO over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin has called the move “openly hostile” and warned it will take action if the ban is not lifted “in the near future”

Russia’s foreign ministry summoned Lithuania’s top envoy in Moscow on Monday, June 20, to protest the ban.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “The situation is more than serious.

“This decision is really unprecedented. It’s a violation of everything.”

He warned: “We consider this illegal. The situation is more than serious…we need a serious in-depth analysis in order to work out our response.”

Russia’s foreign ministry has demanded Vilnius reverse what it dubbed an “openly hostile” move immediately.

The Ministry said in a statement: “We consider provocative measures of the Lithuanian side which violate Lithuania’s international legal obligations, primarily the 2002 Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the European Union on transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the Russian Federation, to be openly hostile.”

It added: “If cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the Russian Federation via Lithuania is not fully restored in the near future, then Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests.”

Lithuania has said the ban was merely implementing EU sanctions brought in as part of a swathe of measures intended to put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin following the invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters in Luxembourg, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said: “It’s not Lithuania doing anything: it’s European sanctions that started working from 17 of June.

“It was done with consultation from European Commission and under European Commission guidelines.”

The transit ban took effect on Saturday when the cargo arm of Lithuania’s state-owned railway service informed clients that sanctioned goods such as steel and iron would not be permitted to cross its territory.

Russian senator Andrey Klimov warned the move was a “direct aggression against Russia, literally forcing us to immediately resort to proper self-defence”.

He vowed Russia would solve the blockade “in any way we choose”.

Any direct attack on Lithuania would be seen as an act of war against the NATO military alliance.

Kaliningrad is sandwiched between NATO members Poland and Lithuania and has no land border with Russia.

It was captured from Nazi Germany by the Red Army in April 1945 and ceded to the Soviet Union after World War Two.

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The enclave is  home to the Russian Baltic Fleet and a deployment location for Moscow’s nuclear-capable Iskander missiles.

News of the impending ban came on Friday in a video message posted by Kaliningrad’s governor Anton Alikhanov.

Mr Alikhanov said the ban would cover between 40 and 50 percent of the items that Kaliningrad imports from and exports to Russia through Lithuania as the EU sanctions list notably includes coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology.

He said: “We consider this to be a most serious violation … of the right to free transit into and out of Kaliningrad region.”

He added that authorities would press to have the measures lifted and, if the ban was not lifted quickly, the region would start discussing the need for more shops to carry goods to Russia.

Lithuania closed its airspace to flights from Russia to Kaliningrad in February, forcing commercial carriers to take a longer route over the Baltic Sea.

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