the first impulses of the conflict in the Baltic region

“Violation of everything” ; “Frankly hostile gesture” ; “Serious consequences” ; “Russia reserves the right to act in defense of its national interests”… Vilnius’s June 18 application of European sanctions on Russian goods in transit through Lithuania to enter the Kaliningrad enclave has caused outrage in Moscow.

And as the Russian army continues to try to advance into Ukrainian territory, almost 1,000 kilometers to the southeast, increasing isolation of the exclave is exacerbating tensions in this strategic region, where NATO, Russia and Belarus are struggling to coexist. .

The answer is “being prepared”

Arriving in Kaliningrad on June 21, Russian Security Council Secretary and Chief Kremlin Hawk Mykola Patrushev assured that the answer was already there. “preparation for” and would have “Serious negative consequences for the population of Lithuania”. According to Tatiana Kastueva-Jean, director of the Russia and the New Independent States Center at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri), Moscow could thus first target the Baltic states through economic revenge and “Going through the Russian-speaking population of these countries to try to create social protests”.

Lithuania, for its part, has sought to minimize the importance of this development by assuring through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs that “Transit of unauthorized passengers and goods to and from the Kaliningrad region continues uninterrupted”. The system, agreed with Russia in preparation for Lithuania’s accession to the EU in 2004, allowed nearly 400,000 Russians to travel annually between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia through transit documents issued by Lithuania.

Almost three weeks after the EU voted in favor of the latest package of sanctions against Russia, Lithuania’s statement could come “First of all, the issue of the deadline for implementation with the gradual entry into force of sanctions, as well as, perhaps, the process of consultation with the European Commission”, says Jan Dunin-Wasowicz, a lawyer specializing in sanctions at Hughes Hubbard & Reed.

Very special status

On June 20, European Foreign Minister Josep Borrell directly supported Vilnius, assuring that “Lithuania does nothing but follow the instructions of the European Commission”.

According to the governor of Kaliningrad Anton Alikhanov, these goods, however, will account for up to 50% of total trade passing through Lithuania. In the exclave, the announcement of the “blockade” caused a brief rush to supermarkets and, according to regional media “Klops”, to shops of homemade products and building materials – cement was one of the banned products.

Moscow’s tensions over the implementation of these sanctions are linked to the special status of this Russian region, isolated from the rest of the country, dependent on Moscow for energy and food, and surrounded on all sides by NATO members. Exclave, which after the annexation of Crimea by Russia became a “military stronghold” where “Every event that may concern Russia is perceived, often greatly exaggerated, as covert aggression aimed at marginalizing it.” wrote researcher Sergei Sukhankin in September 2021 in an analytical note published by Ifri, in particular on the deployment of warning radars, Iskander-M ballistic missile systems and new regiments.

This, while the West casts its eyes on the Suwalki Corridor, is 35 kilometers of lakes, fields and forests between Poland and Lithuania – and wedged between Kaliningrad and Belarus, the only land crossing point between the Baltic States and other Nordic countries. Atlantic Alliance.

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