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Lithuania defends ban on certain goods to Kaliningrad in Russia

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Lithuania on Monday defended its decision to ban rail transit from Russia to a Russian enclave of Baltic Sea goods hit by European Union sanctions, in a move that sparked controversy. strong anger of Moscow in a context of strong tensions in the region.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said his country was simply applying the sanctions imposed by the EU, of which it is a member. He said the measures implemented on Saturday were taken after “consultation with the European Commission and in accordance with its guidelines”.

“Sanctioned goods will no longer be allowed to transit through Lithuanian territory,” Landsbergis added.

Goods on the list include steel, but should be broadly expanded to cover items ranging from coal to alcoholic beverages.

The enclave of Kaliningrad, home to some 430,000 people, is surrounded by Lithuania and Poland, another EU country, to the south and isolated from the rest of Russia. Trains carrying goods for Kaliningrad pass through Belarus and Lithuania. There is no transit through Poland. Russia can still supply the exclave by sea, without falling under EU sanctions.

Russia has demanded that Lithuania immediately lift the ban, with the Foreign Ministry in Moscow saying that if transport links are not fully restored, ‘Russia reserves the right to take action to defend its national interests’ .

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov strongly denounced the “illegal” ban.

“This decision, indeed unprecedented, is a violation of everything and even some. We understand that it is linked to the relevant decision of the European Union to extend the sanctions to transit (of goods). This we also consider illegal,” Peskov told reporters on Monday.

The Foreign Ministry summoned Lithuania’s chief diplomatic representative to Moscow for an official protest and alleged the Baltic nation was acting in violation of international agreements. Lithuania has not had an ambassador in Moscow since April, when it downgraded diplomatic ties in protest at the killing of civilians in Ukraine by Russian troops after the Feb. 24 invasion.

Lithuania then summoned the Russian envoy to Vilnius to tell him that the ban was in line with EU sanctions and that there was no blockade of Kaliningrad.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Lithuania’s decision should not be compared to the situation in Ukraine. “The rest of the world will not be affected by what is happening in Kaliningrad, but the rest of the world is very affected by what is happening in Ukraine,” he said.

Borrell added that Lithuania had not taken any unilateral national restrictions and denied that land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia had been stopped or banned.

“There is no blockade,” Borrell said. He added that the transit of unsanctioned passengers and goods continues.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted: “Russia has no right to threaten Lithuania. Moscow has only itself to blame for the consequences of its unprovoked and unwarranted invasion of Ukraine.

On Monday, Lithuanian customs said the sanctions, which came into force in mid-June, were part of the EU’s fourth round of sanctions imposed on March 15.

Lina Laurinaityte Grigiene, a spokeswoman for customs, said the items affected include Russian steel “which cannot be transported within the territory of European countries”.

“Land transit between Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia is neither stopped nor blocked. All goods that are not subject to sanctions travel freely,” she said.

She added that from July 10, similar sanctions will be applied on concrete and alcohol products, from August 10 on coal, and from December, no Russian oil will be allowed on the territory of Russia. EU.

Anton Alikhanov, the governor of the Russian enclave, estimated that the ban would affect around 50% of all goods transported to Kaliningrad by rail. He also said he would call on Russian authorities to take action against Lithuania and seek to ship more goods by ship.

Kaliningrad, home to Russia’s Baltic Fleet, is Russia’s only ice-free Baltic port. Moscow has also deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles there.

As part of its economic sanctions, the EU has imposed a number of import and export restrictions on Russia. The bloc said it was careful not to harm the Russian population with its packages of measures and therefore excluded products related to health, pharmaceuticals, food and agriculture. The list of sanctioned products includes up to 90% of imports of oil, coal, steel, iron, wood, as well as caviar and vodka. Bans are enforced by EU customs authorities.

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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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