Little Lithuania is cracking down on big Russia: since Saturday, Russian trains traveling through Lithuanian territory to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad have been banned from transporting certain goods. Moscow is angry and threatens retaliation.
What are these retributions? Will war break out in the Baltics? Will NATO protect the small country? Blick clarifies the most pressing questions.
What is Kaliningrad?
The Kaliningrad Oblast is a Russian exclave sandwiched between the EU and NATO states of Poland and Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. For the Kremlin, “mini-Russia” in the middle of Europe is one of the most important bases of all. Moscow has stationed the Baltic Sea fleet here. There are also fighter jets, an early warning system and nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles.
Kaliningrad is a third the size of Switzerland and has just under a million inhabitants. As for supplies, there is an agreement with Lithuania that Russia may transport people and goods from Belarus by rail through the so-called Suwalki Gap. The straight line from Belarus to Kaliningrad is 66 kilometers, the border 100 kilometers.
What goods is Lithuania blocking?
Blocked goods include cement, coal, building materials and metals, among others. According to Kaliningrad governor Anton Alikhanov (35), 40 to 50 percent of transit between the Russian heartland and the exclave is affected.
While Russia speaks of a “blockade”, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte (47) says: “There is no blockade of Kaliningrad. It’s just that sanctions have been in place for some of the items included in the so-called sanctions package since last weekend.”
For Russia, the word “blockade” evokes painful memories of World War II, when the German Wehrmacht blocked Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. At that time, over a million people died.
What are the effects of the measures?
Russia now has to bring the blocked goods from St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad by sea – this is more complex and much more expensive. The governor of Kaliningrad is relaxed: They have their own electricity and their own food. Even tourists are enough.
Could the corridor also be banned for people?
Lithuania will only implement sanctions from the organizations to which it belongs, i.e. the EU and NATO. Military expert Mauro Mantovani (58): “The country will not go beyond that, exceptions will be granted.”
What is Moscow threatening?
Moscow will respond to such “hostile actions” with countermeasures, said Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev (70). “The consequences of which will have a severe negative impact on the population of Lithuania.” Various politicians are calling for “self-defence” and the use of nuclear weapons if a total blockade were to occur.
What could Russia’s “countermeasures” look like?
According to President Gitanas Nauseda (58), Lithuania is prepared for the threatened Russian retaliatory measures. This includes excluding Lithuania from the joint power grid with Russia. Mauro Mantovani is also considering further restrictions on exports, including an embargo, and cyber attacks on critical infrastructure.
War in the Baltics?
Duma deputy Oleg Morozov (68) proposes clearing the land corridor militarily. There is also speculation in Moscow that Russia’s air force could hijack the airspace over Lithuania and supply Kaliningrad with cargo planes.
But Mauro Mantovani does not expect a military attack. “The Russians know the NATO article on assistance. In addition, they have no more ground troops available for another theater.”
How would NATO react in the event of an attack?
In the past few weeks, NATO has been arming itself in the Baltic states. “NATO would definitely stand by Lithuania,” says Mantovani. The Russians knew exactly what the consequences of any form of interference would be.