The Kaliningrad situation must be resolved quickly. From Scott Ritter at consortiumnews.com:
The restoration of Russia’s rail connection with Kaliningrad is urgently needed to avoid a conflict in the Baltics that has worried NATO for a long time.
Lithuanian government building in Vilnius. (Pofka, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)
On June 18 the government of Lithuania acted on a decision by the European Commission that goods and cargo subject to European Union sanctions could be prohibited from transiting between one part of Russia to another, so long as they passed through E.U. territory.
Almost immediately Lithuania moved to block Russia from shipping certain categories of goods and materials by rail to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, encompassing the former East Prussian Baltic port city of Konigsberg and its surrounding environs. They were absorbed into Russia proper as a form of war reparations at the end of the Second World War.
Lithuania cited its legal obligation as an E.U. member to enforce E.U. sanctions targeting Russia. Russia, citing a 2002 treaty with Lithuania which ostensibly prohibits such an action, has called the Lithuanian move a blockade and has threatened a military response.
Lithuania, as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, is afforded the collective security guarantees spelled out in Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which stipulate that an attack against one member is an attack against all. Through its actions, Lithuania risked bringing Russia and NATO to the brink of armed conflict, the consequences of which could be dire for the entire world given the respective nuclear arsenals of the two sides.
You have to ask, how could the blockade of Kaliningrad not have unintended consequences? One side thinks one thing is going to happen, and the other side thinks something else entirely is going to happen. From Robert Bridge at strategic-consequences.org:
For the EU to impose even a partial blockade of Russian territory presents a tremendous risk to regional stability and world peace. Some are beginning to talk about the risk of World War III.
Lithuania has blocked a number of rail-transport goods from reaching the Russia exclave of Kaliningrad. Vilnius says it is merely adhering to the EU-mandated sanctions regime, but Moscow warns it has broken international law. Is this a casus belli?
Efforts to punish Russia for defending its territory from encroaching NATO forces, as well as a very real neo-Nazi threat in neighboring Ukraine ratcheted up this week as Vilnius halted the flow of goods into Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave that is bordered by NATO members Poland to the south, Lithuania to the north and east, and the Baltic Sea to the west.
Kaliningrad Governor Anton Alikhanov says the ban affects some 50 percent of all imported goods, including energy resources, metals, construction materials and advanced technology. Official pleas against panic buying went unheeded as frantic shoppers were seen hoarding products.
Lithuania must think its American big brother will bail it out should Russian decide to act on this newest provocation. From Ray McGovern at antiwar.com:
Lithuania is trying to create new “facts on the ground,” hoping to provoke the kind of response from Russia that will determine tone and substance of the important NATO summit scheduled for June 28-30 in Madrid.
On June 17 the Lithuanians announced they were banning the rail transit of goods through Lithuania to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. The ban went into effect on June 18. Sandwiched between EU and NATO members Poland and Lithuania, Kaliningrad receives supplies from Russia via rail and gas pipelines through Lithuania including goods sanctioned by the EU.
Moscow’s response came on June 20, with a foreign ministry statement calling the denial of transit “openly hostile.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov branded Lithuania’s actions “illegal” and told reporters:
“This decision is really unprecedented. It’s a violation of everything. We consider this illegal. The situation is more than serious … We need a serious in-depth analysis in order to work out our response.”
Could a sliver of land between Poland and Lithuania set off World War III. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:
Update (1100ET): The Russian Foreign Ministry has responded to Lithuania’s partial blockade of Kaliningrad, writing in a statement that they consider the “provocative measures” to be “openly hostile” and warning that the Kremlin may take action to “protect its national interests.”
Kaliningrad is sandwiched between the EU and NATO members Poland and Lithuania. Supplies from Russia are delivered via rail and gas pipelines through Lithuania – which announced last week that it was banning the rail transit of goods subject to EU sanctions, which include coal, advanced technology, metals and construction materials.
“If in the near future cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the territory of the Russian Federation through Lithuania is not restored in full, then Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests,” the statement reads.
They have demanded that Lithuania immediately lift the ban on a number of goods to the Kaliningrad region.
Why should the U.S. worry about an immigration dispute between Belarus on the one hand and Poland and Lithuania on the other? Particularly when U.S. involvement might bring Russia into the fray. From Ted Galen Carpenter at theamericanconservative.com:
It is a dangerous folly for the United States to extend security guarantees to small nations that quarrel with their neighbors.
The long-simmering feud between Belarus and several of its NATO neighbors (especially Poland and Lithuania) over the flow of refugees from the Middle East is escalating rapidly. On November 10, the European Union accused Belarus of mounting a “hybrid attack” by pushing migrants across the border into Poland. Poland and the Baltic republics have bolstered their security forces along their frontiers with Belarus to block the migrants trying to enter their countries. Thousands of hapless refugees are now stuck in makeshift camps in what amounts to a geographic no-man’s-land, and conditions there are becoming appalling.
It would be bad enough if the border crisis only involved humanitarian considerations, but the issue is taking on a military dimension. Britain has sent a small contingent of troops to Poland’s eastern frontier to show support for its NATO ally. On November 12, Russia and Belarus commenced joint snap paratrooper drills in Western Belarus, raising tensions another notch. More ominously, Moscow sent nuclear-capable bombers to patrol the skies over Belarus, emphasizing the Kremlin’s commitment to the security of that country and to Alexander Lukashenko’s government. Lukashenko has made his own contribution to the mounting tensions by threatening to cut off the transit of natural gas supplies from Russia to Poland and Germany—a step that would be quite worrisome on the eve of the winter season.
Both sides are engaging in dangerous and destructive posturing. There is little doubt that Belarus is exploiting the refugee flow to put pressure on its western neighbors. Minsk has provided financial incentives to encourage migrants to come to Belarus with promises that they will be able to gain asylum in the European Union’s eastern members and find new opportunities there. Reports also indicate that Belarusian authorities even supply the migrants with guides and maps to help them find the border, as well as wire cutters to deal with fences and other physical impediments there.