Lithuania infuriates Putin by widening blockade on Russian goods reaching Kaliningrad… as Russia shuts down gas pipeline to Germany for ten-day ‘maintenance’
- Additional banned goods now include concrete, wood and alcohol
- Russia warned of ‘harsh measures’ if Lithuania did not lift the blockade
- There are fears Russia could use Nord Stream 1 maintenance to turn off taps
Lithuania has enraged Vladimir Putin by expanding the blockade on Russian goods reaching the exclave of Kaliningrad.
Additional goods barred from this morning include concrete, wood, alcohol and alcohol-based industrial chemicals, a spokesperson for Lithuanian customs said.
Russia warned Lithuania and the European Union on Friday that it could adopt ‘harsh measures’ against them if the transit of some goods to and from Kaliningrad did not resume ‘within the coming days’.
The Kaliningrad regional governor today proposed a total ban on overland movement of goods between Russia and the three EU Baltic member states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, a move which could divert Russian freight from their ports to those in Kaliningrad.
‘This will provide activities to (our) maritime carriers and give work to Kaliningrad ports, which have been hit hard by the EU restrictions,’ Governor Anton Alikhanov said on Telegram.
The EU trade restrictions have been upgraded amid fears that Russia will lash out at Europe by turning off the gas taps during ten days of maintenance on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which starts today.
A police boat motors past the receiving station for the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline today as it closes for maintenance
Rail freight cars are shown in Kaliningrad following a ban on the transit of some goods to the Russian Baltic coast exclave
Vladimir Putin has threatened Lithuania after the NATO country blocked EU-sanctioned goods from reaching the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad
The annual work on the gas link was scheduled long in advance.
But the fear is that Gazprom might take the opportunity to simply shut off the valves, wreaking havoc across the continent.
‘Putin is going to turn off the gas tap… but will he turn it back on one day?’ German mass-market daily Bild asked on Sunday on its website.
After the Nord Stream stop on Monday morning, Italian energy company Eni and Austrian Group OMV both reported their supplies from Gazprom had also been reduced.
‘There are a number of scenarios in which we could end up in an emergency,’ Klaus Mueller, the head of Germany’s federal gas network regulator, told public broadcaster ZDF on Monday.
‘We are confronted with an unprecedented situation – anything is possible,’ German vice-chancellor Robert Habeck told public radio over the weekend.
‘It is possible that the gas will flow once more, even at a higher volume level than before.’
Today, Putin and his Belarus counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally, discussed a possible response to Lithuania (pictured today)
But, he warned, ‘it is possible that nothing comes through, and we still have to prepare for the worst’ as Europe scrambles to transition away from Russia for energy supplies.
Moscow had already wound down supplies by 60 per cent in recent weeks, blaming the absence of a turbine even as Berlin denounced what it calls a ‘political’ decision.
Those cuts had a knock-on effect on supplies to a number of EU states, while Poland and Bulgaria have also seen theirs stopped altogether.
Today, Putin and his Belarus counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally, discussed a possible response to Lithuania’s actions during a phone call.
The presidents discussed ‘certain possible joint steps…in connection with the illegal restrictions imposed by Lithuania on the transit of goods to the Kaliningrad region’, the Kremlin said in a short statement on Telegram.
Lithuania has no border with mainland Russia but is a neighbour of Belarus.
The dispute over the isolation of Kaliningrad is testing Europe’s resolve to enforce the sanctions amid fears of an escalating confrontation with Russia after other restrictions pushed Moscow to default on its debt.
EU officials, with Germany’s backing, sought in late June a swift compromise to resolve the stand-off.
However sources told Reuters that Lithuania, once ruled from Moscow within the old Soviet Union, had serious reservations about making what could be seen as a concession to the Kremlin.
Kaliningrad borders on NATO and EU member states Lithuania and Poland and relies on railways and roads through Lithuania for most goods.
The coastal territory has been cut off from some freight transport from mainland Russia since June 17 under the EU sanctions regime.
Goods that fall within humanitarian or essential categories, such as food, are exempted from the sanctions. Passenger traffic is not banned and Kaliningrad can still be reached by air or sea.
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