Lithuania is a member of NATO and is thus subject to its protections under Article 5 which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all members
Even as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin is ratcheting up tensions with Lithuania.
A top Russian official on Tuesday warned that Lithuania’s decision to bar Moscow from shipping certain goods by rail to Kaliningrad will result in a response that will have a “significant negative impact” on the Lithuanian people.
Nikolai Patrushev, the powerful secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, visited the Kaliningrad region on Tuesday and vowed during a national security meeting to take action over the ban.
“Russia will definitely respond to such hostile actions,” Patrushev said. “The relevant measures are being drawn up in an interagency format and will be adopted shortly. Their consequences will have a significant negative impact on the population of Lithuania.”
He didn’t elaborate on what action Russia might take. Patrushev will report on results of his trip to Kaliningrad to his office said.
Let’s take a closer look at why Russia is upset, Kaliningrad’s importance to Moscow and why NATO’s Article 5 is relevant to the matter:
Why is Russia upset?
Lithuanian authorities earlier this month imposed a ban on shipping certain goods including coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology by rail to Russia’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.
But it wasn’t of Lithuania’s choosing.
BBC quoted Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis as saying: “It’s not Lithuania doing anything: it’s European sanctions that started working from 17 June… It was done with consultation from the European Commission and under European Commission guidelines.”
The EU backed with foreign policy chief Josep Borrell saying Vilnius was following EU sanctions.
“Lithuania has not taken any unilateral national restrictions and only applies the European Union sanctions,” Borrell said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
Why Kaliningrad is important to Russia
Kaliningrad, a small Russian exclave, is located on the Baltic Sea and sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It is home to around 487,000 people and covers an area of around 86 square miles.
As per BBC, trains with goods for Kaliningrad travel via Belarus and Lithuania, there’s no transit through Poland. But Russia can still supply the exclave by sea without falling foul of EU sanctions, as per the report.
As per CNBC, Kaliningrad, once part of the German empire, was seized by Soviet troops from Nazi Germany in 1945 and has remained in Russian hands ever since, becoming an important sea port for Russia allowing it straightforward access to the Baltic Sea.
Indeed, the Kaliningrad Oblast (or province) acts as the headquarters of Russia’s Baltic Fleet.
The fleet holds regular military drills in the Baltic Sea, having completed 10 days of exercises as recently as 19 June involving 60 warships and 10,000 military personnel, as per the report.
What’s the NATO angle?
Lithuania is a member of NATO.
And as such, it is subject to protection under Article 5, which reads:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”
In short? An attack on one is an attack on all.
As per BBC, state department spokesman Ned Price said the US was standing by Lithuania, describing its commitment to NATO Article 5 as “iron clad”.
What could Russa do?
Russia certainly has options.
As Timothy Ash, senior sovereign strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, told CNBC, “Russia will react for sure, the only question is what that will be … [and] what Russia could do militarily,” he noted.
The question, Ash said, is whether Putin can afford a two-front war.
“A land attack to drive a corridor through Lithuania would be a direct attack on Lithuania triggering NATO Article 5 defence. Putin knows this – that’s war with NATO. Can Putin afford that when he is struggling to deliver on even his now much-reduced strategic objectives in Ukraine? He would also have to launch an assault through Belarus, stretching his supply lines, and splitting his forces,” he noted.
Russia, Lithuania trade barbs
The ban prompted a flurry of angry retorts from Moscow, with the Kremlin denouncing the move as unprecedented and unlawful.
The Russian foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned the European Union ambassador to Russia, Markus Ederer, and “expressed a resolute protest” over the transit ban. The ministry said in a statement that it “demanded an immediate resumption of the normal operation” of the transit, otherwise “retaliatory measures will follow.”
The Lithuanian government stressed in a written statement Tuesday that “the transit of passengers and non-sanctioned goods to and from the Kaliningrad region through Lithuania continues uninterrupted,” and that the ban on transit of sanctioned goods was merely part the fourth package of EU sanctions against Russia.
Top Lithuanian officials decried Russia’s reaction to the measure as an attempt by the Kremlin to wind up a propaganda campaign trying to create an image of a “blockade” mainly for internal consumption.
Lithuanian defence minister Arvydas Anu?auskas tweeted Monday that “European countries may continue to be intimidated by Russia” … but “let’s not lose the ability to separate disinformation and propaganda from real possibilities.”
The country’s prime minister, Ingrida Simonyte, rejected claims about the blockade of Kaliningrad as a product of Kremlin propaganda.
“It’s just that EU sanctions have come into force on some of the goods included in the package, namely steel and ferrous metals. The transportation of all other goods that are either unsanctioned or not yet subject to sanctions is continuing, as is the transit of passengers” she said, noting the great irony behind Russia’s references to international treaties.
“I don’t know if there’s any international treaty left that Russia hasn’t violated yet,” Simonyte said.
With inputs from agencies