Kaliningrad set to be next flashpoint?
Leaders of NATO countries have taken extraordinary steps to ensure that Russia’s war against Ukraine doesn’t extend into NATO territory. So far, they’ve been successful.
But the Russian government says it’s furious that Lithuania – a former Soviet Republic that’s now a NATO and EU member – is blocking Russian goods shipments to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave set between Lithuania and Poland that’s hundreds of miles away from the rest of Russia. Kaliningrad, home to about 1 million people, is a strategically important spot.
It’s home to Russia’s Baltic Fleet headquarters and, though Russia denies it, there may also be nuclear-capable Iskander missiles stored there. Lithuania is now blocking rail supplies from Russian territory to Kaliningrad, which Russia claims is a violation of international law.
Lithuania says it’s simply enforcing an EU ban on the transport through EU territory of a range of Russian products, from heavy machinery to luxury goods. If Lithuania keeps it up, Russia would be forced to ship the equipment to Kaliningrad’s port on the Baltic Sea. But Moscow warns that Lithuania will face “serious” consequences unless it allows the trains to pass. The EU has backed Lithuania’s refusal to resume the rail shipments, so it’s up to President Vladimir Putin to decide how high tensions will rise.