Russia has threatened Lithuania with "serious" consequences over its transit ban of EU-sanctioned goods to Russia's exclave Kaliningrad, home to Russia's military Baltic fleet. File Photo by Anatoli Zhdanov/UPI | License Photo
June 22 (UPI) -- Russia vowed to retaliate against Lithuania for what it called "hostile actions" after the European nation banned the transit of EU-sanctioned goods across its territory to Russia's exclave Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.
Moscow threatened "serious" consequences, escalating tensions with NATO members who reiterated their support for the Baltic country.
On Friday, Lithuania banned the rail transport of sanctioned goods from Russia's mainland, including coal, metals and construction materials, to Kaliningrad. Moscow relies on its rail connection through Lithuania and Belarus, which is a Russian ally, to get goods to and from the Baltic Sea.
Kaliningrad is a small Russian exclave that shares borders with two NATO nations, Lithuania and Poland, but not Russia. It is home to about 500,000 people, as well as the Russian military's Baltic fleet and advanced nuclear-capable Iskander missile installations.
"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," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary-general of Russia's Security Council visited Kaliningrad on Tuesday and called Lithuania's actions a "violation of international law."
"Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions," Patrushev said to the Russian state media. "The consequences will have a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania."
Lithuania called talk of a blockade of Kaliningrad a lie and said the transit of passengers and non-sanctioned good "continues uninterrupted."
"Certainly I am always worried about the Russian retaliations," said Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief. "Lithuania has not taken any unilateral national restrictions and only applies the European Union sanctions," he said.
Borrell insisted there is no "blockade," calling reports in Russia that Lithuania was implementing its own sanctions "pure propaganda."
"It's fair to say that Kaliningrad is a strategic imperative for Russia," said Timothy Ash, senior sovereign strategist at BlueBay Asset Management.
Tensions between Russia and NATO were already heightened since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. NATO has been sending military equipment, weapons and humanitarian aid to help Ukraine, but has not sent troops.
"We are in a precautionary mood," Borrell said Monday. "But Lithuania is not guilty. It is not implementing national sanctions. It is not implementing their will. Whatever they are doing has been the consequence of the previous consultation with the European Commission."