It’s official. Brussels clarifies how sanctioned goods must go to Kaliningrad via Lithuania

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The debate on the movement of EU-sanctioned goods from Russia to Kaliningrad has ended. The European Commission has clarified that sanctioned goods can travel via Lithuania to Kaliningrad by rail, but not by truck. The sanctions regulations clearly distinguish between the prohibition of importing and transporting goods by land written at the TV3.lt news portal.

But Lithuania will have to ensure that the EU sanctions are not circumvented through the transit of goods, which means that the transport volumes of specific goods in the last 3 years will be considered. If the volume of goods exceeds the averages of the last years, then transit of goods by rail can be stopped.

“Member States will check that transit volumes remain within the historical averages of the last three years, which specifically reflects the real demand for essential goods at destination, and will look for unusual flows or patterns of trade that could reflect an attempt to circumvent sanctions. In such a case, Member States will take all appropriate measures by European Union law, including, where necessary, the prohibition of transit or the detention of goods,” reads the clarification.

According to the European Commission, the European sanctions prohibit the direct or indirect purchase, import, export or transfer of the specific goods in question if they originate in Russia or are exported from Russia. This case concerns steel, iron, cement, alcohol, luxury goods, coal, oil and petroleum products. Still, the entry into force of the sanctions for specific groups of goods varies according to dates.

A specific article in the regulation also prohibits transport companies established in Russia from transporting any goods by land within the territory of the European Union, including in transit. However, this prohibition does not apply to goods transported between Russia and Kaliningrad unless other regulation articles sanction them.

It follows, therefore, that sanctioned goods, such as alcohol, cement, steel, iron and so on, cannot be transported by land through Lithuania. But the Commission has not found any arguments why they could not be transported by rail.

“Such a specific regime does not apply to rail transport on the same route, but there is no doubt that the Member States have a duty to effectively monitor this to ensure that it complies with European Union law,” the Commission said.

Transit of goods or technology of a military nature, dual-use or technology is prohibited in any case.

Lopata: Lithuania has become a territory with a road

Member of the European Parliament Petras Auštrevičius argues that this interpretation of the European Commission is not in Lithuania’s interests. “We are getting involved in games, in potentially permanent disputes. We will say “enough”, the Russians will say “not enough”. We are getting a permanent tension issue, which can be turned into a tension-arousing issue at any time,” the MEP assessed.

Raimundas Lopata, a parliamentarian and an expert on Kaliningrad, argues that this algorithm is an exception to the exception and that it is a concession to Russia, which started the war in Ukraine.

“The main question in this story is: are we some kind of a road here, with passing in, or are we a country after all? This is a question of principle. Any exceptions to the exceptions do not mean a state, but a territory with a road,” Lopata said.

He says that this outcome is a clear failure for Lithuania. In his view, it was a mistake not to bundle together the transit of goods to Kaliningrad and the unblocking of Odesa, for example, so that Ukraine could transport grain to the world.

Lithuania could still raise the issue of implementing the sanctions at the European Council, where President Gitanas Nausėda is attending from our country. According to Mr Lopata, Lithuania should reject the European Commission’s interpretation, and the role of the Lithuanian President would be important in this case.

The parliamentarian and former political scientist said that, in general, a very clear problem is emerging in Lithuania: there is a lack of institutional memory, which means that there are no people left in state institutions who, for example, still remember Lithuania’s negotiations on the transit of passengers, goods and military transit from Russia to the Kaliningrad area. In all of them, Lithuania ensured that its interests were respected.

“Let us recall how we negotiated the three Kaliningrad transits: military, people and goods. Somehow everyone said we had won. That means we knew how to behave in such situations. First of all, we knew that this was a matter of our sovereignty. Military transit is in our hands, goods transit is a mechanism that was invented and is in our interests, and in the interests of the passengers too,” Lopata notes.

Asked whether it is necessary to demand personal responsibility in this case, Lopata says that there is no need to do so. In contrast, Saulius Skvernelis, a member of the opposition and the chairman of the Democratic Union “In the Name of Lithuania”, says that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gabrielius Landsbergis, has been invited to the group’s meeting next Wednesday, where he is expected to answer the questions of the MPs. Skvernelis does not rule out the possibility of an interpellation or a no-confidence procedure against the Minister.

However, politicians in the opposition are saying that Landsbergis may get off scot-free because the conservatives can “wrap their arms” around President Nausiedas, telling him that he is as much to blame for the foreign policy failures as the Foreign Ministry or the Government. This is because, according to the Constitution, the President decides on the main issues of foreign policy and implements foreign policy together with the Government. This makes it difficult for the President to hold a minister to account.

The Lithuanian authorities said they had coordinated everything

This outcome was to be expected, as the European Union’s sanctions against Russia were aimed at preventing the import of specific goods from Russia into the European Union or the transit of goods for sale to third countries, but not at disrupting the transport of goods between different parts of Russia.

Lithuanian representatives claim that they have already coordinated the sanctions with the European Commission and, on the 15th of April, received clarification from several Commission Directorates-General that sanctioned goods such as steel, iron, cement, alcohol or luxury goods cannot transit through the territory of the European Union from Russia to Kaliningrad.

However, some sources familiar with the directorates’ clarification say that, in fact, the content of the clarification was not unambiguous and that such matters must be negotiated at the highest level, not with bureaucrats.

Last week, a Lithuanian delegation visited Brussels with Deputy Foreign Minister Raimundas Karoblis and the Prime Minister’s advisor Jonas Survila, and positions were coordinated. On Monday, a meeting was held at the Presidential Palace, after which neither the representatives of the Presidential Palace, nor Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, nor the Speaker of the Seimas Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, nor the Deputy Foreign Minister R. Karoblis was willing to comment on the situation. This has already shown that Lithuania is not succeeding in convincing the European Commission to adopt a strong Lithuanian position.

The regulations were not very clear

EU sanctions have been adopted in batches since 2014 when Russia seized Crimea and started military unrest in Donbas. However, since the Kremlin launched an all-out war in Ukraine on the 24th of February this year, European countries have adopted more sanctions on top of the previous restrictions.

On the 15th of March, the European countries agreed on the fourth package of sanctions which, as of the 17th of June, prohibits the direct or indirect importation into the European Union of iron and steel products if they originate in Russia or are exported from Russia. The purchase, transport, technical assistance, brokering, financing and insurance of these products are also prohibited.

It is easy to understand that this ban is more targeted at European Union entities and aims to prevent Russia from losing around EUR 3.3 billion worth of European exports. But the fourth package of sanctions does not yet contain a word about Kaliningrad.

On the 8th of April, the countries of the European Union adopted the fifth package of sanctions, which already contains a direct and explicit mention of Kaliningrad. Crucially, along with the fifth sanctions package came a ban on Russian-based road transport companies transporting goods by road within the territory of the European Union, including in transit. This prohibition does not apply if Russian transport companies transport mail or unauthorised transit goods between Russia and Kaliningrad. Regarding roads, it means trucks, but Lithuania has interpreted this to include transporting goods by rail.

The fifth package also included a ban on importing shellfish, caviar, alcohol, cement, timber, silver, ships, trucks and other goods into the European Union, which came into force on the 10th of July.

In this case, the ban is also more targeted at European Union entities. That is to say, and it is prohibited to acquire, import, transfer, provide technical assistance, brokerage services and financing, directly or indirectly, for these goods. The European Commission has communicated that the value of this import ban is around €5.5 billion.

In principle, therefore, it can be stated that the fifth sanctions package does mention that goods may transit between Kaliningrad and Russia if they are not prohibited under other provisions of the regulation. Still, the bans that came into force on the 17th of June and the 10th of July mainly focused on imports into the European Union or preventing Russian exports.

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