In response to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, the West and Lithuania continue to look for possible measures to influence the Kremlin regime. The Kaliningrad blockade is among the options under consideration, Indrė Naureckaitė writes in lrytas.lt.
Although Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė stressed that Lithuania could not unilaterally cut off transit to Kaliningrad, she said that consultations with the European Union (EU) on the issue are not taking place.
However, public discussions about a possible blockade of Kaliningrad have already been noticed by Russian politicians and have also been widely echoed in Lithuania – while some experts say that Lithuania is only provoking the regime with such talk, others are convinced that it is necessary to talk about threats to Lithuania.
At the beginning of April, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė remarked that Lithuania could not unilaterally cut off transit to Kaliningrad, but she “cannot say that consultations on the subject are not taking place”.
“Simplified transit is ultimately not just our decision. It is a tripartite agreement: not only for Lithuania, where our country can have a very strong or a less very strong opinion, but it is a commitment of the European Union.
And we cannot ignore the opinion of the EU, as a civilised community, on how to deal with this issue. But I cannot say that consultations are not taking place on this issue,” the Prime Minister noted.
Answering a question on why transit to Karabakh is not being stopped when Russia itself is not complying with its international obligations, the Prime Minister said that there are many calls and proposals to react in one way or another, but if they were all implemented at the same time, “we would have nothing more to put on the table to increase the cost of this war for the Kremlin”.
This was soon followed by a statement by the Russian MP Vladimir Dzhabarov, who said that this was just a game, for now, a probing of the situation.
“If there is a blockade, as they say, the Soviet Union knew how to break blockades. We have a lot of experience. So if they want to create a situation where we have to break this blockade to save the lives of our people living there, we can”, the Russian politician explained.
Former Ambassador Vaitiekūnas: “We will create our own pretext”
Former Lithuanian Foreign Minister and Lithuanian Ambassador to Ukraine Petras Vaitiekūnas told lrytas.lt that politicians’ speeches about the blockade of the Kaliningrad region, about the review of the region’s status, and the calls to withdraw it are provocative and that by speaking in this way Lithuania risks opening a second front on its territory.
“This is a bit provocative, irresponsible talk. We can provoke a conflict on our own territory, open a second front when the Ukrainians are now practically defending their country, and may even achieve victory. So why should we provoke Russia, open a second front with NATO on Lithuanian territory?” – the former ambassador asked rhetorically.
Noting that the Russians do not need a real pretext for an attack because, as experience shows, they can easily create one themselves, Vaitiekūnas said that talk of a blockade of Kaliningrad would only serve to precipitate possible Russian aggression.
“When they want it, they will find it, but if we start blocking transit or raising the issue of Kaliningrad, we will create that pretext ourselves. And we will create it at the time when we are talking, not when the Russians are ready to attack us and create a pretext. So there is a difference”, he said.
Since the European Union is committed to simplified transit to Kaliningrad, stopping the transit, according to Vaitiekunas, should only be an initiative of the EU member states, not of Lithuania.
“When the European Union starts discussing such an issue, it should be discussed. And discuss it in Brussels, first of all in connection with the issue of Lithuania’s security – so that these discussions lead to more security for Lithuania, not less.
The former ambassador believes that those countries that would like to discuss this issue should make a greater commitment to Lithuania and Russia’s other eastern neighbours”, the former ambassador believes.
In any case, Vaitiekunas said that the Kaliningrad blockade should not be discussed in public.
“Our ministers, leaders and diplomats should discuss this situation in confidential meetings. For the time being, it seems to me that we should not show this initiative in public”, he stressed.
Military expert D.Antanaitis: “We have to talk about it”
At the same time, Darius Antanaitis, a retired Major Darius Antanaitis, arms and military expert, is convinced that Lithuania can and must talk about all issues related to the country’s security without fearing that such talk might provoke Russia.
“We need to speak up all the time, and we should not be afraid that some of our speeches or thoughts might be seen as provocative – we should think less about whether our speeches are provocative at all. This is close to our territory, this is a threat to us, and we must speak up.
The talks with the EU about the blockade of the Königsberg region should also be in case the Russians do something else very stupid or extend their attack on EU or NATO countries, which would, in fact, be a declaration of war on our country as well,” D.Antanaitis told lrytas.lt.
However, the military expert doubts that a blockade of Kaliningrad would be useful today.
“In order to blockade Russian territory – and Kaliningrad is Russian territory – we would have to be either close to a declaration of war or in a state of war.
Since this is Russian territory and according to our international obligations, we are obliged to allow cargo to and from Kaliningrad to and from Russia. Such a blockade would not make sense in the current situation of Lithuania or have any tangible, realistic idea,” Antanaitis said.
According to him, a blockade of Kaliningrad would do little to help Ukraine at the moment.
“We have to think about what the purpose of the blockade is. For example, if we want to help Ukraine keep weapons and other things out of Ukraine, we would probably want to block the movement of troops in and out of Kaliningrad – but in that case, a ground blockade would achieve little.
Yes, troops are moving in and out of Kaliningrad, but mostly they are moving either by sea or by plane. A blockade would block the land route, whether by car or by rail, but such a blockade would not achieve the results we want.
As far as the economic blockade is concerned, it would be a blockade of a small part of Russia, but the economic impact would be quite significant because rail and road transport are needed to supply Kaliningrad. However, it is difficult to say to what extent this would help Ukraine in its fight against the Russian occupation troops, as it has no direct connection with the war in Ukraine”, Antanaitis concluded.
In general, according to the military expert, the Russians need the Karelia region in order to control part of the Baltic Sea.
“And it is important for us because it is the most militarised place in Europe, bordering our country, and poses a direct threat to our security,” Antanaitis noted.
M. Laurinavičius: “Raising questions is justified”
For his part, political analyst Marius Laurinavičius told lrytas.lt that Lithuanian politicians do not raise the issue of the Kaliningrad blockade in principle. At the same time, Prime Minister Šimonytė, speaking about the possible interruption of transit, simply stated the factual circumstances.
“It was made very clear that this is not the decision of one Lithuania but the whole European Union. Usually, normal political issues are solved in this way, especially when they are sensitive enough and do not depend on Lithuania alone – negotiations are held, talks are held with partners, and everything needs to be discussed,” Laurinavičius emphasised.
According to him, the experts’ calls not to talk about Kaliningrad are creating a problem where there really is none.
“There is no need to provoke or take reckless actions on purpose – if they are really reckless. By no means am I saying that the theoretically possible interruption of transit in Kaliningrad is necessarily a reckless act, but I do not see where there is an example of “irresponsible behaviour”, the political commentator assessed.
According to Mr Laurinavičius, the blockade of Kaliningrad, which is being discussed in the public sphere, would be another part of the overall sanctions mechanism, which proposes to exclude trucks, rail transport and ships from Russia.
“It is part of the same problem, but when the problem is directly related to Kaliningrad, it has other aspects that should be considered. If we are talking about raising the question itself – why, when we take other actions against Russian goods, we do not take them against Kaliningrad – then raising those questions is justified. However, when raising questions, all circumstances need to be considered, and agreements need to be reached with partners”, he stressed.