Russia’s influence behind the scenes in the European Union: Lithuania and pressure on transit

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DELFI / Domantas Pipas

The European Commission (EC) is reconsidering the issue of transit to Kaliningrad because Russia has managed to “entangle” Lithuania behind the scenes in the European Union (EU) and to influence Community clerics, who in turn influence key EU politicians, says Liberal Member of the Seimas (MP) Eugenijus Gentvilas at news portal.

In the “Lietuvos Rytas” TV programme “24/7”, MPs noted that Lithuania is in a difficult situation – with a German-led brigade in the country, Lithuania cannot loudly criticise Berlin’s pressure for an exemption for Kaliningrad transit.

Successful pressure

As Lithuania awaits a new clarification from the European Commission (EC) on the transit of sanctioned Russian goods to Kaliningrad, pressure is mounting from Berlin, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz insisting on an exception to allow such a transit to pass through Lithuania.

Eugenijus Gentvilas, the elder of the Liberal Movement group, said during the programme that he believes that the problem with the Kaliningrad transit is not a coincidence.

“Russia has done two things: first of all, it has very successfully sold the message to its domestic market that it is imposing these sanctions or almost a blockade on Lithuania. Second, I believe that a lot of people in Russia believed that the Lithuanians were almost neo-Nazis who wanted to blockade Kaliningrad. So the spike of criticism is not directed at the EU in the abstract but at Lithuania in particular.

The second thing is that I believe that Russia has, behind the scenes, tried to influence EU clerics, who have begun to influence political leaders and the European Commission. This is not a transit because it is not transit from one part of Russia to another,” said Gentvilas.

“Lithuania is being put through the backstage, which I think Russia has successfully exploited, for money or not. And there is a question whether the fourth package of sanctions is well constructed”, he added.

According to Gentvilas, the doubts about the fourth package of sanctions have been raised in the “gut” of the European Union, and Lithuania is being put on the spot, forgetting that the transit from Russia to Kaliningrad goes through the EU country of Lithuania.

A reliable partner?

Gentvilas admits that Lithuania is in a tricky situation because the head of the country that is the guarantor of Lithuania’s security has expressed doubts about the transit to Kaliningrad – the Germans are in charge of the NATO international battalion deployed in Lithuania.

“The EU is still in a field of doubts, where political leaders keep popping up (mostly Scholz) who say – let’s not humiliate Russia, let’s keep in contact. They forget that Lithuania is both a NATO and an EU country. So for us, this statement by Scholz is particularly painful. (…)

Lithuania needs a very clear German position on the creation of the brigade, so Lithuania cannot spit in the air either. We find ourselves in a situation where the EU unity is crumbling, and Lithuania is left alone in the face of the Russian transit issue”, stressed the Seimas member.

Giedrius Surplys, Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs and a member of the Lithuanian Peasant Popular Union (LVHRU) group in the Seimas, also pointed out Lithuania’s dilemma during the programme.

“We have to help Ukraine in every way we can, except that we are in a dilemma – Germany seems to be the readiest to defend us, talking about a brigade, but at the same time, we are crucifying its Chancellor and the whole country for being too soft on certain issues.

In my opinion, that is not the way to treat a key friend. Let us criticise tete-a-tete, but do we have to fight a public war with Germany? I really don’t think so because this is a country on which it may very well depend whether Russia dares to try anything in the Suwałki Corridor,” Surplys stressed.

Can the position change?

Russia shut off natural gas supplies to Germany on Monday – Nord Stream 1, according to the Kremlin, for repairs – and is expected to reopen it in 10 days. But the question remains whether it will actually be opened, and thus whether the German public, left without Russian gas, would pressure the country’s politicians to change their position on Ukraine’s and Lithuania’s security issues.

“If they change, it is not only Germany’s position that would change – there would-be partners who would support an economically strong, powerful Germany, and then it would be a disaster. In the future, it would also be a disaster for Germany itself”, Gentvilas believes.

According to him, the last ten years have seen a great deal of German pragmatism in its relations with Russia, and this pragmatism is still evident now.

“However, I believe that the EU and NATO will withstand these blackmail attacks from Russia. Common sense and the instinct of self-preservation will prevail, first of all with the US acting as the leader of NATO”, the liberal stressed.

Lithuania’s mistakes

Shadow foreign minister Surplys said Lithuania should have prepared for a Russian attack because of the sanctions but failed to do so.

“The mistake that the foreign minister and all those involved in this decision made was not talking, trying to solve the problem unilaterally by themselves.

Therefore, when Russia started to announce loudly that the sanctions were coming into force on the 17th of June, when a huge tragedy and thunderstorms happened, almost as a result of the attack on the Suwałki Corridor, our Deputy Foreign Minister Mantas Adomėnas was the least prepared for this crisis,” Surplys recalled.

According to him, within months of the announcement of the fourth sanctions package, Lithuania should have been prepared, clearly identifying that the banned transit amounted to one Russian train per month.

On the 17th of June, EU sanctions came into force, banning the transit of Russian steel and ferrous metal products through Lithuania to Kaliningrad, and on the 10th of July, a ban on Russian cement and alcohol. A ban on coal and other solid fossil fuels will come into force on the 10th of August and on oil and oil products on the 5th of December.

Despite explanations from the Lithuanian authorities that this is not a unilateral state decision, the Kremlin is demanding the lifting of the restrictions and threatening Lithuania with retaliatory measures. In response to the situation, the European Commission is currently preparing updated guidelines on the application of sanctions. It is being considered that cargo movements between Russia and Kaliningrad could be exempted from EU sanctions, but Lithuania, through whose territory the transit would take place, is seeking to avoid such exemptions.
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