When the European Commission presented guidelines allowing limited rail transit of sanctioned goods between Russia and the Kaliningrad region, Lithuania reluctantly accepted them. It did so mainly because of the desire of its main allies, the US and Germany, not to escalate the situation, at least at this time, when there is a war in Ukraine, in which the West is helping the Ukrainians, Eglė Samoškaitė writing at tv3.lt news portal.
Raimundas Lopata, a member of the Seimas of the Liberal Movement, and Petras Auštrevičius, a member of the European Parliament of the same party, argue that it is necessary for Lithuania to seek the temporary nature of such regulation.
The politicians told a press conference on 31 August that they had a remote meeting with representatives of the European Commission’s directorates and tried to clarify the basis for the European Commission’s clarification allowing the transport of sanctioned goods, such as cement or metals, by rail up to the quotas set.
“The overall result: we stuck to our views. The Commission has confirmed that this clarification does not follow directly from the sanctions regulation and that it is a document prepared at the highest request of the European Commission, together with Lithuania and in agreement with it. The European Commission prepared it because it would have been difficult to reach an agreement at the political level due to the wide divergence of views between the Member States. Obviously, the document is not binding on Lithuania, but by preparing it together, Lithuania has assumed the responsibility to comply with it,” the MEP said.
“The political context of the document, we all understand, is the war in Ukraine. Therefore, we would call on the President and the Government of Lithuania to take responsibility for this document and its implementation, and at the same time to take responsibility for the fact that this document is a temporary and provisional transit procedure”, Lopata said.
In his view, this can continue as long as the political circumstances for such a limited transit of sanctioned goods remain. “As long as the war in Ukraine continues to make provocations against Lithuania likely. It would be very logical for Lithuania to assess every six months whether the circumstances have changed that allow Lithuania to be considered as a special zone of Russian interests, as an exception zone to certain sanctions or as a territory only between two parts of Russia,” the Liberal Movement politician said.
According to Lopata, if Lithuania believed that circumstances had changed, it would be obliged to do everything possible, through the European Commission, to have the transit corridors abolished, either jointly with the European Union or unilaterally.
“It is the recognition of the temporary nature of this transit that is a possible compromise that all could agree upon without compromising the fundamental security interests of Lithuania. In the future, Lithuania should avoid at all costs being tied to the geopolitical reality that Lithuania is geographically doomed to be a prerequisite for Kaliningrad‘s prosperity,” Lopata believes, adding that the guidelines are now exclusively tailored to Lithuania, although this is not officially recognised by the Lithuanian government or the European Commission.
“We have realised that the exclusion of rail transit is a legal interpretation based on a political motivation to find a solution. Probably, and this was apparently the case, the pressure from Russia and the desire of some Member States to find a quicker solution by reducing the pressure and dissatisfaction from Russia did exist. This is an interpretive solution adapted to Lithuania. The Lithuanian side must follow this interpretation and implement it fully”, said MEP Auštrevičius, noting that this is an additional burden for Lithuania.
P. Auštrevičius argues that Lithuania should strive to ensure that this burden is temporary and disappears as soon as possible. The politician predicts that once the quotas of sanctioned goods allowed to enter Kaliningrad expire (some quotas have already expired), Russia will still start to cause confusion, so the issue is not closed.
Banking of sanctioned goods – illegal?
Gintautas Bartkus, a lawyer who took part in the press conference organised by the politicians, stressed that there is no possibility of challenging the European Commission’s guidelines because neither the Commission itself nor Lithuania wants to. However, he said that such political games always create new problems, such as the question of whether it is possible to make bank payments for Kaliningrad transit when sanctioned goods are being transported, but up to a certain quota limit, they are allowed.
The Lithuanian authorities have informally communicated that bank settlement for Kaliningrad transit is allowed, as the carriage of certain sanctioned goods up to the quota limits is allowed. They argue that since the activity is legal, it is also possible to settle it. However, the banks operating in Lithuania sought confirmation from the Lithuanian authorities that everything was legal, and the Lithuanian authorities were not too keen to provide such confirmation.
Meanwhile, Mr Bartkus says that payment for sanctioned goods is not allowed in all cases, as this follows from the sanctions regulations. “The last point needs to be stressed very strongly: any banking of sanctioned goods is illegal, practically a crime,” added Mr Lopata.