Western optimism has turned into months of waiting: sanctions don’t seem to be working for Russia

Klaipėda Port
Klaipėda Port, DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

Western optimism that sanctions on Russian goods will soon bring Russia to its knees has turned into months of waiting, but the aggressor’s economy has not collapsed, lrytas.lt portal reported.

Summer and autumn have passed, and winter is ending, but the sanctions do not seem to be affecting Russia. Or, rather, they are not affecting the country’s economy as devastatingly as was expected. Why?

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The explanations are many and varied. For example, Prime Minister Šimonytė is convinced that it is a mistake to think that sanctions can quickly shut down the Russian economy.

According to the Head of Government, the economy of this country, although primitive, is large and will not be shut down quickly by sanctions. Moreover, the substantive sanctions have only recently come into force, and not all of them have yet.

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However, Russia has already been forced to sell its oil at a much lower price, which means that the Kremlin will have less money for bloody attacks in Ukraine. Perhaps even less if Russia is not able to circumvent the Western sanctions and the countries that imposed them do not look the other way.

Russian goods continue to go to the European Union, including Lithuania. Ms Šimonytė acknowledged that controlling them is quite difficult.

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In many cases, sanctioned goods pass through other countries, and it is difficult, although possible, to trace their movements. This indeed requires a concerted effort by various services.

But sometimes, there is a feeling that easier routes are taken. This was also the suspicion that arose from the response to the scandalous ammonia tanker wandering around our country.

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Last November, our officials turned around a railway tanker carrying Russian ammonia from Belarus only because it was painted with the letter ‘Z’, a symbol of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

But a few days later, the same tanker successfully crossed the border, but with the symbol banned in Lithuania removed.

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The railway community in Belarus, which closely monitors the movement of Russian cargo through Belarus, noted that the tanker had wandered around Lithuania several times in the autumn.

It would seem that the cargo it was carrying should have been on the radar not only of the Belarusian public but also of our services. The data provided to “Lietuvos rytas” about this tanker is simply baffling.

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For example, when asked whether the cargo was subject to EU or US sanctions, the Customs Department stated that the ammonia was in transit. At the same time, according to Lithuanian Railways (LTG), the wagon carrying ammonia was heading for Gaižiūnai.

The ammonia detective story is getting more interesting because the Lithuanian companies that use ammonia for fertiliser production are evasive and do not tell journalists where and how they get their ammonia.

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And what if the fears that a tanker carrying ammonia from Russia on Lithuanian rails is a Russian spoil of war in Ukraine are confirmed?

The aforementioned Belarusians did not rule this out. Still, at the time, neither LTG nor Lithuanian officials thought to enquire whether the Russians were legally using a tanker belonging to a Ukrainian company that had entered our country.

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According to unofficial information, this wagon may have been stolen from the Ukrainians in the Sumy region last March. The Russians are said to have misappropriated hundreds of wagons and other rolling stock belonging to Ukrainians.

It looks pretty likely that LTG only became interested in the wanderings of the possibly stolen wagons along the Lithuanian railway tracks after receiving questions from Lietuvos rytas. The company’s representatives stated that they had contacted their colleagues in Ukraine about this tank car but had not received a reply from them as to whether the Russians had appropriated the wagon in question.

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Some experts believe that Lithuania could have detained the suspicious rail tanker and then investigated whether the Russians were using it legally.

The head of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence, L. Kasčiūnas, also agreed that it would be appropriate to take more active steps to find out whether the wagons coming to us from Russia were stolen from the Ukrainians.

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But the Lithuanian authorities and politicians have so far been slow to react to reports that dozens of LTG-owned wagons wander around the Russian mainland almost a year after the war in Ukraine.

The company has provided this information to the Seimas but has not explained in detail why it has taken so long for its wagons to return from Russia.

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However, LTG representatives claim that none of them is used for military purposes. But who can guarantee that?

In general, both the management of this strategically important company and the Ministry of Transport and Communications, which controls it, use very vague phrases as a cover – that working on the Russian and Belarusian markets and being dependent on these countries poses a lot of risks, but that the aim is to reduce these risks in the long run.

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LTG still belongs to the Moscow-controlled rail freight information system, and the Russians carry out the registration of freight wagons, without which Lithuanian freight would not be able to enter not only Russia and Belarus but also Latvia and Estonia.

In order for other countries to be able to identify freight wagons travelling from Lithuania, the data on these wagons first goes to a database managed by Moscow. While politicians resent this situation, their calls to private businesses not to trade with Russia are louder and more frequent. Meanwhile, the state itself continues, in some cases, to “gather apples” with the devil.

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