‘Casus belli’: What Kaliningrad blockade means for Russia

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The transit of some goods through Lithuania has been blocked, raising concerns over shortages in Russia’s exclave

Lithuania blocked the rail transit of some Russian goods to the country’s Kaliningrad Region on Saturday. Vilnius authorities explained the move by stating that the goods in question were sanctioned by Brussels in connection with the conflict in Ukraine, and therefore can no longer pass through EU territory even if they travel from one part of Russia to another.

  1. Why is that important?Kaliningrad Region is a Russian exclave in Europe, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania along the Baltic Coast. Its position in the heart of Europe enables it to easily deliver Russian goods to any part of the EU bloc. As an exclave, or a territory which belongs to Russia but is geographically separated from the mainland, it should be granted full access to and from mainland Russia under international law. Therefore, some analysts suggest that Lithuania’s move to block Russia’s access to its own territory could, to some extent, be considered a ‘casus belli’ – a cause for the declaration of war. 
  2. Why did Lithuania block transit?According to Lithuanian officials, the decision was made after getting the approval of the European Commission, EU’s main governing body. Many countries, including EU member states, imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in response to its military operation in Ukraine in late February. The European bloc, among other things, banned the entry of a number of Russian goods to the EU. Vilnius’ move is allegedly meant to enforce these bans.
  3. Is the transit of all goods blocked?No, only the goods sanctioned by Brussels were denied passage.  Among them are crude oil and oil products, coal, metals, construction materials, advanced technology, glassware, some foods and fertilizers, alcohol, etc. According to the region’s governor, Anton Alikhanov, the ban means that as much as 50% of all goods destined for Kaliningrad could be blocked.
  4. Can the block result in supply shortages in the region?Not necessarily, as the passage via the Baltic Sea is still open for Russia to use. According to Kaliningrad officials, as well as the heads of most retail chains, the region is well-stocked in food and supplies and would not suffer from delivery setbacks for three to six months. A significant portion of meat, dairy, and fish is produced in the region, and, according to the head of the region’s main port, Elena Zaitseva, Kaliningrad has even exported some corn, wheat, and rapeseed in recent years.
  5. Is there a threat to tourism/passenger traffic?No threat for now. While passenger trains from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad through Lithuania were halted back in early April, four major Russian airlines maintain Moscow-Kaliningrad flights. Sea ferries are also available, while reports state that Russian officials are currently working on launching passenger sea routes through the Baltic.

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