Brussels lowers tension with Russia and allows it to send sanctioned goods to Kaliningrad through the EU by train | International

Freight trains on Monday in Kaliningrad.
Freight trains on Monday in Kaliningrad.VITALY NEVAR (REUTERS)

Russia will be able to send sanctioned goods through the territory of the European Union to Kaliningrad by train. A new guide from the European Commission published this Wednesday indicates that Brussels does not seek to block the shipment of these products from Russian territory through Lithuania (part of the EU) to the enclave on the shores of the Baltic Sea, although it determines that the goods cannot travel by road. In addition, it completely excludes military and dual-use (civilian and military) goods and technology.

The measure alleviates somewhat the recent tension with Russia over Kaliningrad, wedged between Lithuania and Poland (NATO members) and geostrategically very valuable for the Kremlin, and plugs a certain miscalculation by Brussels in the drafting of the fourth package of sanctions. . Moscow has denounced an “illegal blockade” and threatened with “serious consequences” and “practical countermeasures” if shipments of sanctioned goods that it considers essential continue to be paralyzed, and even questioned Lithuania’s independence and threatened the Baltic country with excluding it from a joint power grid.

Vilnius, which controls the only rail route linking Russia with the enclave through Belarus and which meticulously checked shipments to detect banned merchandise, argued that it has limited itself to applying the corresponding part of the sanctions for the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine that entered into force in June and that bans certain products in the European Union. Brussels claimed that Lithuania was acting according to the guideline.

The Commission’s new guide states that shipments can only be made by train and not by road. Thus, Russia will be able to transport iron, steel, wood, coal and oil products despite being under European sanctions to its Kaliningrad enclave. Shipments may not exceed the historical averages of the last three years (pre-pandemic time is also included as a measure) and there may be no unusual trade patterns or increases in flow. The goods will be under review by the national authorities to ensure that there is no unusual increase in shipments. Brussels also emphasizes that the EU sanctions do not prohibit the transit of trucks with goods not subject to sanctions between Russia and Kaliningrad.

Russia sees the European Commission’s guidance as “a manifestation of realism and common sense,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement, noting that questions remain on the table. In recent days, in the midst of an escalation of tension, the Kremlin had floated the idea that it was talking to Brussels to ease the traffic blockade and that it was waiting for a possible agreement. Community sources deny, however, that the issue has been negotiated with Moscow. Meanwhile, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry assures that it will guarantee the application of the guide, although it has specified that it will carry out “an effective verification” of whether Russia “abuses transit opportunities.”

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The authorities of Kaliningrad, with a million inhabitants, assure that the transit ban affected half of the goods that transit between mainland Russia and the enclave.

While the Russian military aggression on Ukraine continues with virulence, with ferocious attacks in the east of the country, the EU is preparing a complement to its sixth package of sanctions, approved in early June, to try to address application holes and loopholes that it can take advantage of. Moscow to sort them out. This complement will not include a cap on the price of oil, as some countries had proposed, but it will include a veto on Russian gold.

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