Russia warns of 'non-diplomatic' response to Kaliningrad restrictions

The tensions come just weeks after a Russian politician called to stop recognizing Lithuania's independence.

 Lithuanian Army soldiers hold Lithuanian and NATO flags during the celebration of the 15th anniversary of Lithuania's membership in NATO in Vilnius, Lithuania March 30, 2019. (photo credit: Ints Kalnins/Reuters)
Lithuanian Army soldiers hold Lithuanian and NATO flags during the celebration of the 15th anniversary of Lithuania's membership in NATO in Vilnius, Lithuania March 30, 2019.
(photo credit: Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

The Russian Foreign Ministry warned that the response to transit restrictions placed by Lithuania on Kaliningrad will be "practical" and "not diplomatic" in statements on Wednesday.

“As for response measures, now possible measures are being worked out in an interdepartmental format," said Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, according to TASS. "Both Lithuania and the EU, through their diplomatic missions in Moscow, were told that such actions are inadmissible and that the steps taken must be changed and the situation returned to a legal and legitimate course. If this is not done, then, of course, and this was emphasized at all levels in Moscow, retaliatory actions will be inevitable."

"On the question of what they will be...Will they be exclusively in the diplomatic plane? [The] answer is no. They will not be in the diplomatic, but in the practical plane," added Zakharova.

In the past week, Lithuania has limited the transit of a number of goods from the Russian Federation to Kaliningrad due to European Union sanctions against Russia for its continued invasion of Ukraine. The limits have been placed both on rail and road transit. Russia is working to reroute the affected goods to seaports and ship them on ferries to Kaliningrad.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated on Wednesday that while it is "premature" to speak about possible Russian responses, "concrete measures" are being discussed in response to the sanctions, according to RIA Novosti.

 Direction signs are seen in the border railway station in Kybartai, Lithuania June 21, 2022. (credit: Ints Kalnins/Reuters) Direction signs are seen in the border railway station in Kybartai, Lithuania June 21, 2022. (credit: Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

“There is no set format, here the main thing for us is to respond to such unfriendly steps, and not meet any deadlines," added Peskov.

Additionally on Wednesday, Leonid Slutsky, head of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, stated that one possible response to the Kaliningrad restrictions could be cutting off Lithuania from the common electricity supply system between Russia, Belarus and the Baltic states, according to Interfax.

Slutsky added that another possible response could be banning the transit of Lithuanian truckers through Russia.

In April, Lithuanian Energy Minister Dainius Kreivys told Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) that being cut off from the common electricity supply system with Russia would not have a significant impact on Lithuania.

“Today, imports from Russia are very minimal – just enough to keep the system technically operational,” Kreivys told LRT Radio. “So, basically nothing would change.”

“The only thing that would change is that we would have to make a really big effort to maintain the stability of the grid because we still have to install certain equipment to be able to operate completely safely," added Kreivys.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda stated on Tuesday that the country would seek support from EU leaders amid the threats from Russia.

“The president will raise this issue because it is a topical issue in our lives and because Russia has threatened Lithuania with a full range of retaliatory measures amid the implementation of EU sanctions,” said the president's chief foreign policy adviser, Asta Skaisgirytė, according to LRT.

“In our opinion, it would be correct to say this is an EU matter – not Lithuania’s, but the EU’s,” she added. “We think it’s wrong to blame us for this. On the other hand, we understand that Russia is using the opportunity for propaganda."

"To date, there is no direct military threat to Lithuania."

Lithuanian Military

The Lithuanian Military stated on Facebook that the situation in Lithuania "remains unchanged," adding that "to date, there is no direct military threat to Lithuania."

"We constantly receive informational and other types of provocations and threats, but we do not wave our hand at it and we remain vigilant - we train for this," added the military. "We have been like this since the time of King Mindaugas (the first Grand Duke of Lithuania in the 1200's) - the neighbor from the east (i.e. Russia) does not change. We are ready to operate in conditions of uncertainty and chaos, but today we train normally, we have no reason to react differently."

A top Russian official warned the West on Wednesday to stop talking about triggering NATO's "Article 5" mutual defense clause in a standoff between Lithuania and Russia.

"I would like to warn Europeans against dangerous rhetorical games on the topic of conflict," the Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Wednesday.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price stated on Tuesday that the US stands behind its NATO allies, including Lithuania, calling the US's commitment to NATO's Article Five "ironclad."

Russian moves against Lithuania

The tensions around Kaliningrad come just weeks after Yevgeny Fyodorov, a member of Russia's State Duma, submitted a bill to the country's parliament to repeal the recognition by the USSR of Lithuania's independence, saying that such a move could allow Russia to push NATO out of countries that joined after 1999.

Fyodorov told the RTVI network that the reason he was suggesting revoking the recognition of Lithuania's independence is because this would lead to the nation being involved in a territorial dispute, meaning it would no longer meet the conditions for admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The "Study on NATO Enlargement" published in 1995 states that the resolution of "ethnic disputes or external territorial disputes" would "be a factor in determining whether to invite a state to join the Alliance."

The Russian politician asserted that this would create a position in which Russia could negotiate with NATO and force the military alliance to withdraw to only the nations that were a part of it in 1999, which would exclude at least Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia.

'A complete redistribution of borders may begin'

In addition, Vladimir Evseev, the head of the Caucasus Department of the Institute of CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Countries, told MK.ru that by rejecting the USSR's recognition of Lithuania's independence the Russian Federation could then reject its recognition of Lithuania's borders.

"We have a lot of claims against Lithuania, in particular, with regard to the rights of the Russian-speaking population," said Evseev. "In addition, there is a scenario according to which we will have to enter its territory in order to provide a corridor to Kaliningrad."

Evseev also stressed at the time that due to tensions in the region, the link between the Russian Federation and Kaliningrad could be blocked and Kaliningrad could be put under pressure or invaded. Just weeks later, the link between Russia and Kaliningrad was disrupted in the move by Lithuania.

"In the event of a real military threat to the Kaliningrad region, the Russian Federation will be forced to create a land corridor to the region through the territory of Lithuania."

Vladimir Evseev, the head of the Caucasus Department of the Institute of CIS Countries

"In the event of a real military threat to the Kaliningrad region, the Russian Federation will be forced to create a land corridor to the region through the territory of Lithuania," said the CIS Institute member.

Evseev added that there are Polish people who believe Vilna should be under Poland's control and Germans who believe some parts of Poland should be part of Germany. "A complete redistribution of borders may begin, and not on our initiative...In the conditions of the lawlessness that is happening now, no one can guarantee anything."

Back to the USSR

Throughout Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials and media have repeatedly lamented the independence of former Soviet republics, sparking concerns that Russia could attempt to invade other former members of the USSR.

In a speech on February 21, Putin referred to Ukraine as "historically Russian land" and called the granting of sovereignty to Soviet republics "truly fatal" and "historic, strategic mistakes."

Shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, an article on the Russian RIA Novosti news site stated that "Russia is restoring its historical fullness, gathering the Russian world, the Russian people together — in its entirety of Great Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians (a term used before the 20th century to refer to what is now Ukrainian territory)." 

The author of that article referred to the 1991 declarations of independence by Belarus and Ukraine as a "terrible catastrophe" and an "unnatural dislocation."