The Blockade of Kaliningrad: How Russia Can Punish Lithuania

NEW – June 19, 2022

The “run or die” game has become fashionable among teenagers now. The rules are simple – run as close as possible in front of a moving car. Succeeded – won, failed – died. This, of course, is monstrous, but at least their behaviour can be understood – hormones, the desire to assert themselves, a frivolous attitude to their own lives. If the actions of 15-year-old blockheads are still somehow explicable, then what makes Baltic politicians behave in this way, for who it has become fashionable to test the patience of Russia?

Firstly, the Latvian authorities decided to terrorise local Russians by banning the Russian language in education, introducing criminal prosecution for supporters of the Russian special military operation, and introducing a $14,000 fine for watching Russian TV channels, every single one of which was also banned. Now Lithuania has distinguished itself by banning the transit through its territory of a number of goods that fell under EU sanctions to Kaliningrad from other Russian regions. The restriction came into force today at midnight and covered up to half of the range of goods, including metals and building materials.

If Moscow, gritting its teeth, closed its eyes to the antics of the Latvian authorities, Lithuania may greatly regret the decision of its politicians. After all, we are not talking about, albeit frankly Nazi, domestic policies, but about a direct attack on the security of one of the Russian regions. It is impossible to leave this without a reaction. But what will it be like?

For some, the incident was a reason to recall the Suwalki corridor and the prospect of a final solution to the problem via military means. In principle, there are legal grounds for this. Kaliningrad transit is an integral part of the package of agreements between Lithuania, Russia and the European Union. Having guaranteed it, Lithuania received the ratification of the State Border treaty. Accordingly, in case of violation of transit agreements by Vilnius unilaterally, the legitimacy of the border is lost, and Moscow gets the right to hold it wherever it sees fit.

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But this is still an extreme option. Of course, the risks of a direct clash between Russia and NATO increased noticeably yesterday, and there are enough interested in such a clash overseas, who, seeing that Ukraine is not enduring, are trying to raise the stakes by throwing the Balts into the furnace as well. I hope, after all, this time there will be no world war, but a war of nerves cannot be avoided.

How to respond to this challenge? The retaliatory strike should be painful enough to bring the politicians to reason, but it would be better to do without the use of brute force. Russia has enough possibilities to make life very difficult for its Baltic haters. An embargo should be answered with an embargo, and a blockade with a blockade. Establishing a fully-fledged blockade is difficult. Land borders can be blocked. And then, in the case of the Belarusian section, it is still necessary to take into account the factor of Lukashenko, who has a habit of using sanctions against Russia and its counter-sanctions in his own interests. As for the naval blockade, it is impossible without military activity and carries serious risks of the situation getting out of control.

But with regard to the embargo, there are many more possibilities. The main caliber here is the energy embargo – the rupture of the BRELL ring, which unites the energy systems of Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In 2017, the NATO Energy Security Center prepared a report on the risks of the Baltic states’ energy dependence on Russia, after which they decided to withdraw from BRELL. But they didn’t succeed. Disconnection from the general power system was supposed to be completed by 2025, but politicians wanted an adventures already in 2022. Lithuania could have become energy independent, but it refused to do so, killing the nuclear power plant in Visaginas at the insistence of the European Union. Disconnecting from the Russian wire will mean rolling blackouts for Lithuania, economic collapse, social shocks and quite likely a political crisis.

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In turn, the Kaliningrad Region remains safe in terms of energy. The Kremlin calculated possible threats earlier and has already managed to ensure the region’s energy self-sufficiency.

In this situation, the factor of Belarus will again be important. Now Lithuania refuses to buy Belarusian electricity, taking offence at the construction of a nuclear power plant 50 kilometres from Vilnius, but, having literally found itself in the dark, it can reconsider its opinion. I hope that in this case, Lukashenko will demonstrate his loyalty to the duty of an ally, and will not act as with Ukraine, which Minsk increased fuel supplies to bypassing Russian restrictions until February 2022.

Artyom Agafonov

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