Russia’s Connecticut-Sized Exclave in Europe Becomes New Flashpoint

NATO’s Baltic states are getting ready for an escalation in rigidity after Russia threatened retaliation in opposition to Lithuania for imposing European Union sanctions on sure items heading to the Kaliningrad exclave, a part of Russia wedged between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea coast.

The Kremlin has warned Lithuania of “serious consequences” for its software of EU sanctions on sure items, together with Russian metal and iron ore. Baltic diplomats, in the meantime, have informed Newsweek that Moscow is “trolling” its NATO rivals and probing for weaknesses within the alliance’s unified entrance on Ukraine.

The EU measures—a part of the response to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine—have been agreed as a part of the bloc’s fourth sanctions package deal in March, a few of which got here into drive this weekend.

Restrictions on items together with Russian oil, coal, cement and alcohol are as a result of come into drive at totally different factors between now and December. This might but deepen the dispute over Kaliningrad, a Connecticut-sized exclave that’s largely reliant on overland connections working from Russia by Lithuania.

Russia troops in Kaliningrad parade 2020
Military personnel participate in a Victory Day navy parade on June 24, 2020 in Kaliningrad, Russia. The Baltic Sea exclave is now on the heart of Moscow’s standoff with the West over its invasion of Ukraine.
Eduard Molchanov – Host Photo Agency through Getty Images

In an announcement despatched to Newsweek, Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry dismissed Russian experiences that the exclave had been blockaded.

“The land transit between the Kaliningrad region and other parts of the Russian Federation has not been stopped or banned,” the ministry mentioned. “The transit of passengers and EU non-sanctioned goods continues without restrictions. The Republic of Lithuania is not applying any national unilateral restrictive measures in this regard.”

Baltic diplomats informed Newsweek that the standoff might worsen, although dismissed issues that the dispute might escalate into direct navy confrontation between NATO and Russia.

One Baltic diplomatic official, who didn’t need their title or nationality to be made public given the sensitivity of the scenario, informed Newsweek the Russian response was no shock and steered that Moscow was overreacting.

“I understand it is painful for them,” the diplomat mentioned. Russia will be unable to produce Kaliningrad with all crucial sanctioned items by sea alone, the diplomat added, noting this is able to be too costly an alternate for Moscow.

“I think Russia is only reacting to something they were not ready for, to be honest,” the official mentioned.

The EU’s establishments are already concerned in discussions to discover a resolution, the diplomat added. Bloc international coverage chief Josep Borrell mentioned this week there’s “no blockade,” including: “If the transit through European Union territories are prohibited for some goods, then it is prohibited.”

While Moscow threatens motion in opposition to Lithuania, officers in Estonia have accused Russia of working missile assault simulations in opposition to the nation and of violating its airspace utilizing a helicopter.

The June 18 incident is the primary time a Russian helicopter has intruded into Estonian airspace, and passed off alongside the jap border somewhat than within the north the place aerial violations are extra frequent.

An Estonian diplomatic official who spoke to Newsweek on the situation of anonymity mentioned Tallinn expects additional Russian operations.

“Everything is calm here,” the official mentioned. “We don’t believe that there will be military intervention, they wouldn’t go against NATO…I’m certain that NATO would answer immediately and in full power.”

The U.S. authorities has already mentioned it’s prepared to reply to any Russian aggression.

Road sign for Kaliningrad Russia in Lithuania
A street signal to Russia is pictured on April 15, 2022 in Nida, Lithuania. Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave is sandwiched between NATO members Lithuania and Poland.
Paulius Peleckis/Getty Images

“Our commitment to NATO’s Article Five—the premise that an attack on one would constitute an attack on all—that commitment on the part of the United States is ironclad,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price mentioned Tuesday.

But Russia has many choices to escalate in need of a direct navy confrontation. In current years, the Kremlin has weaponized its fossil gasoline exports, launched cyber assaults and directed migration flows in opposition to its Baltic neighbors, who’ve lengthy been probably the most outspoken NATO-EU voices on the menace from the east.

“We assume that they may try some kind of hybrid thing,” the Estonian diplomat mentioned of Moscow’s subsequent steps. “Maybe refugees amassing at the Lithuanian-Belarus border again. Or the Russians can unplug the Baltics from their electrical grid, or they can conduct provocative military exercises near Lithuania and other Baltic states.”

Russia’s helicopter airspace violation, although, suggests Moscow is on the lookout for new methods to extend the temperature alongside NATO’s jap frontier.

“This is quite a different case than we’re used to,” the Estonian diplomat mentioned. “We assume this is just another piece of their trolling so they can show that they can disturb us if they want.”

“Certainly our military help to Ukraine, and the Finns and Swedes joining NATO gives them the temptation to troll us.”

Newsweek has contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry for remark.

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