Kaliningrad standoff could reveal if Russia wants to ‘escalate’

Last Saturday, Lithuania banned the transit of goods subjected to European Union sanctions through its territory to the Russian exclave Kaliningrad, which is on the Baltic Sea and about 1,300km (800 miles) from Moscow.

Lithuania said the move was in line with European sanctions. Infuriated, Moscow called it a “blockade” and promised to respond.

The banned goods include coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology, which make up 50 percent of Kaliningrad imports, according to the region’s governor, Anton Alikhanov.

Russia has demanded the restrictions are lifted, slamming Lithuania’s actions as “openly hostile” against Kaliningrad.

Sandwiched between EU and NATO members Poland and Lithuania, the region receives supplies from Russia via rail and gas pipelines through Lithuania.

Kaliningrad was part of Germany until the end of the World War II, when it was given to the Soviet Union at the Potsdam Conference in 1945. Russia’s westernmost state has roughly 1 million residents, mainly Russians but also a small number of Ukrainians, Polish and Lithuanians.And critically, it viewed essentially as a Russian military base. The exact number of soldiers stationed there is unknown; estimates range from 9,000 to up to 200,000 military personnel.

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