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Lithuania will allow sanctioned Russian goods trade to Kaliningrad

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European Union member Lithuania will allow sanctioned Russian goods to transit its territory on their way to Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, its foreign ministry said on Wednesday, reversing its policy after new European Commission guidelines.

The new guidelines on Wednesday followed weeks of tension among Moscow, Lithuania and the European Union that tested Europe’s resolve to enforce sanctions on Russia.

Kaliningrad, which is bordered by EU states and relies on railways and roads through Lithuania for most goods, has had some freight transport from mainland Russia cut off since June 17 under sanctions imposed by Brussels.

The sanctions were designed to bar entry into the EU of certain Russian products, such as vodka and steel.

Moscow earlier said restricting overland transit of goods from Russia to Kaliningrad amounted to an illegal blockade; Lithuania said it had no choice but to enforce rules imposed by Brussels.

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“This decision, which removes restrictions on a certain range of products transported by rail, is a demonstration of realism and common sense,” a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson said by email on Wednesday. “Although we still have questions about the contents of this document.”

Kaliningrad Governor Anton Alikhanov wrote on Telegram the new guidelines are “only the first step needed” to solve the stand-off: “We will continue to work towards the complete removal of restrictions.”

More acceptable

The guidance published on Wednesday said the trade sanctions should not apply to transport between Russia and its exclave, so long as volumes do not exceed their averages over the last three years, reflecting “the real demand for essential goods at the destination.”

Despite saying it would follow the guidelines, Lithuania’s foreign ministry said in a statement the earlier rules that blocked many sanctioned cargos from transport to Kaliningrad were “more acceptable.”

“Kaliningrad transit rules may create an unjustified impression that the transatlantic community is softening its position and sanctions policy toward Russia,” the statement said.

EU members were tasked with monitoring trade between Russia and Kaliningrad to check for sanction circumventions, such as making sure there are “no unusual flows or trade patterns.”

The transit of sanctioned military and dual use goods and technology remains fully prohibited.

Kaliningrad, which includes a Baltic port and is home to around one million people, was annexed by the Soviet Union from Germany after World War Two and is connected to the rest of Russia only through EU territory, mainly rail via Belarus through Lithuania.

Goods that fall within humanitarian or essential categories, such as food, were always exempted from the sanctions. Passenger traffic is not banned and Kaliningrad can still be reached by air or sea.

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