From September, trains to Kaliningrad can stop for the second time this summer, and not only freight trains, but also passenger trains. The reason is that the Lithuanian bank refuses to accept payments for transit. Lithuania has previously blocked communications with Kaliningrad, citing EU sanctions. However, then the issue was resolved at the level of Brussels. Will it be possible now to prevent a repetition of the land blockade of Kaliningrad?
Valeria Kiguolene, a representative of the Lithuanian Banking Association, said on Monday that the only financial institution through which payments for Kaliningrad transit have so far passed is freezing relations with Russia. “Siauliai Bank” from today stops settlement operations with Russia in rubles, and from September 1 – in all currencies. Clients are informed about this in advance, ”Kiguolene quotes RIA Novosti.
The plans of Siauliai Bank became known at the end of July, and the press service of the Kaliningrad Regional Government warned at the same time that the termination of the bank’s work with Russia could lead to a stop in transit.
How Vilnius will act after September 1 is not yet clear, says Dmitry Lyskov, head of the press service of the government of the Kaliningrad region. “On the one hand, the European Commission also gave written explanations and made statements in the press that paying for Kaliningrad transit through a Lithuanian bank is not a violation of the sanctions regime. And until mid-June, Lithuanian banks – although at that time the sanctions packages were already in effect – worked perfectly in our region, and no one in the European Union made claims against them, ”Lyskov recalled.
On the other hand, the Lithuanian government now claims that it can do nothing and that the task of the Russian side is to find a way to pay the Lithuanian banks, the source said. According to the head of the press service, they have taken a strange position in Vilnius. “All possible options for paying for our transit, which are now being sought, are systematically, under far-fetched pretexts, swept aside,” he adds.
“Actually, the Lithuanian Railway makes very good money on Kaliningrad transit. But now in Vilnius they tell us: we do not want to take payments in rubles, we will not work with such and such specific counterparties, we cannot leave the branches of Lithuanian banks in the Kaliningrad region either. We offer them to work through a Russian account, they answer: Lithuanian legislation does not allow us to do this. Well, colleagues, so amend your legislation, ”the head of the press service is perplexed. However, Lyskov is still optimistic: “I am sure that some mechanism will still be found.”
Economist Anton Lyubich is also optimistic, in his opinion, a compromise payment scheme can be found – for example, through banks or companies in third countries. “It would be the desire of the parties. A variant is possible in which European companies that have debts to Russia will pay for transit operations with the Kaliningrad region on account of their debt. And then Russian companies will offset,” Lubich suggests. However, if desired, the Lithuanian authorities can stop this scheme.
It is worth recalling that last week the representative of the European Commission, Ariana Podesta, said that the operations of commercial banks for settlements for Kaliningrad freight transit in no way violate the sanctions regime. According to her, the refusal to accept payments for transit is a decision of a particular bank, taken simply on the basis of perceptions of risks, and not EU requirements. The Association of Lithuanian Banks said that the Lithuanian authorities still have to approve state guarantees for transit payments. This will protect banks from suspicions of violating sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia, the association believes.
Meanwhile, Russian diplomats have already demanded that the leadership of the European Union intervene in the situation.
“So that these games do not take place, the European Union can have its say, with Lithuania standing with outstretched hand in order to receive another tranche for its Russophobia,” said Sergey Ryabokon, Russia’s Charge d’Affaires in Vilnius.
The diplomat suspects that the initiative actually comes from Lithuanian politicians, and not at all from Siauliai Bank. “So now the bank is knocking on their door so that they explain how to behave,” the TASS diplomat quotes. “We urged them then and now to behave like an adult, not to do what they are doing now, different notions.”
The State Duma is confident that Vilnius is acting not only with the knowledge, but also with the approval of the entire collective West. “Russia should respond more harshly to such blows so that no one would even think of behaving in such a way towards us,” demanded State Duma deputy, economist Mikhail Delyagin. – In this case, it is necessary to completely block all economic activities related to Lithuania and liquidate all Lithuanian business. On our territory, it is still there, although not so much.
As a next step, the deputy proposed to completely break off diplomatic relations with the Baltic republic.
“By its actions, Lithuania is provoking Russia into a tough reaction. Of course, a military response is unacceptable. At the same time, we need to prepare for a complete cessation of economic ties with this republic. This will be a kind of declaration of an economic blockade,” said Nikolai Mezhevich, President of the Russian Association for Baltic Studies.
However, the expert still suggests trying to start a dialogue with Brussels on this matter first. “But the question is how realistic it is. Lithuania itself is unlikely to renounce the decisions made, but the European Commission may show some toughness and force the leadership of the republic to do this, ”the expert hopes.
Brussels will not go into open conflict with Moscow on this issue, Mezhevich is sure. “The EC has ways to influence the decisions of the Lithuanian authorities, but they, as always, are balancing on the edge. On the one hand, they do not want to fall into a full-fledged conflict, and on the other hand, they seek to support Lithuania in its anti-Russian activities,” the source said.
Vilnius in June stopped the passage of goods included in the EU sanctions lists, which followed from the main territory of Russia to the enclave by trucks and by rail.
Moscow called these restrictions illegal. Then the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, said that the EU was not going to blockade the enclave. The European Commission pointed out to Vilnius that rail transit should not be subject to restrictions, provided that it is controlled during transportation. After that, Vilnius was forced to lift the ban.
“The main risk in this situation is the interruption of transit, not only of goods, but also of passengers,” said Alexander Nosovich, a Kaliningrad political scientist. “If Moscow and Vilnius do not cooperate financially on Kaliningrad transit, then de facto Russia will be left without land communication with its region.”
Assessing the mood of the inhabitants of the enclave, the political scientist noted: “There are no unrest and social tensions. The population has hope for the leadership of the federal and regional levels, that they will somehow solve the problem, and on September 1, transit to the region will not be interrupted,” Nosovich noted. “But even if the transit is interrupted, it will not be a disaster for Kaliningrad. The region has been preparing for the scenario of a transport blockade by land for many years. All necessary measures for existence in conditions of complete autonomy from neighbors were taken in advance.