Mihkelson: Creating Kaliningrad sanctions exception sends wrong signal

Marko Mihkelson.
Marko Mihkelson. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

It is in no way justifiable to allow Russia to transit EU-sanctioned goods through Lithuania to Kaliningrad, as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suggested earlier this week, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu Marko Mihkelson (Reform) said on Friday.

Mihkelson said it is hard to guess what the motivations behind Scholz's comments were, it can be assumed that Germany may wish to prevent a further escalation of events and a spike in tensions.

"Perhaps there's something else going on that we're not aware of, but the fact that we're going to grant exemptions from sanctions against Russia at a time when Russia is doing nothing to unblock the port of Odesa and allow grain exports from Ukraine is certainly sending Russia the wrong message," Mihkelson said.

Earlier this week, Scholz said Russia's trade with the Kaliningrad Oblast is trade between two areas of Russia, which should not be subject to EU sanctions, and lifting sanctions may help to lower tensions in the Baltics.

Mihkelson noted that allowing the flow of goods would be, in a way, a penalty for Lithuania, which implemented the sanctions exactly as they were agreed upon by EU member states in March.

"And the narrative that these sanctions led to a blockade of Kaliningrad is completely false. Similarly, if a no-fly zone had been imposed, that is, if Russian planes were no longer permitted to use European Union airspace beginning in late February-early March, direct flights to Kaliningrad would have been impossible. If Russia so wishes, these goods can also be transported by sea to Kaliningrad," Mihkelson said.

According to Mihkelson, Estonia and the other Baltic states should take a united stance: there is no reason to make such concessions or relax the sanctions policy in order to appease Russia.

"Russia has never responded similarly to any Western political effort to calm tensions or lessen them, as has been evident throughout the conflict. Russia's shelling of shopping malls and residential areas in Ukraine, on the other hand, seems to be a signal that it is uninterested in the response of the international, and especially western European, community," Mihkelson stated.

Mihkelson said relations between Russia and Lithuania have been strained for some time, and there is no evidence that the embargo on the shipment of goods has considerably heightened tensions. "I do not believe this action will lead in any way to the de-escalation that Scholz has in mind. It may result in a delay in solving the issue, but it is certainly not a solution," he said.

On June 18, Lithuania applied EU agreed sanctions to goods traveling through its territory to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea. Russia has threatened to retaliate if the restrictions are not lifted.

Reinforcing the military defenses of the Suwalki corridor, as recently proposed by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, has no immediate benefit either.

"I would not say that the amount of troops available on both the Lithuanian and Polish sides is sufficient, but they are certainly present. The position of the Polish Prime Minister shows that the threat is real and has been for some time. I do not believe that Russia will resort to military provocation, as it would target not only Lithuania but the entire NATO alliance," Mihkelson said.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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