The European Union executive has said that sanctioned Russian goods could transit through the bloc’s territory by rail, after tensions between Moscow and EU member Lithuania escalated over trade with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave.
Russia threatened reprisals against the Baltic nation after Vilnius imposed strict restrictions last month on goods travelling across its territory, mainly by rail, arguing it was simply applying EU sanctions.
Moscow demanded that Lithuania immediately lift the restrictions and said it had brought its grievances to European authorities.
In legal guidance released on Wednesday, the European Commission said that Lithuania had an obligation to allow the transit of sanctioned goods, with the exception of weapons, between Russia and Kaliningrad.
“The transit of sanctioned goods by road with Russian operators is not allowed under the EU measures. No such similar prohibition exists for rail transport,” it said, adding that EU states should check such trains.
“The Commission underlines the importance of monitoring the two-way trade flows between Russia and Kaliningrad … to ensure that sanctioned goods cannot enter the EU customs territory.”
The Commission added that transport of sanctioned military and dual-use goods was prohibited regardless of mode of transport.
Lithuania’s foreign ministry said Vilnius would would adhere to EU executive’s advice.
However, the statement added that the previous trade rules, which blocked many sanctioned cargos from transport between mainland Russia and Kaliningrad, were “more acceptable”.
“Kaliningrad transit rules may create an unjustified impression that the transatlantic community is softening its position and sanctions policy towards Russia”, the statement said.
Lithuania drew ire from Moscow in recent weeks over restricting trade going through its territory to Kaliningrad after the European Union slapped sanctions against Moscow for waging a war with Ukraine.
The Kremlin said earlier on Wednesday it was expecting progress over a possible European Union deal to allow Russia to transit some sanctioned goods to Kaliningrad but that the problem had not been resolved.
Kaliningrad covers an area roughly half the size of Switzerland and is home to more than one million people.
Seized by the Red Army from Germany in the closing stages of World War II, it became separated from the Russian mainland following the break-up of the Soviet Union when Lithuania became an independent state.