Squeezing the Baltic

by Andrew Stuttaford

Voice of America reports:

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA — Russia had suspended food product imports through Lithuania’s major port Klaipeda, the Baltic country’s prime minister said on Thursday, a move local businesses saw as Moscow’s way of exerting political pressure at a time it is confronting Ukraine.

“Lithuania’s terminals have received a written note. A note was also sent to companies which export goods through port terminals to Russia,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius told reporters.

“The note said that exports through Lithuania, through Klaipeda’s port terminals, and maybe some other terminals, is no longer possible,” added Butkevicius . . .

The acting director of Klaipeda Seaport Authority, Algirdas Kamarauskas, told Reuters that Russian authorities had explained the suspension of trade by saying some Lithuanian businesses were violating sanitary norms.

This last is a familiar trick.

Lithuanian dairy products were early victims of similar games, as were (delicious) Latvian sprats (I ordered large quantities in response: gluttony can be solidarity).

“This is a way for Russia to show that having political positions which do not meet their interests is punished in some way,” said Robertas Dargis, president of the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists.

“In Lithuania’s case punishment is usually through economic means, which we saw many times previously.”

To repeat a point I have made earlier: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are members of NATO. While I wouldn’t expect any sort of invasion (apart from the cyber-variety: there are reports that Estonia has again been under cyber-attack), trouble-making in this region (which hosts large Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia) offers Putin the chance (if the West does not demonstrate a very firm response) to show that NATO membership is not quite the source of security that it has been made out to be. And the consequences of that . . .

Meanwhile (via Reuters):

(Reuters) – A Russian former tank officer was detained by a Lithuanian court on Friday on suspicion of involvement in a 1991 Soviet Army attack aimed at halting the Baltic state’s drive for independence from the Soviet Union, the General Prosecutor’s office said. Thirteen civilians were killed and more than 1,000 wounded when Soviet troops stormed Vilnius’s TV tower and a building of the national broadcaster on January 13, 1991. Infantrymen fired shots and a tank fired blank rounds into a crowd at the tower.The Prosecutor’s office said a Vilnius court ordered the detention for two months pending investigation of a Russian citizen it named as Yuri Mel, born in 1968, on suspicion of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes in Vilnius.  The former lieutenant had been arrested at Lithuania’s border crossing point with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave on Wednesday, the prosecutor office said. Lithuanian media said he had been on a visit and was held while returning to Kaliningrad.

Ah yes, Kaliningrad. When looking at possible source of tensions in the Baltic, it will also be worth keeping an eye on the transit arrangements between that city (the capital — the former Koenigsberg — of a section of the former East Prussia that is now a Russian exclave) and Russia proper.

Meanwhile, Estonian TV has run a short film (with English subtitles) drawing parallels between what’s going on in the Crimea and what happened to Estonia in 1939–40. The analogy isn’t perfect (in some ways the annexation of Eastern Poland by the Soviets in 1939 is a better comparison), but even so, it’s well worth watching. 

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