The ex-Soviet republic of Lithuania accused Moscow yesterday (24 November) of blocking its vehicles and goods at the Russian border, and summoned its ambassador to protest.
Trucking and logistics for trade with Russia are a crucial part of the European Union member’s economy, and have largely survived tit-for-tat embargoes between Russia and the EU.
However, ties are under strain. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskait? promised yesterday to give Ukraine military aid to help in its fight against Russian-backed separatists, after last week branding Russia a “terrorist country” for refusing to identify troops operating in east Ukraine as Russian.
Vilnius said no Lithuanian-registered cars or trucks had been admitted into Russia’s Kaliningrad region since the weekend.
“I told the ambassador that Lithuania thinks the measures that the Russian officers are applying to Lithuanian-registered vehicles, to Lithuanian trucks, to goods produced or loaded in Lithuania … are of a discriminatory nature,” Andrius Krivas, Lithuania’s vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, told reporters.
“I … asked the ambassador to cease this discriminatory practice immediately.”
Russia’s Transport Ministry declined to comment.
A year ago, Russia briefly blocked Lithuania’s trucks as Vilnius prepared to host the signing of a treaty between Ukraine and the EU – which Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovich’s ultimately refused to sign, setting off the mass protests that led to his overthrow.
“The drivers report that all traffic from Lithuania was blocked as of this morning,” said Algimantas Kondrusevicius, president of the Lithuanian truckers’ association Linava.
“Our truck companies, our warehouses are already losing clients who are afraid of delays and trying to hire trucks from other countries.”
The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.
Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.
Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.
The fighting has escalated sharply after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered on 1 July an assault on separatists. The EU's resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine on 17 July of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.
Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.
On 27 August NATO and the U.S. said Russian incursions into Ukraine took an ‘overt and obvious form’ and on 28 August Poroshenko said Russia had invaded Ukraine.