The United States said Tuesday (21 June) it stood firmly behind Lithuania and NATO commitments to defend it after Russia warned its neighbor over restrictions on rail transit to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
“We stand by our NATO allies and we stand by Lithuania,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
“Specifically our commitment to NATO’s Article Five — the premise that an attack on one would constitute an attack on all — that commitment on the part of the United States is ironclad,” he said.
Lithuania, a former Soviet republic both in NATO and the European Union, has been among the most outspoken nations in opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Diplomatic attention has turned towards Kaliningrad, a Russian city situated between Poland and Lithuania with nearly a million residents. It is connected to the rest of Russia by a rail link through EU- and NATO-member Lithuania.
Lithuania has shut the route for transport of steel and other ferrous metals, which it says it is required to do under EU sanctions that took effect on Saturday. Lithuania is also blocking the transportation of food, jeopardizing the region’s food security, Tass news agency cited a foreign ministry spokeswoman as saying.
Russia warned that it would “certainly respond” to the “hostile actions.”
Price said that the United States welcomed the “unprecedented economic measures” taken by Lithuania and other nations against Russia over its invasion.
Asked about Russia’s statements, Price said, “We aren’t going to speculate on Russian saber-rattling or Russian bluster and don’t even want to give it additional airtime.”
Reduced volumes of gas
Russia warned Lithuania on Tuesday that it would face measures of a “serious negative impact” for blocking some shipments by rail to Kaliningrad.
In retaliation for Western sanctions, Russia has begun pumping reduced volumes of gas to Europe via Ukraine. European Union states from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Adriatic in the south have outlined measures to cope with a supply crisis after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February put energy at the heart of an economic battle between Moscow and the West.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the diminished flows amounted to an economic attack on Germany that “cannot be allowed to succeed”.
Lithuanians living just across the border said they have faith in NATO as a deterrent for any potential Russian attacks.
“Nothing bad will happen … because Lithuania is in NATO and in the European Union,” insurance worker Vitalijus Sidiskis, 59, said, while acknowledging it was difficult to predict what Russia might do.
Meanwhile, another Baltic country, Estonia, summoned the Russian ambassador on Tuesday to protest a violation of its national airspace by a Russian helicopter on 18 June. There was no immediate Russian comment.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, visited Kaliningrad to chair a security meeting there. He said Lithuania’s actions showed that Russia could not trust the West, which he said had broken written agreements over Kaliningrad.
“Appropriate measures” were being worked out in response, Patrushev was quoted as saying by state news agency RIA, and without elaborating said, “their consequences will have a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania”.
Moscow summoned EU envoy Markus Ederer to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. EU spokesperson Peter Stano said Ederer asked the Russians at the meeting “to refrain from escalatory steps and rhetoric”.
The standoff creates a new source of confrontation on the Baltic, a region already set for a security overhaul that would hem in Russia’s sea power as Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO and put nearly the entire coast in alliance territory.
The EU sought to deflect responsibility from Lithuania, saying the policy was collective action by the bloc.
In a symbolic decision, Ukraine is set to become an official candidate for European Union membership on Thursday.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland became the latest international dignitary to visit Ukraine, affirming on Tuesday Washington’s commitment to identify, arrest and prosecute those involved in war crimes during Russia’s invasion.