Lithuania joins Ukraine and Moldova as targets of Russia’s ire.
This article has been updated below.
The number of Lithuanian-registered cars crossing the Russian border has fallen by 90% since the latter suddenly stepped up border controls in August. According to the national hauliers’ association, no loaded Lithuanian truck has crossed the Russian border since Thursday 12 September.
Lithuania finds itself on the frontline of an on-going tussle between the EU and Russia over membership of their respective trading blocks.
Armenia stunned onlookers two weeks ago by opting to join the Russian led Customs Union – aka the Eurasian Union – which already includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are leaning towards the European Union. All are intending to sign deals to that effect at an upcoming summit.
Last month Russia summarily banned imports from a Ukraine chocolate producer. Many interpreted that as a taste of what could happen if Ukraine joined the EU. Last week, the Moldovan wine industry found itself facing similar difficulties. Lithuania is feeling the heat too.
As the current holder of the European Union presidency, Lithuania hosts the upcoming ‘Eastern Partnership’ Summit in November. As such, it has been instrumental in negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova.
This southernmost of the three Baltic States doesn’t actually have a land border with Russia proper, other than the Kaliningrad Oblast enclave. But its large trucking and warehousing industry makes it vulnerable to trade shenanigans. The country’s foreign ministry – and the EU – have complained in the strongest terms. The Russian authorities are yet to respond.
Ultimately, the point is, surely this all makes it even less likely that Ukraine and Moldova will join the Customs Union? But with winter approaching, and Russia ruthlessly controlling the gas supply, the game isn’t fully played out yet.
Nevertheless, today Ukraine pointedly gave the formal go-ahead to sign the EU deal at the Summit. Oh to be in Vilnius in November.
updates: 9 October. President Putin called off ‘enhanced border checks’ on Lithuanian trucks saying ‘customs violations by Lithuanian exporters have now diminished’. However, on 7 October Russia summarily banned the import of Lithuanian dairy products with similar threats made against the meat and fish industries. On 10 October, the Lithuanian foreign minister ‘casually mentioned the possibility of blockading [the Russian enclave of] Kaliningrad,’ according to Forbes. On 14 October Vilnius district court sanctioned a block on the Russian TV channel, Channel One.