EU caves to Putin as Russian trains plough through bloc after exploiting bizarre loophole

Russia actions on contested Kaliningrad 'limited' says Beniušis

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The European Commission, headed up by President Ursula von der Leyen, today (Wednesday) agreed that sanctioned Russian goods could transit through the bloc’s territory by rail following a dispute between Moscow and member state Lithuania. A statement issued by the Commission said: “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.”

The Commission has emphasised that EU member states should “check” such trains.

It added: “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.”

Transport of sanctioned military and dual-use goods was prohibited regardless of mode of transport, the statement added.

Vilnius has angered Moscow in recent weeks by restricting trade going through its territory.

The country acted after the European Union slapped sanctions against Moscow following President Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine – but the move was apparently a step too far for Brussels.

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Earlier the Kremlin had said 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, which is bordered by EU states and relies on railways and roads through Lithuania for most goods, has been cut off from some freight transport from mainland Russia since June 17 under sanctions imposed by Brussels.

However, at the time sources suggested European officials, backed by Germany, were in talks about exempting the territory from sanctions, paving the way for a deal in early July if Lithuania drops its reservations.

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Guidance published on Wednesday said EU trade sanctions should not apply to transport between Russia and its exclave, so long as its volumes do not exceed averages of the last three years, reflecting “the real demand for essential goods at the destination”.

EU members have been tasked with monitoring trade between Russia and Kaliningrad to check for sanction circumvention, such as making sure there are “no unusual flows or trade patterns”.

Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry said the previous trade rules, which blocked many sanctioned cargos from transport between mainland Russia and Kaliningrad, were “more acceptable”, in a clear indication that it was not happy with the latest decision.

A statement said: “Kaliningrad transit rules may create an unjustified impression that the transatlantic community is softening its position and sanctions policy towards Russia.”

Putin and his Belarus counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, a close if subordinate ally, on Monday discussed a possible response to Lithuania’s actions during a phone call, their Telegram accounts said.

Kaliningrad is a Baltic port which is home to roughly one million people, the vast majority of them ethnic Russians.

Previously known as Konigsberg, it was annexed by the Soviet Union from Germany after World War 2 and is connected to the rest of Russia only through EU territory, mainly rail via Belarus through Lithuania.

Moscow has characterised the ban on overland transit of some sanctioned goods as an illegal blockade but Lithuania has insisted it has no choice but to enforce sanctions imposed by Brussels.

Goods which fall within humanitarian or essential categories, such as food, were always exempted from the sanctions.

Passenger traffic is not banned and Kaliningrad can still be reached by air or sea.

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