Economic Statecraft
Kaliningrad Transit, the Degradation of Relations and a 'Creative Approach' to Sanctions
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On August 9, the Valdai Club held an expert discussion on the prospects for the transit of goods and passengers to the Kaliningrad Region, as well as on the problems that have arisen in connection with the so-called “creative approach" of Lithuania to the European Union Sanctions Regime, as discussion moderator Ivan Timofeev, programme director of the Valdai Club, said. He stressed that so far, frictions have been smoothed out, but against the backdrop of ever-tougher sanctions, it cannot be guaranteed that they will not start again.

Anton Alikhanov, Governor of the Kaliningrad Region, briefly outlined the situation with the land transit of sanctioned goods and listed the existing restrictions and potential problems. Separately, he noted that in order to ensure the delivery of goods to the region this year, maritime transport has become much more actively involved. The number of ferries has increased from two to eight, and will soon increase to nine. Starting in September, a new railway ferry will also be on line. In addition, the governor pointed to the difficulties caused by Lithuania's attempts to limit the ability to pay Lithuanian Railways for the transit of goods.

Anton Kozlov, Head of Foreign Projects and International Cooperation Department at JSC Russian Railways, presented the company's point of view on what is happening. According to the results of the first half of the year, the volume of traffic on the Kaliningrad railway has slightly decreased. Transit links with the EU countries were especially affected. Speaking about the situation with transit, he pointed out that, according to Russian Railways, Lithuania, within the framework of its international obligations, is responsible for ensuring Kaliningrad transit, including preventing the creation of any artificial obstacles. He stressed that a list of grounds for the refusal of transportation is provided and the reluctance of Lithuanian banks to service payments for transit is not included in it.

Alexey Isakov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Ambassador at Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, called the support of the Kaliningrad region one of the most important tasks of Russia's foreign policy. He noted that in the early 2000s, no one could have imagined that relations would degrade to their current level. However, despite this decline in relations, transit functioned without serious failures for a long time. The situation became more complicated after 24 February. As a result of Lithuania's actions, the risk of a cargo blockade of the exclave arose, but the worst case scenario was avoided through the efforts of the Foreign Ministry. Nevertheless, the found solutions can be considered only as intermediate ones, and the state of affairs is still far from normal. The ambassador stressed that Russia considers it necessary to completely withdraw Kaliningrad transit from illegitimate EU sanctions.

Aleksey Bezborodov, Managing Partner of Infra Projects LLC, pointed to a serious deterioration in the approaches of the Lithuanian authorities and business to economic cooperation with the Russian Federation. In his opinion, Lithuania will strive for the complete closure of transit, and against this background, it is necessary to prepare for the creation of a full-fledged sea bridge. “I do not believe that Lithuania will meet us halfway: all the last twenty years they have been saying that they will try in every possible way to avoid obligations, no matter how Brussels puts pressure on it,” he added. In particular, the expert called for the creation of a container fleet to meet the needs of the Kaliningrad region as a necessary measure.