EU slammed as major U-turn on policy ‘harsher to Northern Ireland than Kaliningrad’

Russia actions on contested Kaliningrad 'limited' says Beniušis

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The Brussels bloc announced sanctioned Russian goods could transit through the bloc’s territory by rail, after tensions between Moscow and EU member Lithuania escalated over trade with Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave. The massive U-turn came after the European Commission issued new guidelines following weeks of tension among Moscow, Lithuania and the EU which tested Europe’s resolve to enforce sanctions on Russia.

The EU caved and said “Lithuania has an obligation to let the goods through”.

Political expert Tom Gallagher posted on Twitter: “Just to be clear.

“It is now official EU policy to be harsher to Northern Ireland than Kaliningrad.”

It comes as the UK remains locked in a battle with the EU over Britain’s plans to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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

The sanctions were designed to bar entry into the EU of certain Russian products, such as vodka and steel.

But Moscow hit back saying restricting overland transit of goods from Russia to Kaliningrad amounted to an illegal blockade.

Lithuania said it had no choice but to enforce rules imposed by Brussels.

Announcing the news it would cave, the Commission said: “The transit of sanctioned goods by road with Russian operators is not allowed under the EU measures.

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“No such similar prohibition exists for rail transport.”

EU bosses urged member states to “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.”

Reacting to the new policy, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said it was “common sense”.

They said: “This decision, which removes restrictions on a certain range of products transported by rail, is a demonstration of realism and common sense.

“Although we still have questions about the contents of this document.”

Kaliningrad Governor Anton Alikhanov wrote on Telegram that the new guidelines were “only the first step needed” to solve the stand-off, and added: “We will continue to work towards the complete removal of restrictions.”

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

Despite saying it would follow the guidelines, Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry: “Kaliningrad transit rules may create an unjustified impression that the transatlantic community is softening its position and sanctions policy towards Russia.”

Kaliningrad, which includes a Baltic port and is home to around one million people, was annexed by the Soviet Union from Germany after World War

Two and is connected to the rest of Russia only through EU territory, mainly rail via Belarus through Lithuania.

Goods that 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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