Staunton, March 14 – While most of the world’s attention has been focused on Crimea and in a reminder that Vladimir Putin does not see the NATO membership of the Baltic countries as an impediment to the Kremlin’s muscle flexing, the Kremlin has in effect blocked the work of Lithuania’s Klaipeda port.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Algirda Butkavicius told the Lithuanian parliament that as a result of Russian actions, it was now impossible to “export, re-export, or import” goods through Klaipeda, the port which is a major link in that Baltic country’s economic lifeline both east and west (ej.by/news/world/2014/03/13/rossiya_zablokirovala_klaypedskiy_port.html).
Butkavicius said that he had met with Robertas Dargis, the head of the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists, and various government officials. They confirmed to him that it is “already” the case that “it is impossible” to move goods through any of the terminals of the Klaipeda port.
If a Western company wants to send goods through Lithuania to the Russian Federation or any other member of the Moscow-led Customs Union, Russian officials will tell it that it must do so “through other ports which do not belong to Lithuania [or] to certain other countries,” according to Butkavicius.
This Russian action follows a decision by the Lithuanian parliament yesterday to condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine and Moscow’s occupation of part of the territory of a sovereign country, to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and to express Lithuania’s political solidarity with the new authorities in Kyiv.
The Seimas also declared that it supports sanctions against the Russian Federation for its moves in Ukraine, called for the signing of an EU association agreement with Ukraine as quickly as possible, and supported moves toward the liberalization of the visa regime between Ukraine and the European Union.
And members of the Lithuanian parliament also called on the Lithuanian government to seek “the strengthening of the permanent military presence of NATO in Lithuania, in particular in the area of anti-aircraft defense.” They also called on the government to increase defense spending to promote improve the country’s defense posture.
As Russian commentators today have made clear, Moscow’s actions in Klaipeda are the Russian response and are intended to show that any country, regardless of its alliance memberships, can expect to suffer one way or another if it opposes Russia on Ukraine (rus-obr.ru/days/30101 and rubaltic.ru/article/ekonomika-i-biznes/bumerangom-provokatsii-protiv-rossii-priveli-k-sanktsiyam-protiv-litvy-14012014/).
Aleksandr Nosovich, one of their number, observed that “the anti-Russian policy of the Lithuanian leadership has not been without consequences” which like “a boomerang” have ended by hurting Lithuanian business. He suggested that the Lithuanian business community should be “grateful” to those Vilnius officials who have undermined Russian-Lithuanian relations.
Moreover, he continued, “official Vilnius with its messianic foreign policy and diplomacy” in recent years has hurt not just business but the well-being of ordinary Lithuanians. That policy has now failed, Nosovich added, and everyone should learn a lesson from what has taken place.
Although these Russian commentators do not say so, what Moscow is doing in Klaipeda is not only an act of revenge against Lithuania but a test of Western and especially NATO resolve. In the absence of a clear and forceful response, more such testing of the alliance is unfortunately likely in the coming days.