Russia threatens Lithuania with measures on blocked rail shipments to the Baltic Sea enclave

Photographs from Russia’s war in Ukraine are part of an exhibition at the Vilnius train station, Lithuania, on March 25.PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP/Getty Images

Russia threatened on Tuesday to punish Lithuania with measures that would have a “serious negative impact” for blocking some rail shipments to Moscow’s Baltic Sea enclave Kaliningrad in the latest row over Ukraine war sanctions.

On the ground in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s separatist proxies said they were advancing toward the main battlefield stronghold of Kyiv. A Ukrainian official described a lull in fighting there as the “calm before the storm”.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland paid an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Tuesday to meet with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.

European countries, faced with the prospect that war and sanctions could lead Moscow to cut off gas deliveries next winter, were looking for ways to protect their economies and keep the heat and electricity on. Germany, Russia’s biggest energy customer, revealed details of a new auction system intended to incentivize the industry to use less gas.

Diplomatic attention has focused on the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, a Baltic Sea port and surrounding countryside that is home to nearly a million Russians, connected to the rest of Russia by a rail link through EU member Lithuania. and NATO.

Lithuania has closed the route for the transport of steel and other ferrous metals, which it says it must do under EU sanctions that came into force on Saturday.

Russian officials have said other commodities have also been blocked. Video footage from the enclave showed some panic buying over the weekend at stores selling building materials.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, visited the enclave on Tuesday to chair a security meeting there. He said Lithuania’s “hostile” actions showed Russia could not trust the West, which it said had broken written agreements on Kaliningrad.

“Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions,” Patrushev was quoted as saying by the state news agency RIA. “Appropriate measures” are being worked out and “their consequences will have a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania,” he said without giving details.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said it was “ironic to hear rhetoric about alleged violations of international treaties” from Russia, which she accused of violating “possibly all international treaties.”

He denied that Lithuania’s actions amounted to a blockade and repeated Vilnius’ position that it is only implementing the sanctions imposed by the EU.

Moscow summoned EU envoy Markus Ederer to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. EU spokesman Peter Stano said Ederer asked the Russians at the meeting “to refrain from escalating measures and rhetoric.”

The standoff creates a new source of confrontation in the Baltic, a region already set for a security review that would limit Russia’s sea power when Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO and bring nearly the entire coastline under NATO control. alliance.

The EU has tried to deflect responsibility from the Lithuanians, saying the policy was a collective action by the bloc. Vilnius “was doing nothing more than implementing the guidelines provided by the (European) Commission,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE BALLOON AND THE MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS

Inside Ukraine, the battle to the east has in recent weeks turned into a brutal war of attrition, with Russia concentrating its overwhelming firepower on a Ukrainian-held part of the Donbas region that Moscow claims on behalf of its separatist proxies.

Moscow has made slow progress there since April in a relentless fight that has cost both sides the deaths of thousands of soldiers, one of the bloodiest ground battles in Europe for generations.

Fighting has spread up the Siverskyi Donets River that runs through the region, with Russian forces mainly on the east bank and Ukrainian forces mainly on the west, though the Ukrainians are still holding out in the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank.

In recent days, Russia captured Toshkivka, a small West Bank town further south, giving it a potential foothold to try to isolate the main Ukrainian stronghold in Lysychansk.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia for the self-styled pro-Moscow separatist Lugansk People’s Republic, said forces were “moving from the south towards Lysychansk” with shootings in several cities.

“The next few hours should bring considerable changes in the balance of forces in the area,” he said on Telegram.

The governor of the Luhansk region, which surrounds Ukraine, said Russian forces had gained some territory on Monday. It was relatively quiet overnight, but more attacks were to come, Serhiy Gaidai said: “It’s a calm before the storm.”

Although the fighting has favored Russia in recent weeks due to its huge advantage in artillery firepower, some Western military analysts say the fact that Russia has not made a breakthrough so far means the time is now ripe. on the side of the Ukrainians.

Moscow is running out of fresh troops, while Ukraine is getting new and better equipment from the West, retired US Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the former commander of US ground forces in Europe, tweeted.

“It’s a heavyweight boxing match. In 2 months of fighting, there still hasn’t been a knockout blow. It will come, as UK forces become more exhausted,” Hertling wrote.

Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s last independent newspapers, auctioned off a Nobel Peace Prize he won last year, raising $103.5 million for UNICEF to help Ukrainian refugees. The anonymous buyer bid for the medal over the phone at the New York auction.

Novaya Gazeta, like all other independent media outlets in Russia, has stopped publishing since Moscow enacted a ban on reporting apart from the official account of the “special military operation” launched in Ukraine on February 24.

Hundreds of people continued to flee heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine on June 20 as Russian and Ukrainian forces battled for control of several key cities and towns in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

The Associated Press

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