Presumed front in almost every scenario of a Third World War between Russia and NATO, Kaliningrad debuted in the Ukraine War crisis.
Lithuania has implemented an embargo on the transport of Russian goods by rail through its territory to the territory of Moscow sandwiched between the country and Poland, both members of NATO (Western military alliance). The Kremlin reacted by threatening retaliation against its neighbor and accused the European Union of escalating the already tense situation.
“Russia will react to these hostile actions. The measures will be implemented and the consequences will have a serious negative impact that will be felt by the Lithuanian population,” powerful Kremlin Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patruchev told RIA.
It all started on Saturday (18), when a European embargo on the transport of Russian basic products by land, part of the war punishment packages, came into effect. As about 50% of what is consumed by Kalingrad comes from Russia by train lines that pass through Lithuania, the problem is posed.
“When the news came, around Thursday (16), we ran to the supermarket and bought everything that wasn’t perishable,” Natascha Gruchovka, 35, a realtor in the city, said via messaging app. The panic, she said, has abated, but now the tension is over the next steps of the crisis.
Kaliningrad was, until the conflict, one of the points of greatest intersection and friction between Russia and the West. The reason is geographic: the former Königsberg, capital of East Prussia taken from Germany at the end of the Second World War, is the westernmost territory of Russia. It was renamed in 1946 in honor of Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin, who was killed that year.
With the end of the Soviet Union and the retreat of Russian borders, Kaliningrad was isolated from the motherland. This exposed it to greater trade with European neighbors and also to a specific militarization: the size of Russian troops there has decreased, but the region has become a base for various types of missiles, including Iskander models capable of hitting Berlin with warheads. nuclear.
It also hosts the Baltic Fleet, which only grows in importance with the crisis and the request of Sweden and Finland to join NATO. The entire region is one of the most contentious in the Russia-West relationship, with heavy military activity and constant fear from neighbors that Moscow will use its ally Belarus to try to establish a land bridge with Kaliningrad.
This is unlikely, as it would imply a war against NATO as a whole — the same can be said for current threats. The territory has just over 437 thousand inhabitants in an area three times smaller than that of the São Paulo municipality of Ribeirão Preto.
“No one has changed any habits, but we don’t have Poles in cafes like we used to have anymore,” said Natascha, who made a lot of money selling old Soviet houses with Germanized facades to tourists during the 2018 World Cup, which had one of its headquarters there.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the embargo was an escalation by the European Union, of which Lithuania is also a part, against Russia. Next week, the group will consider Ukraine’s own application for admission. The bloc said that there is no blockade of the exclave, only the application of sanctions – although in practice it is almost the same.
For Russians, it is yet another piece of the rhetorical dispute surrounding the Ukrainian War. Embargoed trains transport products such as construction material, coal and fuel, but also food and consumer goods such as household appliances. Now they will have to be shipped over longer and more expensive sea or air routes using international territories.