Europe Condemned for Caving to Russia on Kaliningrad Blockade: 'Pathetic'

The former president of Estonia was among those who have condemned the decision by the European Union to allow Russian goods to be transported across the bloc by rail to the exclave of Kaliningrad.

Moscow was angered when EU and NATO member Lithuania said it would impose restrictions on Russian goods traveling across its territory to the exclave sandwiched between the Baltic Sea states and Poland.

Vilnius argued it was simply applying EU sanctions imposed because of the Ukraine war but Moscow warned of reprisals and demanded the EU force an end to the restrictions.

However, the bloc's executive, the European Commission said on Wednesday that Vilnius had an obligation to allow the rail transit of sanctioned goods—with the exception of weapons—between Russia and its exclave.

 Moscow to Kaliningrad
In this combination image, A train from Moscow to Kaliningrad passes by on April 26, 2022 in Kalveliai, Lithuania in this illustrative image. The EU has ruled that goods can travel by train from Russia to the Kaliningrad exclave following an attempt by Lithuania to block such transits and Russian President Vladimir Putin (Inset) speaks during his talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the Kremlin on June 30, 2022 in Moscow, Russia. Getty

But this has sparked accusations that the EU ruling was a climbdown which would embolden Vladimir Putin.

"Utterly pathetic" tweeted Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who was the head of state of Lithuania's neighbor, Estonia, between 2006 and 2016.

Senior policy advisor for the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Paul Massaro tweeted: "Europe caves and allows Russia to bypass sanctions and send sanctioned goods to Kaliningrad. Major show of weakness."

"Every time we make an exception to sanctions, we show weakness. Every time we show weakness, Putin escalates," Massaro added in a follow up tweet.

Others also reacted strongly on social media. Political commentator Michael MacKay tweeted: "The Russian regime of state terrorism and its partner, Germany, bullied Canada into delivering a sanctioned turbine to Gazprom.

"Now they're ganging up on Lithuania to deliver EU-sanctioned goods to occupied Königsberg (so-called Kaliningrad)," he added, referring to the exclave's name until 1946.

Ukrainian journalist Danylo Mokryk tweeted that the EU decision—which comes on the heels of a rising death toll following a Russian missile attack on a building in Chasiv Yar—showed "compromise instead of accountability."

Twitter user Abhijit Iyer-Mitra called the EU decision "spineless" adding "they never thought this through properly did they?"

When contacted for comment, the Lithuanian foreign ministry referred Newsweek to its media statement on Wednesday. That said Vilnius would follow the EU executive's advice but insisted it did not mean "the transatlantic community is softening its position and sanctions policy towards Russia."

It also said that Vilnius would continue to push for widening sanctions against Russia but would follow the European Commission's updated guidance on the transit of sanctioned Russian goods through EU territory.

"Lithuania will remain loyal to the transatlantic partnership and will continue adhering to a unified and coordinated EU sanctions policy," it said.

The European Commission also referred Newsweek to a statement made on Wednesday that said "the transit of sanctioned goods by road with Russian operators is not allowed under the EU measures. No such similar prohibition exists for rail transport."

The EU added that the trade flows between Russia and Kaliningrad would be monitored to ensure "sanctioned goods cannot enter the EU customs territory."

Kaliningrad has a population of around one million people. It was seized by the Soviet Union's Red Army from Germany in the closing stages of World War II and was separated from the Russian mainland after the break-up of the Soviet Union when Lithuania became independent.