EU Allows Russia to Move Goods Through NATO Nations After Putin Warning

Russia is permitted to transit sanctioned goods through European Union nations as long as it is done by rail, the bloc's executive arm said Wednesday.

In June, Lithuania applied EU sanctions, which were imposed on Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine, to restrict the transit of certain Russian goods like coal, iron and steel to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad is a piece of Russian-controlled territory sandwiched between the Baltic Sea and Lithuania and Poland, both of which are members of the EU and NATO. Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration sharply condemned the move, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov calling it "more than serious" and a "violation of everything," according to Reuters.

Putin ally Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia's Security Council, also warned of "serious consequences" as a result of the restrictions, the Guardian reported. This encouraged fears that the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War could escalate dramatically, since the targeting of a NATO member state could force direct involvement from the military alliance.

New legal guidance issued by the European Commission on Wednesday specified that while "the transit of sanctioned goods by road with Russian operators is not allowed" under the EU's sanctions, "no such similar prohibition exists for rail transport." This means that Russia can, in fact, transit the sanctioned goods by rail to Kaliningrad through NATO members Lithuania and Poland.

EU Permits Russian Goods Transit
Russia is permitted to transit sanctioned goods through European Union nations as long as it is done by rail, the bloc’s executive arm said Wednesday. Above, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends the G7 summit at Schloss Elmau on June 26 near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The guidance said that EU member states will keep tabs on whether the transit volumes are in line with averages of the last three years, "in particular reflecting the real demand for essential goods at the destination, and that there are no unusual flows or trade patterns that could give rise to circumvention."

"The transit of sanctioned military and dual use goods and technology is fully prohibited in any event—regardless of the mode of transport," it added.

The European Commission called on its member states to prevent any "circumvention" of the bloc's restrictions, as well as to monitor trade flows between Russia and Kaliningrad to make sure that sanctioned goods can't enter EU customs territory.

It also stressed the importance of the EU's sanctions in responding to Russia's ongoing invasion, saying that the restrictions are "unprecedented and designed to increase economic pressure on Russia and undermine its ability to wage its war on Ukraine."

"The EU stands united in solidarity with Ukraine and will continue to support Ukraine and its people together with its international partners, including through additional political, financial and humanitarian support," the European Commission said in a press release.

Lithuania's Foreign Ministry noted the updated guidance in a statement on Wednesday, saying that it welcomed the full ban of the "military purpose, dual-use goods and technology" and "positively evaluates" the obligation the Commission said member states have to monitor transit.

"We have always said that there should be no special exceptions or individual treatment of different territories of the EU member states," the statement read. "We, therefore, positively evaluate the fact that the updated guidance, which is to be followed by all EU Member States, does not create such a precedent."

"As a member of the transatlantic community and a trusted ally, Lithuania cannot ignore the strategic positions and assessments of Lithuania's foreign and security policy partners and the EC (European Commission)," it continued. "We are well aware that one of the Kremlin's goals is to destroy our transatlantic unity, to seek to create mistrust and to sow discord among the allies. Thus, Lithuania will remain loyal to the transatlantic partnership and will continue adhering to a unified and coordinated EU sanctions policy."

The statement added that Lithuania "understands that the updated guidance could give the false impression that the transatlantic community is mitigating its position and sanctions policy towards Russia."

"Lithuania continues to advocate for the stricter and broadest possible modalities of the application of the EU sanctions," the ministry said.

The European Commission referred Newsweek back to its press release in response to a request for comment.

Newsweek reached out to Russia's Foreign Ministry for comment.

Updated 7/15/22, 2:45 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with an additional statement from Lithuania's Foreign Ministry.