VILNIUS – It would be irrational to continue to argue with Western partners over the Kaliningrad transit, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte says and calls for further focus on supporting Ukraine, as it is defending itself against Russia, and also new sanctions for Moscow.
"It is not rational to have our time and attention distracted and used to discuss whether one kiloton of steel can be transported from one part of Russia to Kaliningrad by rail," Simonyte told reporters on Thursday.
Her comment came in response to the European Commission's Wednesday decision to allow the transit of sanctioned Russian goods to Kaliningrad for the needs of this Russian exclave.
The transit was halted after the EU sanction for Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine came into force.
Representatives of Lithuania and the European Commission have held consultations in recent weeks on this transit following Russia's outcry after restrictions on steel came into force in June.
Further disputes would be "a real victory for the Kremlin", Simonyte said.
"Therefore, the priority must be to continue to fully support Ukraine in its war with Russia and to reach an agreement as soon as possible on the 7th sanction package we expect soon," the prime minister said.
In her words, Lithuania is choosing to take the European Commission's guidelines on transit into account "out of respect for the institution itself and its mandate", and "out of respect for the unified approach, which is one of the guidelines' main tasks".
"We may not take them into account (...) Then, our disagreement would end up in the Court of Justice of the European Union," the prime minister said.
Simonyte also pointed out that the European Commission is not obliged to coordinate its guidelines with the member states, adding that Lithuania is grateful for the consultations, comments and suggestions.
"However, the responsibility for the European Commission's opinion lies with the European Commission, and the institutions of the Republic of Lithuania should not and could not take responsibility for the European Commission's opinion," Simonyte said.
"WE HAVE ALL THE DATA"
Under the updated guidelines, Lithuania and other EU member states will be required to check whether transit volumes remain within the historical averages of the last 3 years to make sure sanctioned goods shipped to Kaliningrad are in line with real local demand and are not exported to EU countries.
Lithuania has all the data it needs to decide what transit volumes are needed to meet the needs of the region, the premier said.
"We have all the data on the historical movements of such goods over a number of years, and we can certainly more or less accurately assess what the volumes for the region's needs look like, given that the volumes in transit have significantly dropped over the last few years," the Lithuanian prime minister said.
"And we can probably make a reasonable assumption that most of those goods are for the internal use of the region", she added.
In any case, Kaliningrad's transit will not be the same as it was before June, and Lithuania welcomes that, Simonyte said, adding that the Lithuanian authorities will still have to prepare for the controls of transit goods by setting "modalities".
"Until they are set, the same procedure will apply for the time being", she underlined.
In her words, since the adoption of sanctions on Russian exports to the EU, Lithuania has discussed the Kaliningrad transit issue "both with the European Commission and with strategic partners", but has only discussed implementation details with the Commission.
"That opinion was coordinated not with officials, but with those directorates, those EC units that are responsible for this issue. Certainly, that approach, in my opinion, was discussed well in advance", she said.
Simonyte also called the question of who should take responsibility for the situation in Lithuania incorrect, stating that "no national institution can ban the European Commission from expressing its opinion".
Currently, Russian steel, ferrous metals, cement, alcohol and other goods are not shipped to Kaliningrad.