Sunday

25th Sep 2016

Lithuania seeks EU support on Russia border clampdown

  • Lithuanian trucks are backed up on the Russian border since 11 September (Photo: David Basanta)

Lithuania has accused Russia of imposing new border checks for political reasons and urged the EU to show solidarity.

Its foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius, told EUobserver on Monday (16 September), the border clampdown is part of Russia's campaign to intimidate former Soviet states which seek EU integration.

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He said: "Knowing what kind of measures are being applied against Ukraine and Moldova, and now getting the news of thorough checks, sample taking and other procedures for all the goods exclusively from Lithuania … it is difficult to see this situation in an isolated manner."

He added he "expects" EU countries and officials to make "strong calls urging Russia to keep to its international commitments, as well as to stop and refrain from any discriminatory practices directed at Lithuania as the rotating EU presidency."

Linkevicius spoke out on the morning of an EU transport ministers' meeting in Vilnius.

His complaint comes after Russia on 11 September imposed a new customs regime on Lithuanian road hauliers.

Trucks which used to clear customs in half a day are now backed up on the Lithuanian-Russian border awaiting permits which could up take up to a week.

Russia on 30 August also began harassing cars with Lithuanian plates trying to get in and out of Russia's European exclave, Kaliningrad, prompting a 90 percent drop in traffic.

Lithuania will in November host an EU summit with six former Soviet countries in a bid to pull them closer to the Union.

It is a vocal critic of Russia's recent threats to block trade with Moldova and Ukraine if they conclude EU agreements at the November event.

Vilnius on Friday summoned the Russian ambassador to Lithuania to give him a written complaint about its border problem.

But Linkevicius indicated the Russian diplomat did little to alleviate concerns. "Absence of official explanations by the Russian authorities does not help," he told this website.

One former Soviet state, Armenia, recently caused surprise by saying it will join Russia's Customs Union instead of an EU free trade pact.

EU neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele met with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in Yerevan last week to ask what happened.

EU diplomats suspect Russia threatened to make trouble for Armenia in its frozen conflict with Azerbaijan.

But Fuele told the RFE/RFL news agency in an interview: "In none of my meetings have I been told by Armenian officials that there was any [Russian] pressure. Who am I to question the integrity of my interlocutors?"

He noted that "he has not given up on Armenia" despite its Customs Union decision.

He said he will create a "new legal framework" so that Armenia can continue EU-model reforms in areas such as rule of law and good governance despite joining the Russian club.

Following Russia's ban on Moldovan wine on 10 September, Fuele added the EU will increase quotas for Moldovan wine imports to the Union by way of compensation.

"We have assured [the former Soviet states] that if they become the subject of undue pressure because of exercising their free choice, they can count on the solidarity [of the EU]. Solidarity is not an empty word in the European Union," he said.

EU rushing to ratify climate agreement

Environment ministers will try to agree next week to speed up the process to sign up to the Paris agreement. Otherwise it would not be present at the table of the signatories at a conference in November.

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