Intermodal terminal in Kaliningrad Region, source: Russian Railways (RZD)
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Kaliningrad stranded after Lithuania partially cuts down rail cargo transit

Transhipment of containers at the intermodal terminal in Kaliningrad Region, source: Russian Railways (RZD)

Lithuania banned the transit of sanctioned products on trains to and from Kaliningrad. The ban has been in effect since Saturday, 17 June. Western sanctions on Russia are behind this decision, which only affects sanctioned products. However, it will impact the number of trains between Lithuania and Kaliningrad. “The ban will impact around 50 per cent of Kaliningrad’s imports”, commented Anton Alikhanov, the Russian exclave’s governor.

“Land transit between the Kaliningrad region and other parts of the Russian Federation is not suspended or banned. LTG has not imposed any unilateral, individual or additional restrictions on it. The transit of passengers and cargo goods, which are not subject to the EU sanctions, continues to be ensured. Sanctions imposed by the EU have different wind-down periods and different terms when they come into effect. In June, part of the sanction exemptions, which allowed to complete the transactions entered into before the dates set in the relevant regulations, expire,” explained Lithuania’s state-owned railway company.

Four months into sanctions

Despite the EU and the US imposing sanctions on Russia since almost day one of the war in Ukraine, Kaliningrad was something of a grey zone. There was no clear overview of whether transit was possible, while companies mentioned or implied that trains would still arrive there and distribute their cargo further by sea connections.

One could say that under these conditions, business kept running as usual through the Russian exclave. However, was this the case? On top of the sanction exemption window, allowing rail transport to continue for preexisting transactions and contracts, traffic through Kaliningrad running, as usual, could also be an effect of companies trying to get their equipment out of Russian territory in the context of the sanctions. As a result, Kaliningrad concentrated a backlog of containers that kept trains and services running.

However, currently, sanctions are gradually fully implemented, thus affecting transport aspects that did not so far. According to Reuters, the cargo most impacted will be building materials, cement, metal, coal and advanced technology.

We can still do it by sea

Anton Alikhanov, Kaliningrad’s governor, stressed that the transit ban will affect approximately 50 per cent of the exclave’s imports. Nevertheless, despite the substantial impact, he was optimistic that imports and exports would keep running through sea connections with Russia.

Kaliningrad is a small piece of land between Poland and Lithuania. Its only overland gateway to Russia was rail transit via Lithuania, which is now, if not completely stopped, at least substantially reduced. The Russian exclave started gaining publicity and importance during the past few years when it emerged as an alternative Silk Road gateway for Europe. However, with the new status quo that global geopolitics and the war in Ukraine set up, its role is also changing for the time being.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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