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What is Kaliningrad, and why is a source of Ukraine war tensions?

What is Kaliningrad, and why is a source of Ukraine war tensions?

Kaliningrad is the latest spot in Europe caught up in spillover tensions from the Ukraine war.

That Kaliningrad flared up is not all that surprising considering, well, geography. Kaliningrad is a chunk of Russia wedged between Lithuania and Poland, who are both members of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It is heavily militarized. Russia has deployed nuclear-capable missiles to the oblast, or administrative region, and it is the base for Russia’s Baltic Fleet, and its only year-round ice-free port. Minor close calls have happened before in the region, so when war broke out in Europe, Kaliningrad was always a point of potential volatility.

It is a reminder that Russia’s Ukraine invasion — and the West’s intense mobilization in response — always risked worsening tensions outside of Ukraine.

What set off the spat this time was Lithuania’s enforcement of EU sanctions against Russia after a months-long transition period. Because Kaliningrad isn’t directly connected to the rest of Russia, it gets most of its supplies by land routes or by sea. Lithuania’s state rail operator announced last week that it would no longer allow the transit of sanctioned goods — like steel products and construction materials — through Lithuania to Kaliningrad.

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Russia accused Lithuania of staging a blockade, with Russia’s foreign ministry warning of “practical” retaliation. “Both Lithuania and the EU have…

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