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A map of Lithuania showing Kaliningrad to the west. Picture: 123RF/mschmeling
A map of Lithuania showing Kaliningrad to the west. Picture: 123RF/mschmeling

Kyiv — Russia summoned the EU’s ambassador in Moscow on Tuesday over a rail blockade that has halted shipments of many basic goods to a Russian outpost on the Baltic Sea, the latest stand-off over sanctions imposed for the war in Ukraine.

In eastern Ukraine, Russia’s separatist proxies said they were advancing towards Kyiv's main battlefield bastion. A Ukrainian official described a lull in fighting there as the “calm before the storm”.

The latest diplomatic crisis is over the Kaliningrad enclave, a port and surrounding countryside on the Baltic Sea that is home to nearly a million Russians, which is connected to the rest of Russia by a rail link through EU- and Nato-member Lithuania.

Lithuania has shut the route for basic goods in recent days, including construction materials, metals and coal. Vilnius and Brussels say Lithuania is implementing new EU sanctions that came into force on Saturday. Moscow calls the move an illegal blockade and has threatened unspecified retaliation.

EU ambassador Marcus Ederer appeared at the Russian foreign ministry headquarters on Tuesday, Russia’s RIA state news agency reported. Overnight, the Kaliningrad governor told Russian television Ederer was to be summoned and “told of the appropriate conditions involved here”.

Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s powerful Security Council, arrived in Kaliningrad to hold a council meeting, RIA reported.

Moscow had summoned a Lithuanian diplomat on Monday, but the EU has deflected responsibility from the Lithuanians. Vilnius was “doing nothing else than implementing the guidelines provided by the [European] Commission”, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

Heavyweight bout

Within Ukraine, the battle for the east has become a brutal war of attrition in recent weeks, with Russia concentrating its overwhelming firepower on a Ukrainian-held pocket of the Donbas region that Moscow claims on behalf of its separatist proxies.

Moscow has made slow progress there since April in relentless fighting that has cost both sides thousands of troops, one of the bloodiest land battles in Europe for generations.

The fighting has spanned the Siverskyi Donets river that winds through the region, with Russian forces mainly on the east bank and Ukrainian forces mainly on the west, though Ukrainians are still holding out in the east bank city of Sievierodonetsk.

Russia has captured Toshkivka, a small city on the west bank further south, giving it a potential foothold to try to cut off the main Ukrainian bastion at Lysychansk.

Rodion Miroshnik, the ambassador to Russia of the pro-Moscow separatist self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, said forces were “moving from the south towards Lysychansk” with fighting erupting in several towns.

“The hours to come should bring considerable changes to the balance of forces in the area,” he said on Telegram.

Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Ukraine’s surrounding Luhansk region said Russian forces had gained territory on Monday. It was relatively quiet overnight, but more attacks were coming. “It's a calm before the storm,” Gaidai said.

Although fighting has favoured Russia because of its huge artillery advantage, some Western military analysts say its failure to make a major breakthrough so far means time is now on the Ukrainians’ side.

Moscow is running out of fresh troops while Ukraine is receiving newer and better equipment from the West, retired US Lt-Gen Mark Hertling, a former commander of US ground forces in Europe, said on Twitter.

“It’s a heavyweight boxing match. In two months of fighting, there has not yet been a knockout blow. It will come, as RU forces become more depleted,” Hertling wrote.

Ukraine defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov announced on Tuesday the arrival of powerful German self-propelled howitzers.



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