SCOTT RITTER: Lithuania’s Brinkmanship

The restoration of Russia’s rail connection with Kaliningrad is urgently needed to avoid a conflict in the Baltics that has worried NATO for a long time. 

Lithuanian government building in Vilnius. (Pofka, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Scott Ritter
Special to Consortium News

On June 18 the government of Lithuania acted on a decision by the European Commission that goods and cargo subject to European Union sanctions could be prohibited from transiting between one part of Russia to another, so long as they passed through E.U. territory.

Almost immediately Lithuania moved to block Russia from shipping certain categories of goods and materials by rail to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, encompassing the former East Prussian Baltic port city of Konigsberg and its surrounding environs. They were absorbed into Russia proper as a form of war reparations at the end of the Second World War.

Lithuania cited its legal obligation as an E.U. member to enforce E.U. sanctions targeting Russia. Russia, citing a 2002 treaty with Lithuania which ostensibly prohibits such an action, has called the Lithuanian move a blockade and has threatened a military response.

Lithuania, as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, is afforded the collective security guarantees spelled out in Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which stipulate that an attack against one member is an attack against all. Through its actions, Lithuania risked bringing Russia and NATO to the brink of armed conflict, the consequences of which could be dire for the entire world given the respective nuclear arsenals of the two sides.

From the moment Russia initiated its so-called “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine, the nations that comprise NATO have been engaged in a delicate dance around the issue of how to support Ukraine and punish Russia without crossing the line of committing an overt act of war that could prompt Russia to respond militarily, thereby triggering a series of cause-effect actions that could lead to a general European conflict, and perhaps World War III.

A formation of NATO fighter jets flying over Lithuania in 2015. (NATO)

In retrospect, the early debates in the European halls of power about whether to provide Ukraine with heavy weaponry seem almost innocent when compared to the massive infusion of weaponry that is taking place today.

Even Russia has softened its hardline stance going in, where it had threatened unimaginable consequences for any nation that interfered with its military operation in Ukraine.

Today the situation has evolved to the point where NATO is engaged in a de facto proxy conflict with Russia on Ukrainian soil which is designed, frankly speaking, to kill as many Russian soldiers as possible.

Russian Objectives  

Russia, for its part, has adapted its posture into one that is designed to absorb these NATO-linked blows while pursuing its stated military and political objectives in Ukraine with a single-minded purpose.

Ukraine has used NATO-provided weapons and NATO-provided intelligence to lethal effect on the battlefield, killing several Russian generals, sinking the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and killing and wounding thousands of Russian soldiers while destroying hundreds, if not thousands, of vehicles and pieces of military equipment.

The relative restraint of the Russian approach is evident when contrasted with the hysteria of the United States during its two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Qassem Suleimani, an Iranian general who oversaw an Iraqi resistance against the U.S. occupation of Iraq in the mid-2000’s that was purportedly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. servicemen, was assassinated by the U.S. government more than a decade after his alleged activities. And it was only a year ago that the U.S. media was in an uproar over allegations (subsequently proven false) that Russia was offering bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.

The latter claim best illustrates the hypocrisy of the U.S. today. The “bounty” claim was premised on a single attack that left three U.S. servicemen dead. The U.S. today openly brags about killing hundreds of Russians in Ukraine. 

Red Lines

Russia’s red lines in Ukraine have evolved to encompass two basic principles — no direct military intervention by NATO forces on Ukrainian soil/airspace and no attack against Russia proper.

Even here, Russia has displayed great patience, tolerating the presence of U.S. special operations forces in Ukraine and holding back when Ukrainian forces, most likely supported by NATO-provided intelligence, engage in limited attacks on targets inside Russia.

Rather than respond by attacking the “decision making centers” outside Ukraine responsible for supporting these actions, Russia has engaged in a graduated campaign of escalation inside Ukraine, striking the very weapons being delivered under the oversight of U.S. commandos and the Ukrainian forces who use them.

It is in this context that the Lithuanian decision to impose a rail blockade on Russia seems to be a stark departure from current NATO and E.U. policy.

Russia immediately made its ire known, indicating that it viewed the Lithuanian actions as an overt act of war which, if not reversed, would result in “practical” measures outside the realm of diplomacy to rectify the situation.

The rhetoric was ratcheted up to high, however, when Andrey Klimov, a Russian senator who chairs the Commission for the Defense of State Sovereignty, called the Lithuanian action “an act of aggression” which would result in Russia seeking to “solve the problem of the Kaliningrad transit created by Lithuania by ANY means chosen by us.”

The Suwalki Gap

Close-up at the Suwalki Gap. (Jakub Luczak, Wikimedia Commons)

For years, NATO has worried about the possibility of a war with Russia in the Baltics. Much of NATO’s attention has been focused on defending the “Suwalki Gap,” a 60-mile-long stretch of border between Poland and Lithuania that separates Belarus from Kaliningrad. Western military experts have long speculated that, in the event of any conflict between Russia and NATO, Russian forces would seek to advance on the Suwalki Gap, joining Kaliningrad with Belarus and severing the three Baltic nations from the rest of Europe.

But while NATO has focused on defending the Sulwaki Gap, a Russian lawmaker has suggested that any Russian military attack in the Baltics would avoid involving Belarus. Instead, it would focus on securing a land bridge between Kaliningrad and Russia by driving north, along the Baltic coastline, to Saint Petersburg.

A series of wargames conducted by RAND around 2014 showed that NATO was, at the time, not able to adequately defend the Baltics from a concerted Russian attack. According to the wargame results, Russian forces were able to overrun the Baltics in about 60 hours.

Similar projections of Russian offensive prowess against Ukraine — where some military officials, including U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Miley, predicted that Russian forces would take Kiev within 72 hours — proved wrong. But the reality is that the militaries of the three Baltic nations are not on par with those of Ukraine, either in quality or quantity, and there is little doubt Russia, even distracted in Ukraine, could deliver a fatal blow to the militaries of the three Baltic nations.

Escalating Rhetoric

Vladimir Dzhabarov in 2021. (, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The rhetoric out of Russia continues to escalate. Vladimir Dzhabarov, a deputy head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the lower house of Russia’s Parliament, has threatened that any continued blockade of Kaliningrad “could lead to an armed conflict,” noting that “the Russian state must protect its territory and ensure its security. If we see that a threat to our security that is fraught with a loss of territory, we will certainly take extreme measures, and nothing will stop us.”

If there is one take away from the Russian military operation in Ukraine, it is that Russia doesn’t bluff. NATO and the rest of Europe can rest assured that unless a solution is found that brings an end to Lithuania’s blockade of Kaliningrad, there will be a war between NATO and Russia.

With this reality in mind, the E.U. is working on a compromise arrangement with Lithuania that seeks to have the Russian rail connection  with Kaliningrad returned to normal in the near future. This deal, however, must work to Russia’s satisfaction, an outcome which is yet uncertain.

Unlike the Ukrainian conflict, a war in the Baltics will have existential aspects for both sides which brings the possibility — indeed probability — of nuclear weapons being used. This is an outcome that benefits no one and threatens everyone.

Scott Ritter is a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD. His most recent book is Disarmament in the Time of Perestroika, published by Clarity Press.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

37 comments for “SCOTT RITTER: Lithuania’s Brinkmanship

  1. Simon
    July 3, 2022 at 11:34

    I’m surprised that nobody appears to mention the obvious similarities with the Berlin Airlift.

    I’m also surprised that the Russians have not responded with a ‘symbolic’ airlift. Yes, its good that people can get food via ships at sea, but the propaganda value of flying the ‘Kaliningrad Airlift’ seems too good to pass up. Of course, that assumes that the ‘doublethinking west’ would actually know any history. Having observed that the Russians appear to know far more history than the lemmings that surround me, perhaps they understand this all too well and know it would be a hopeless approach?

  2. Gerry L Forbes
    July 2, 2022 at 10:09

    “Support by United States is rather in the nature of the support that the rope gives to a hanged man”. So chortled Khrushchev in the wake of the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Yet Georgia, Ukraine and now Lithuania are willing assume all the risk to do America’s dirty work.

    The Russians are taking a go slow approach in their Special Military Operation because they consider Ukrainians their brothers. Lithuanians will get no such consideration especially if they are hosting thousands of Nato troops. Even without nuclear weapons Russia has the capability of reducing Lithuanian to a wasteland and no amount of Nato corpses will prevent that.

  3. July 1, 2022 at 15:35

    “Today the situation has evolved to the point where NATO is engaged in a de facto proxy conflict with Russia on Ukrainian soil which is designed, frankly speaking, to kill as many Russian soldiers as possible.”

    Unfortunately, they are also killing Ukrainians at the same time they are killing Russians. My guess is that more Ukrainians are being killed than Russians. As there are far more Russians than Ukrainians, there will be no Ukrainians left by the time this debacle has ended. So, while NATO’s objective is to kill as many Russians as possible, they won’t rest until they have killed all the Ukrainians.

    • Steve
      July 3, 2022 at 05:25

      Exactly true and the North Atlantic terrorist organisation doesn’t care how many Ukrainians die. Putin should invade Lithuania to connect Russia proper to the Baltic

  4. bluedogg
    July 1, 2022 at 10:12

    He states that Ukraine had already killed SEVERAL Russian generals I Wonder if he would care to name them.

  5. Mikael Andersson
    July 1, 2022 at 07:36

    Another fine article Scott. Let’s hope the people in Vilnius read your work. I look forward to your future commentary, based in reality rather than corporate media absurdities. Thanks to Joe and Consortium for publishing. Best wishes.

  6. TrompeL'Oeil
    July 1, 2022 at 07:11

    “Lithuania’s Brinkmanship”

    Some believe it is “brinkmanship” whilst others continue to percive posturing.

    Some activities are guided by tell the truth since few will “believe” you, whilst many believe that corpses are best left interred.

    In furtherance of this let me cite an example from 1992, when Lithuania was “led” by the pianist Mr. Landsbergis and buildings in Vilnius were sandbagged in case The Russians invaded, that some will deny, others will not believe, and others will deem to be “conspiracy theory”.

    In 1992 a “consortium” including Lithuania and Poland using funding from supposed “fairy godmothers” approached representatives of The Russian Federation with an “offer” to purchase Kaliningradsky oblast during times of “normalising economic relations/lustration efforts” on the demise of “The Soviet Union”, since several “Soviet ministries and other parties” still had unrealised investments in the former near abroad, some of which were “honoured” by initially transferring freshly minted dollars by train to Moscow (the main logistical hub of “The Soviet Union”.

    A similar practice was used, except using aircraft instead of trains, in late February 2014 to transfer much of the gold reserves of “Ukraine” apparently to “fairy godmothers” in 2final destinations unknown”.

    This offer of purchasing Kalingradsky oblast was was laughed at, and subsequently denied to have ever been made.

    Consequently to save further blushes, at least one of the “fairy godmothers” lubricated the “election victory” of Mr. Brazauskas in May 1993 who subsequently allowed a 6 months moratorium to turn black (money) into white, and to consider legalising/regularising the practice of Lithuania as a location to offer “financial services” to Russian and other oligarchs, whilst Mr. Landsbergis was afforded more time to practice his scales.

  7. Malcolm Powell
    July 1, 2022 at 04:16

    America is a world-wide problem. It only knows violence as a means of resolving differences. Every week in America there are hundreds wounded or killed or threatened by gun violence. Americas past is steeped wanton violence. Since the end of WW2 America has waged violence across several continents killing many many thousands and creating millions of refugees and leaving behind scorched earth as a testament to their presence. Somehow the world rein in Americas bloodlust and hold it to account for the death and destruction it has inflicted across the globe.

    • Newton Finn
      July 2, 2022 at 12:04

      Strange how many of us understood this when we were young only to forget or repress it when we got older. Has any generation come even close to us Boomers when it comes to having had so much promise yet delivering so little? I will go to my grave utterly demoralized by this mass sellout of idealism. For those of my age who can endure it, pull up a song like “Save The Country” and mourn how we didn’t, why “OK Boomer” became a piercing indictment. How much evil happened on our watch, my daily dwindling comrades, we who once claimed so loudly, so passionately, to know better….

  8. bobzz
    June 30, 2022 at 21:21

    China is overwhelming the US economically, and so is Russia, Sanctions have backfired. The war is going badly. Both China and Russia are gaining strength while America grows weaker. Russia is not biting on the provocations by Israel’s bombing the airport in Damascus, the seaport in Lebanon. China/Russia are beating the US like a drum in diplomacy as more and more nations are stepping into the light. Nations are tired of US domination. The US sees the handwriting on the wall. They are losing big time, and are down to the last card; they are desperate to instigate WW III. If Russia attacks Lithuania, Russia will respond; look for China to go after Taiwan.

  9. Francis Lee
    June 30, 2022 at 18:17

    No more fudges, no more incremental territorial creep (See Lithuania) – we are rapidly reaching the stage where there will be a war or no war. As Putin has already pointed out Russia has nowhere left to retreat. Now if this is no longer 1. An idle threat from Moscow, or 2. A belief that Russia is going to capitulate to NATO then the war is certain.

    Their is no necessity for NATO (including the US) to start a war over a non-NATO state – Ukraine – which is not an EU member. So why the confrontation?

    “Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes mad.” Euripides (c. 485-406 B.C.)

    • July 1, 2022 at 15:42

      There is no need for NATO! Period. End of statement.

      NATO’s only reason for existence was to counter the perceived threat that the USSR would invade western Europe. The USSR no longer exists and there was no threat until NATO became a threat to Russia.

      • cyn
        July 2, 2022 at 17:49

        Well said WR Knight

  10. B. Red
    June 30, 2022 at 17:07

    I remember when the USA got quite upset at the thought of Soviet missiles in Cuba, only 90 miles away from the Florida swamp-land real estate ripoffs, and only some 500 miles away from Washington DC and its swamp.

    But now, Americans believe that everyone will be cool and happy with missiles even closer to Russia’s major city than they were to Florida swamp-land.

    Maybe this is good for the ruling elites somehow, but it sure ain’t good for the huddled masses yearning to be free.

    • Heidi Walter
      July 1, 2022 at 07:41

      The Soviets shipped the missiles to Cuba based upon the stationing of American missiles in 1958 and 1959 in Italy and Turkey hxxps:// Every action triggers a reaction, even though they are trying to hide the cause from the general public trying to make themselves look better.

  11. Altruist
    June 30, 2022 at 17:04

    Here I must think back to the negotiations for the reunification of Germany, when – if I recall correctly – Gorbachev and Shevardnadze, with the goal of full reconciliation with the West, indicated readiness to give back the Kaliningrad oblast (former Northern East Prussia) to Germany.

    But the then German government rejected this proposal, showing the same pusillanimity and spinelessness that the current chancellor Scholz showed at the news conference in late 2021 where Biden simply announced over his head that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would not be built, regardless of the wishes of the German vassals.

    And, if the offer of Gorbachev and Shevardnadze had been accepted, the “West” would have a very strategic piece of real estate. And the rights of the ethnically cleansed native population – mostly Germans, many if not most of whom having had nothing to do with Nazi regime and its works – would have been vindicated.

  12. B. Red
    June 30, 2022 at 17:03

    Sounds a lot like Berlin and the Berlin Airlift to me. The names have changed, the mannequins have shifted positions, now the dissidents flee to different embassies waving different flags on their rooftops, but the spiteful cutting off of supplies to an entire city to make a political point sounds exactly the same.

  13. Realist
    June 30, 2022 at 17:00

    I submit that the only purpose of recruiting all of these tiny statelets, such as the three Baltic republics and places like Northern Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia which offer nothing in the way of defensive enhancement and only provide more kindling to start a hot war, into Nato with its much hyped policy of “one for all and all for one” is simply to give the United States of America more opportunities to start a third world war in Europe. More triggers, more potential conflict. The warmongers in Washington like Biden and his diverse war council are well aware of this and yet they deliberately permit the tensions to rise, even if they seriously have no intention of allowing mighty Lithuania to actually start shooting at Russian supply trains. Or, maybe they do. Most of the time they certainly seem crazy enough to want this.

    Now the Norwegians are messing with Russia over the provisioning of a remote mining camp on the arctic island of Svalbard (Spitzbergen). I think 300 Russians live there under Norwegian jurisdiction. Mighty Nato will be the end of humanity if it continues to be run like a gang of kids playing cowboys and indians.

  14. Jo
    June 30, 2022 at 16:13

    someone looking at possible game plans re Estonia

    Meanwhile NATO has eight battlegroups in Eastern Europe, comprising thousands of troops permanently based on the Eastern frontline and thousands more that have been deployed in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

    The majority of these troops are American – approximately 3,000 paratroopers in Romania, another 4,700 in Poland and 7,000 soldiers in Germany – with Britain fielding the second-largest contingent of 1,700 and European nations such as Germany, France, Hungary and Norway contributing troops, tanks and armoured vehicles.

    This force alone is unlikely to be able to defeat the Russian army, but is not designed to: It is supposed to act as a ‘tripwire’, holding up the attack long enough for reserve forces to be rushed into the fight.


    has details of what is proposed
    Nato resources in Europe

  15. June 30, 2022 at 15:43

    Lithuania today, an updated version of 1914 Serbia (think Sarajevo).

    • Realist
      June 30, 2022 at 18:32

      I knew a LOT of Poles, Ukrainians and Lithuanians while growing up in Chicago post WWII. Most of these people would have gladly self-immolated to damage Russia in any way. Making these countries part of Nato was the exact opposite of the policy needed to *prevent* WWIII. Apparently, the United States would prefer such a war. What else could their entire sequence of choices impinging upon Russia possibly mean?

      • Ed Williams
        July 2, 2022 at 01:13

        It’s says a lot on Human nature..Sadly . l live “Down under ” and what you say about Chicago applies with many immigrant Poles,Western Ukrainians and Balt’s in this community far away in S E has reached boiling point here where you would not dare to have a rational discussion about Russian actions and if there was some justification.
        The sage advice ” that when you forgive, you set someone free……YOURSELF!”
        Many still live in hatred of past wrongs wrongs and by this hatred sentence themselves to never ending suffering. Sad……..

    • UncleDoug
      June 30, 2022 at 19:21

      Well, Sarajevo is in Bosnia, not Serbia, but . . . yes. Lithuania’s recklessness could certainly trigger very bad things.

    • Ed Williams
      June 30, 2022 at 19:42

      Yes.The situation does resembles a WW1 rerun preamble.lf you consider Lithuanian has a population of under 3 Million people,its seems inconceivable that their action could bring the World into Nuclear conflict.This defies logic.
      Furthermore the Ukraine “saga”gives a 1920/30 German feel.Failed state,Criminal gangs,Extreme minority right wing national taking control of Polital power.Europe never seems to learn anything.

      • Donald Duck
        July 1, 2022 at 09:46

        ”lf you consider Lithuanian has a population of under 3 Million people …” Too true. Eastern Europe is bleeding people; the fertility rate is well below 2.1 cut-off and more like 1.1. In 20 years time it will look like a parking lot. Even Jordan Petersen has noted this trend. To make the point even more telling the Northern Hemisphere is not looking too good in human growth terms. Only the deficit countries making up the numbers by mass immigration.

    • Brigitte Lechner
      July 1, 2022 at 09:58

      I watched The Long Road to War on Netflix the other day and thought precisely that. It’s as if Ford was right to say history is bunk.

  16. Nika
    June 30, 2022 at 15:33

    One gets the impression that European countries are led by immature teenagers who at one time were poorly educated and, unfortunately, do not even know what diplomacy is. How much patience the Russian leadership must have to endure all the antics from Europe. Even the Lithuanian leadership wanted to show their evil grin to Russia and remind themselves. “The President of Lithuania has declared that he will not make concessions to Russia on the issue of transit to Kaliningrad” Probably, Mr. Gabrielius Landsbergis was pleased to see this “terrible” statement on TV screens and in newspapers. And he lustfully reasoned: “You see how strong and brave we Lithuanians are, we can also threaten this inconvenient and insidious Russia.”

    • Steve
      July 3, 2022 at 05:55

      One gets the impression that European countries are led by immature teenagers I been around long enough to realise that is the case with most countries

  17. rosemerry
    June 30, 2022 at 15:10

    The Baltic troika get far more attention and are granted far more importance than they deserve. Sever them and see how they survive!

    • Litchfield
      June 30, 2022 at 19:41

      Little tails wagging big dogs.

      But I very much doubt Russia will accept the role of “waggee” (as the USA does with Israel).

      I believe there is a treaty between Lithuania and Russia, whereby Lithuania basically exists at Russia’s pleasure.

      Lithuania should probably consider verrrrry carefully whether it can afford the luxury of chest-thumping in Russia’s face.

      • Jason
        July 1, 2022 at 11:52

        Nonsense. Lithuania is an independent country and it has the right to decide what goods transit through its territory; it doesn’t “exist at the pleasure of Russia”.

        • Crazyczar
          July 1, 2022 at 23:09

          Jason, What you fail to understand is that none of the East European countries are sovereign except for Russia. All of them are bought and paid for by the U.S. and UK. None of them have an independent foreign policy. They all dance to whims of the “West”.

        • Realist
          July 2, 2022 at 02:40

          So, how does your theory play out in the real world? Country A wants to blockade country B (because you say that is its right) and country B should do what? Submissively roll over and die? Obviously not. Countries A and B will either sign some kind of treaty allowing the transit of essentials (which Russia and Lithuania did decades ago) or country B will take necessary actions against country A. If country A is militarily weaker than country B, it made a bad choice in deciding to blockade country B. Lithuania is being doubly stupid in breaking the treaty it signed long ago. It is not only inviting itself to a war it cannot win, but its word is publicly perceived as no good.

          I know, we are all aware that Washington breaks its treaties all the time with impunity, and the world consequently knows quite well that its word is no damned good, but Washington has a massive military to bully any of its victims and Lithuania has whatever weapons Washington makes them purchase from its arms merchants. With a population of 2.6 million, which is 300,000 less than the population of Mississippi, Lithuania cannot bully in the same league with America and its 330 million potentially armed conscripts. If you think that Lithuania has hand in this matter because America will start WWIII on its behalf, that is imagining the kind of perfect world that psychopaths inhabit. If I were Lithuania, I’d smarten up and stop effing with Russia just because Washington applauds.

        • Donald Duck
          July 3, 2022 at 04:24

          ‘Lithuania is NOT an independent country. It is a non-Sovereign occupied ‘state’ under American occupation, just as is every other country in Europe, with the exceptions being Austria and Switzerland, and possibly Ireland.

    • TrompeL'Oeil
      July 1, 2022 at 07:20

      “Sever them and see how they survive!”

      They have been deemed assets since at least 1919, and the “copybook” likes tradition.

    • Heidi Walter
      July 1, 2022 at 07:35

      Thank you, Rosemerry. As soon as the former Warsaw Pact-States entered the EU and the NATO, trouble started. They are revisionistic and their actions are clearly retaliation for the years under Russian occupation. The problem is that te rest of Europe pays for it, too. Since our countries are run by idiots, who are destroying everything their political predecessors worked for decades to guarantee a peaceful co-existence. They are not brave and strong, they are utterly stupid and some Germans, who are still capable to use their brains, are sick and tired of them as well as they are sick and tired of the “best Ukrainian actor ever” the NATO and the US Government headed by Sleepy Joe. EU means Euer Untergang (your demise).

      • Donald Duck
        July 3, 2022 at 04:35

        Yes, the strange thing about these occupied states – East and West – is that they seem to like being occupied. In every respect they seem (pseudo)-American: politically, culturally, economically, militarily. The only country and its leadership to buck the trend was France under the tutelage of General De Gaulle. As for the rest – hopeless, just little boys sucking up to their daddy. Pathetic!

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