VILNIUS, March 13 Russia had suspended food
product imports through Lithuania's major port Klaipeda, the
Baltic country's prime minister said on Thursday, a move local
businesses saw as Moscow's way of exerting political pressure at
a time it is confronting Ukraine.
"Lithuania's terminals have received a written note. A note
was also sent to companies which export goods through port
terminals to Russia," Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius told
"The note said that exports through Lithuania, through
Klaipeda's port terminals, and maybe some other terminals, is no
longer possible," Butkevicius added.
Lithuania, like Ukraine, was formerly part of the Soviet
Union and its relations with the Kremlin have often been tense,
as have those of fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia.
The United States increased the number of its jets guarding
Baltic airspace last week under a decade-old NATO air policing
On Thursday, Russia sent six jet fighters and three military
transport planes to ally Belarus, which borders Lithuania.
The acting director of Klaipeda Seaport Authority, Algirdas
Kamarauskas, told Reuters that Russian authorities had explained
the suspension of trade by saying some Lithuanian businesses
were violating sanitary norms.
Tensions in the region have been growing as Moscow launched
new military exercises near its border with Ukraine, while the
European Union and United States were preparing sanctions over
Russia's plans to annex the Crimea region from Kiev.
President Vladimir Putin's justification for intervening in
Ukraine, to protect Russian speakers there, has alarmed many in
the Baltic states, which have their own ethnic Russian
minorities whose rights Moscow says are being undermined.
The Baltics and Poland were all part of the Soviet bloc
until just over two decades ago. All are now members of the
European Union and the NATO military alliance.
Last year Russia suspended imports of Lithuanian diary
products, exerting pressure before a summit there in November at
which Ukraine had been expected to sign a trade deal with the
Ukraine baulked at the last minute, shelving preparations
for the EU deal and instead pledging closer ties with Russia.
"This is a way for Russia to show that having political
positions which do not meet their interests is punished in some
way," said Robertas Dargis, president of the Lithuanian
Confederation of Industrialists.
"In Lithuania's case punishment is usually through economic
means, which we saw many times previously."
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and