VILNIUS/WARSAW (Reuters) - While diplomats in Brussels debate how to respond to the Kremlin’s intervention in Ukraine, some people on Russia’s borders with the European Union are taking matters into their own hands.
In Lithuania, citizens angry at Russia’s leaders are encouraging a boycott of Russian goods and, in northern Poland, special events intended to bring in tourists from the Russian region of Kaliningrad at the weekend have been canceled.
The measures are piecemeal and unofficial, but they do give a flavor of the anger at Moscow’s actions and the potential costs for Russian business interests in Europe.
Protesters at a pro-Ukraine rally in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, on Monday chanted “Boycott Lukoil” - the largest fuel retailer in Lithuania, which is indirectly owned by a Russian firm of the same name.
The protesters were also distributing instructions on how to recognize Russian-made goods from their barcodes. Over the past week, Facebook groups calling for a boycott of Russian imports have attracted over a thousand members.
“If I buy Lithuanian or Ukrainian ketchup today instead of a Russian ketchup, then Russia will lose a few cents in taxes that it would have paid to its killers. That’s not much, but it’s right,” a Lithuanian called Romas Sadauskas wrote on one of the Facebook pages promoting a boycott.
The United States has said it wants sanctions imposed on Russia’s rulers for sending troops into Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, but several EU states are more cautious.
Moscow says it is acting to defend Russian citizens in Crimea from what it calls band of armed hardline nationalists who ousted the Ukraine’s pro-Russian president.
Poland and Lithuania both have a history of antagonism with Russia as former parts of the Soviet empire that are now members of the European Union and the NATO military alliance.
Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1944 and did not shake off Moscow’s rule until an independence movement took power in 1990. Poland was ruled by communist puppet governments from the end of World War Two until 1989, and thousands of its people were sent to prison camps in Siberia.
In the Polish city of Gdansk, the regional tourist board announced that it had decided to suspend a program of events aimed at attracting Russian visitors for March 8, which is a public holiday in Russia.
The agency’s boss said it had been bombarded with complaints about the events.
In a statement, it apologized to anyone who was offended by the plans and offered “assurances that the initiative in no way had any pro-Russian political sub-text”.
Gdansk is a two-hour drive along the Baltic coast from Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave surrounded by Polish and Lithuanian territory. Kaliningrad is the headquarters of Russia’s Baltic Fleet and many of its residents shop in Gdansk.
“This is a good, tough decision at a tough moment,” one local man, Jaroslaw Marciuk, wrote on the tourist board’s Facebook page.
Additional reporting by Adrian Krajewski in Warsaw; Editing by Kevin Liffey