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Lithuania complains to EU about what it claims is Russia’s trade war

October 09, 2013, 15:23 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, October 9 (Itar-Tass) - Lithuania has accused Russia of unleashing a trade war. It suspects there is politics involved and has addressed the European Union with complaints.

October 7, Russia imposed restrictions on the import of all dairy products from Lithuania. The chief of Russia’s consumer rights watchdog, Gennady Onishchenko, said Lithuanian products contained yeast and mold in amounts by far exceeding the tolerance limit, as well as colon bacillus bacteria.

Moscow’s restrictive measures are a heavy blow on the Lithuanian economy, because Russia is one of the key markets for Lithuanian dairy products. Nearly 85% of its export is Russia-bound. Lithuania exports over 50% percent of its national output of dairy products.

As Onishchenko, Russia’s chief sanitary doctor has said, Rospotrebnadzor has warned Russian consumers there has been an increase in the number of cases of substandard and unsafe meat and dairy products of Lithuanian origin appearing on the Russian market. Also, Rospotrebnadzor addressed the Russian Customs with a special message to tighten control of dairy products, meat and fish entering Russia from Lithuania.

Starting from September 11 the Russian Customs began to inspect all cargo transport from Lithuania in the most thorough way. Trucks had to spend in queue for days. Both transportation companies and producers were sustaining heavy losses. Experts at once said a new trade war was on with Russia’s near neighbour Lithuania. In the meantime, the Federal Customs Service declared that closer attention to Lithuanian cargoes was its response to ever more frequent cases of abuse.

Lithuania took counter-measures. The rebroadcasting of Russia’s first national television channel was suspended on October 7. On the same day the news arrived that President Dalia Grybauskaite was going to complain to the WTO, because the European Commission had found no flaws in Lithuanian dairy products.

Some Lithuanian politicians proposed far more radical measures. Foreign Minister Linas Linkievicius even mentioned the possibility of a transport blockade of Russia’s westernmost region of Kaliningrad. He recalled that the railway from “mainland Russia” to Kaliningrad crossed Lithuanian territory.

The leader of the Lithuanian parliamentary opposition, head of the country’s former ruling party Andrius Kubilius called upon all political parties and bodies of power to devise a common strategy of resisting the trade war, which, he claimed Russia was waging against his country.

He also said Russia’s trade war against Lithuania was also a trade war between Russia and the European Union, and for that reason there should follow counter-steps not by Lithuania alone. The EU’s collective response should be arranged for, he said.

EU leverage has begun to be used already. The European Commission on Tuesday demanded that Russia should present reasons for the particularly scrupulous inspection of Lithuanian trucks on the border between the two countries.

A number of analysts see a political background behind Moscow’s economic complaints. Last November Vilnius will host a summit of the Eastern Partnership, which is expected to promote a rapprochement between the European Union, on the one hand, and Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan, on the other. Lithuania would like to see early conclusion of a free trade zone agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. Russia has warned Ukraine of the adverse consequences this move might have on bilateral relations. The summit may make a decision in favour of Ukraine’s and Moldova’s associated membership of the EU, which would leave no chances for them to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Lithuania’s complaint to the EU's anti-monopoly authority to the effect Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom was overcharging the price of gas and hampering competition is another major controversy. If the EU finds the complaint well-founded, Gazprom may have to brace for a 15-billion-dollar fine.

In the meantime, the chairman of the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists, Robertas Dargis, believes that in this particular case Lithuania’s problems are a side-effect of a lack of sensible policies in relations with Russia. Interviewed on the Ziniu Radijas radio station, he urged Vilnius to follow in the footsteps of Finland, which in his opinion, was conducting a far wiser policy towards Russia.

True, some traces of a trade war are present, but they are also very effective measures and Russia will only benefit from them, the deputy director of the CIS Studies Institute, Vladimir Zharikhin, told Itar-Tass in an interview.

“Ukrainian cheeses have become much better. So have the Moldovan and Georgian wines, which is very good for Russian consumers,” he said.

“Of course, political elements are unmistakably present in Russia’s actions, but is there any place where one finds none?” he asked. “All countries fight trade wars. Among other things they are means of putting political pressures.”

Zharikhin believes that Lithuania should take a milder stance on geopolitical processes.

He slammed Linkievicius’s statement regarding Kaliningrad as particularly outrageous.

“Statements like that are known to have began many real wars, and not just trade ones,” he remarked.

Zharikhin agreed with Dargis’s call addressed to Lithuanian politicians to follow in Finland’s footsteps.

“Finland is a small country. It uses cooperation with its large neighbour to the greatest benefit and feels just fine,” he said.