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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Inaugurates Kaliningrad Sea Link

Itar-TassPutin, center, flanked by ministers and business leaders at Kaliningrad's 60th anniversary celebrations on Sunday.
President Vladimir Putin on Sunday inaugurated a new sea route that will link Kaliningrad directly to the Russian mainland, bypassing a troublesome overland route via EU territory.

The outpost on the Baltic Sea, which is the base for a large military garrison, is separated from the rest of the country by European Union member Lithuania. Transit through Lithuania has been the source of dispute for years and tensions have escalated in past weeks.

Television pictures showed Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov telling Putin that Lithuania was blocking some military supplies from crossing its territory.

Putin inspected the new ship-rail terminal in Kaliningrad that will process cargoes delivered from Russia by the new route. Officials say it will take some of the goods traffic that at the moment is shipped by train via Lithuania.

Putin said the sea link was important for the nation's security and instructed Ivanov to oversee speedy completion of new transport projects in the region.

"For us, the transport infrastructure of ... Kaliningrad in particular is of enormous importance because of the region's exclave status and the fact that it is an outpost for contacts with our European neighbors," Putin said.

State-owned Rossiya television channel said the new sea link to Kaliningrad would "deprive the Baltic states of an instrument of influence" over Russia.

The link can transport 1.5 million tons of goods to Kaliningrad from Russia each year, RIA-Novosti quoted Kaliningrad Governor Georgy Boos as saying.

The Foreign Ministry lashed out angrily last month at suggestions Lithuania might take the rail link with Kaliningrad out of action for repairs.

It said Lithuanian officials had hinted they might close the route in retaliation for Russia's closure for repairs of a pipeline spur that delivered Russian oil to Lithuania's Mazeikiu refinery.

"Such threats could lead to the most serious consequences for relations between our two countries," said Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov.

Oil traders said Russia deliberately shut down the oil pipeline because Moscow was infuriated that the Lithuanian government sold its stake in Mazeikiu to Poland's PKN Orlen, rejecting bids from Russian oil companies.

Kaliningrad, then known as K?nigsberg, was the capital of the eastern German province of East Prussia.

At the end of World War II, the territory was annexed by the Soviet Union and resettled with Russian-speakers.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became independent, leaving Kaliningrad effectively stranded beyond the boundaries of the bulk of Russia.