Bomb threats paralyze the Lithuanian government. The police suspect that Russia is behind them.

Source: www.nytimes.com : 2022-06-29 07:20:28 : Andrew Higgins

A flood of fake bomb threats briefly paralyzed the work of government ministries, courts and police stations in Lithuania on Tuesday, raising fears that Russia was escalating pressure on the Baltic NATO country in retaliation for restrictions on freight traffic to an isolated Russian territory.

The bomb threats, which all turned out to be bogus but still prompted the evacuation of buildings, were sent by email just a day after computer hackers linked to the Russian state unleashed a digital onslaught on scores of Lithuanian government and private institutions.

Russia and Lithuania are locked in a tense standoff over a railway line that passes through Lithuanian territory and connects the Russian possession of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to the rest of Russia, more than 150 miles to the east.

Lithuania’s national police said in a statement that the bomb threats had been sent in quick succession to more than a dozen state bodies and that an investigation was underway.

Police officials said that the messages had all come from the same Yahoo account and that Russia was the most likely culprit. But determining responsibility, they added, would take time and would depend on Yahoo’s providing full information about the account.

Russia last week vowed painful retaliation over what it claimed was a Lithuanian ban on freight traffic to Kaliningrad in response to European Union sanctions imposed on Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine. Lithuania’s prime minister accused Russia of lying and ginning up a fake crisis to present itself as a victim, insisting that only 1 percent of the cargo transported to and from Kaliningrad had been affected by European sanctions.

The European bloc’s executive arm advised Lithuania in April that sanctions imposed on Russian goods prohibited the transport of sanctioned items through European territory. But, eager to avoid further escalation over Kaliningrad, the European Commission has since quietly backtracked. It had been expected to announce a final ruling this week but has so far avoided making a decision, at least publicly.

Lithuania and NATO say they see no signs that Russia is preparing for military action as part of its threatened retaliation for what Moscow describes as Europe’s “blockade” of Kaliningrad. A military strike on Lithuania would put Russia in direct confrontation with the American-led alliance and escalate the war in Ukraine into a broader and far more dangerous conflict.

Nerves are on edge following a warning last week by Nikolai P. Patrushev, the head of the Kremlin’s Security Council and one of President Vladimir V. Putin’s closest and most hawkish advisers, that Russia would soon take unspecified measures that would “have a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania.”

Tuesday’s bomb threats, targeted at government bodies, including Lithuania’s defense ministry, recalled a surge in false bomb alerts against Ukrainian institutions in late January, less than a month before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. Ukrainian officials warned at the time that the spate of fake threats was designed to sow panic and destabilize the government.

Kaliningrad is wedged between Lithuania and Poland, both members of NATO. Previously known as East Prussia, it was seized by the Soviet Union after World War II from Germany, which had controlled the territory for centuries.

Tomas Dapkus contributed reporting.

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