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Putin decrees end to extra customs for Lithuania: Vilnius

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered an end to time-consuming customs checks on Lithuanian goods, after the EU accused Moscow of politically-motivated trade restrictions, Lithuania said Friday.

The Baltic EU nation’s ambassador to Moscow was informed that the Russian leader had withdrawn the detailed inspections which began late last month, the foreign ministry in Vilnius said in a statement.

The lorry drivers’ association confirmed Friday that customs checks sometimes lasting over a week that were imposed on September 12 were no longer being applied to new trucks coming from Lithuania.

“We are calculating the losses, they definitely exceed 10 million euros ($13.6 million). Some drivers had to stay in customs for over 10 days,” association spokesman Gytis Vincevicius told AFP.

Putin’s move comes amid a slew of ongoing conflicts between Moscow, Lithuania’s Soviet-era master, and Vilnius as it holds the European Union’s rotating six-month presidency.

Moscow has been irked by a planned November EU summit in the Lithuanian capital for former Soviet states including Ukraine, which is on track to sign a free trade deal with Brussels drawing it further out of Russia’s orbit.

A recent Russian ban on Lithuanian dairy imports prompted strong reactions from Brussels and Vilnius, with the latter threatening to bring Moscow before the World Trade Organisation.

Russia said it imposed the ban due to Lithuania’s “weak control” over the quality and safety of its dairy products, but EU officials suspect the restrictions were rooted in high-stakes politics.

The European Union is also preparing to charge Gazprom in an anti-trust probe on concerns the Russian energy giant is hindering competition in central and eastern EU states, including Lithuania.

Experts believe Moscow’s recent trade restrictions come as retaliation for Lithuania’s drive as EU president to draw fellow former Soviet states like Ukraine into the bloc’s Eastern Partnership programme.

Russia has set up its own Customs Union in hope of keeping them firmly entrenched in its own sphere of influence.