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Lithuania warns Russia risks EU ties in trade spat

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(VILNIUS) - Lithuania, holder of the EU's rotating presidency, warned Russia on Wednesday that it risks souring ties with the 28-nation bloc over what it termed "politically motivated" customs checks on the Baltic state's goods.

Russia imposed detailed customs inspections on Lithuanian lorries crossing into Russia nearly three weeks ago. The move has brought heavy losses for Lithuania's trucking industry.

"If such politically motivated actions continue -- without providing explanations -- it may have a negative effect on EU-Russia ties," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP.

The trade spat comes amid tensions between Russia and the EU over relations with post-Soviet states like Ukraine.

As EU president, Lithuania is playing an active role in drawing several states traditionally within Moscow's sphere of influence closer to the West.

Brussels has slammed Moscow's time-consuming customs checks as "inappropriate and discriminatory" and warned they may violate its obligations under the World Trade Organisation.

Linkevicius on Wednesday dismissed suggestions that Vilnius could retaliate by blocking access to Russia's Kaliningrad territory, sandwiched between Lithuania and fellow EU member Poland.

"Theoretically, it is possible to stop transport, railways, cars. But we are not considering such methods and we do not apply them -- we do not seek confrontation," Linkevicius said.

On Wednesday, Moscow also warned it may ban Lithuanian dairy imports, citing "sanitary and epidemiological risks".

Tests on Lithuanian food products had "yielded unsatisfactory results," Russian chief public health official Gennady Onishchenko told Russia's Interfax news agency.

Lithuania, which was the first republic to break free from the Soviet Union in 1990, hopes to clinch a landmark association and free trade accord with Ukraine during the EU's Eastern Partnership summit with post-Soviet states in Vilnius this November.

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