Russia has been accused of deliberately chasing away a Swedish vessel with warships while it was being deployed to the Baltic Sea for the construction of undersea power cables between Lithuania and Sweden.
The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that a naval vessel from the Russian Northern Fleet forced a Swedish vessel to leave a total of four times between March 29 and April 30 as it oversaw the construction of the 400-kilometer cable in Lithuanian waters.
According to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, Lithuania had complained of the breach to the Russian ambassador on each occasion, but had not received an explanation.
Lithuania claims the construction of the power cable, which is due to be launched in December to help Baltic states lower their dependency on Russia for electricity, is intentionally being hindered by Russia.
“For the time being, the cable isn't covered with sand, and we have a special ship patrolling at the site to warn other vessels not to damage it with nets or anchors,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said.
The Swedish Foreign Minister also called Russia’s behaviour “unacceptable.”
The latest incident of Russian intimidation comes as Moscow increasingly asserts its naval dominance in the region.
Countries in the Baltics and Scandinavia have been on standby for a possible Russian expansion into Europe after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last year.
Last week, Finland was forced to fire a number of warning shots on a suspected Russian submarine that entered its waters without permission near its capital Helsinki.
A similar incident occurred near Sweden last October, forcing the Swedish navy to mobilise off the coast of its capital Stockholm.
Norway has also been on alert to the Russian threat posed in the wake of increasing Russian military activity near its shores, with Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide announcing plans to increase the defence budget by around half a billion dollars to modernise its army.Meanwhile, Poland has expressed concern over Russian plans to place missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea, against which Poland currently has no defences, and is now in talks to purchase eight missile batteries from the US by 2025.
Russia in March held a five-day military drill which included approximately 40,000 servicemen, 41 warships, 15 submarines and 110 aircraft in the Arctic - the same time Norway conducted its own "Joint Viking" operation involving 5,000 troops in Finnmark county, which borders Russia.
In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin notably said plans to expand Russia’s presence in the resource-rich Arctic region is among key priorities for the military.
Russian ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, also recently warned Denmark not to pursue its interest in NATO's missile defence system, telling the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in March that such a move would make Danish warships a target for Russian nuclear missiles.
Such talk led Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland to issue a joint statement earlier this month calling for increased cooperation in the field of defence between Nordic countries in the face of the Russian “challenge.”
In response, Russia said improved ties between Sweden, Finland and NATO were a cause for “special concern.”