Eight months ago Lithuania was shaken by a scandal caused by the then Public Security Service (VST) leader Ričardas Pocius. Following such declarations there were many pledges to take action, investigations were announced but what has changed since that noise died down?
Ričardas Pocius, head of Lithuania's internal security services
© DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

Pocius warned that there are individuals disloyal to Lithuania in the VST and claimed that in case of a military confrontation they could turn their weapons against their fellow countrymen. He also claimed there could very well be such individuals in other state bodies – the police, foreign service, even the military.

Rumours that officers who have sworn an oath to the state could turn their weapons against officers of their own state or others has been rumbling for a number of years now in Lithuania. But with Pocius opening a Pandora’s Box, politicians and investigators suddenly mobilised. The truth be told, despite pledges to take action it appears that those under suspicion mostly got away scot-free.

A policeman’s Kremlin rhetoric

At first glance the Facebook profile of police officer R.S. (name and surname known to the editors) looks to be that of an exemplary officer. Those administrating the police look to have had no doubts either, featuring photos from events where R.S. interacts with the public – helps a child try on a policeman’s helmet, presents the firearms used by the police force.

A few posts that express dissatisfaction with the authorities or increased commodity prices hardly present a strong case to claim disloyalty to the state. The only personal photo shows a trustworthy, loyal and faithfully serving Lithuania police officer; the photo shows R.S. being given a state award.

But on further inspection of R.S.’ Facebook profile could notice one apparent change. It looks like the person in question almost had no time to sign on to Facebook in 2014.

In that year and those who followed R.S.’ profile messages, shared photos and talk about hobbies simply vanished. 2014 of course was the year that shook Ukraine following the events in Maidan, the change of leadership in Kyiv, Russian occupation of Crimea and the war in Donbass, Lithuanians more than ever became interested in state security. What about R.S.?

He was sharing photos from Russian propaganda websites and from those who promoted them. Photos that mock the authorities of Lithuania, other Baltic States, that sully the image of Ukraine and its authorities claiming it is a US puppet, and ridiculing Lithuanian news media ‘bought out by Washington’.

R.S. also actively shared imagery of the ribbon of St. George which has become a symbol of occupation in not only Ukraine. He participated in urging aid for the people of Donbass against the “Kyiv junta,” criticised NATO, which he said was encircling Russia with military bases.

Back then R.S. did not hide his affiliation to groups that actively promoted Russian propaganda such as “Made in CCCP” and “BERKUT –Ukraine.” The latter group shared many stories on the Berkut unit which became notorious following the events in the Maidan in Kiev by swearing loyalty to Russia following the occupation of Crimea.

Disloyal or just a free citizen?

Vilnius University Lecturer, Nerijus Maliukevičius, who studies information warfare and the influence of Russia: “If there is any doubt about an individual’s loyalty, an investigation is in order. If a person declares their loyalty to Vladimir Putin, wears a ribbon of St. George, an investigation is in order. These should be an investigation performed first by the security services of the institutions where the person in question serves,” said Maliukevičius.

He concedes that the concept of loyalty can be elusive. Thus by immediately condemning an individual who expresses his controversial, but personal opinion in the public sphere, it can end in witch hunts.

Many are surprised that there can even be a punishment for expressing oneself in a democratic state. But then we are faced with the question – where do we draw the line where an officer can be accused of treason?

“Once again, what is loyalty? Loyalty is the lawful behaviour of police officers. Of course loyalty to the state is included,” said the police department board chief Elanas Jablonskas.

Though there is no separate legal definition of “loyalty to the state,” many leaders of statutory institutions state that in examining questions of “loyalty” it is usually based on evaluated on upholding one’s oath to the state.

“I swear to be loyal to the Lithuanian Republic, to honour and uphold its Constitution and laws, to spare no strength defending human rights and freedoms, the interests of society and the state, to honestly perform my duties and always uphold the good name of the interior service system officer. May God help me,” is the statement in the internal affairs system statute.

It also outlines the definition of what could be understood as undermining that office – it is the guilty action or inaction of an officer related or unrelated with the performance of their service, but clearly demeaning the authority of the internal service system, destroying trust in the institution of internal affairs or compromising it. Similar requirements are in place for the representatives of other statutory services.

Seimas National Security and Defence Committee chairman Artūras Paulauskas had advocated for stricter oversight of state agents last year. The response of the leaders of statute institutions was that persons in service who are discovered and proving to violate those rules and are considered disloyal are fired, all in close cooperation with relevant boards and special services.

Furthermore officers are encouraged to regularly attend lectures and participate in patriotism-building training. What really happens with suspect individuals is usually not publicised. But penalties range from just a warning to dismissal from service.

“I want to stress that we are actively cooperating with the State Security Department and on even the most minute doubts on a person’s loyalty to the state of Lithuania, we perform investigations, invite the person in question to officially warn them if there is reason or doubt,” said Elan Jablonskas a board member of Lithuania’s police service.

Praising the attitude of Moscow

Delfi submitted the names of five police officers to the police board. The Vilnius district chief police commissariat officer Jelena A. is also a member of the Lithuanian Russian Union, and ran as a candidate in the 2007 municipal elections.

But more importantly, she is a member of the revision committee for the public institution “VVKUR.” Two years ago Lithuanian counter-intelligence officers stated that “VVKUR” events are attended by GRU (Russian military intelligence) agents seeking intelligence targets in Lithuania. Jelena A. herself has actively expressed support for the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Working in the Lithuanian police she also finished part time studies in a Moscow law institute and married a Russian citizen.

A few officers were found daringly uploading personal photos where they put St. George’s ribbons on their personal cars. One young man posing in a police uniform – D.I. had several profiles in various social networks, Facebook as well as the Russian Vkontakte and Odnaklasniki.

After “cleaning” his Facebook profile from compromising photos D.I. did not carry out the same treatment for his Russian social media profiles.

In them the man is seen with a Russian uniform and weaponry, donning a ribbon of St. George, celebrating the 9th of May, so-called Victory Day.
Jablonskas stressed that D.I. no longer works in the police because he was dismissed. When asked whether any specific steps are taken against the mentioned persons, the board leader hastened to note that these are “sensitive details that will not be discussed publically by the police”.

“On receiving information and we definitely get information, I just can’t say how often, we will in any case evaluate the officer. We also share information with SSD and react. If we discover a serious violation you can be sure – the officer will cease working in the police system,” said Jablonskas.

He neither confirmed nor denied that there were investigations on the five officers Delfi submitted, but admitted that one surname had not come to his attention.

The state border control service (VSAT) board investigator Evaldas Skirmantas also said he had not heard of a number of the officers. On presenting him with eight surnames of individuals spreading pro-Russian or anti-Western propaganda on social media by Delfi, only one name appeared familiar – that of the 52-year-old A.L. who had apparently retired already.

The rest according to the officer had not come to the attention of investigators, neither did their statements on the internet, which VSAT officers say they check.

That said one only has to check the profile of one officer – M.M from Visaginas to find evidence. M.M. who recently graduated from border control officer school has visited Moscow on a number of occasions and during her time in service shared messages celebrating the Soviet Union’s victory in the Second World War. Also the officer shared photos of the notorious Vaidas Leksutis that compared the Soviet Union and the EU.

Another VSAT officer A.S. unrestrainedly shared photos from his work place where border control computers are visible. Added to this he doesn’t avoid wearing a shirt with “Rossija” written on it.
Despite Pocius’ warnings, Sergei S. boasts of still working in the VST Management and Activity oversight department. On the social network Odnaklasniki he belongs to several groups: “United Great Russia,” “Day of the Soviet Soldier,” “I was born in the USSR.”

Next to his education Sergei S. added the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) department in Kaliningrad.

There’s no shortage of people engaging Soviet celebrations in the Lithuanian army either. A photo with two smiling women in Lithuanian military uniforms, one of them on February 23rd celebrated with the Defender of the Fatherland Day on the social network Vkontakte.

This celebration was observed in the Soviet Union despite both women having grown up after the fall of the USSR.

That said the sister of the woman on the right assured Delfi of not even knowing about the greeting. Another individual serving in the Lithuanian army displayed images of himself marching in Lithuanian army uniform. Meanwhile in other pictures he is sending greetings for the 9th of May.

Almost all the cases have one thing in common – state institutions where the individuals work either stayed silent about possible investigations or are surprised that there are officers spreading pro-Russian rhetoric on social media at all.

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