A new national security report has made it clear that Russia hasn't left Lithuania alone - looking for weak points, gathering information, manipulating public opinion through the media, and recruiting businessmen, public figures and employees at judicial institutions.
© DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

Russia has been using various channels to operate in Lithuania, but the report also indicated that there was an increase in the activities of pro-Russian social movements in 2015.

Officials said that one such movement was the Socialist People's Front. Algirdas Paleckis, is the politician whose name is most closely tied to this political movement.

According to the report, Paleckis' withdrawal from the movement was simply a formality and it claimed that during the upcoming elections, Paleckis will attempt to return to politics.

Other pro-Russian movements identified by the report included Rolandas Paulauskas-led Mūsų Gretos (Our Ranks) and Vaidas Lekstutis' Būkime Vieningi (Let's Be United).

The report emphasises that Zigmas Vaišvila, a signatory to Lithuania's 1990 independence act, has been trying to consolidate these groups. Vaišvila has become notorious for hosting press conferences in empty Seimas halls.

Vaišvila and former actor and Seimas member Audrius Nakas, who was elected as part of the Way of Courage ticket, organised a forum last year called Mūsų Valstybės Tikslas (Our State's Goal). The participants of this forum formed the June 3rd (B3) Group, which is seeking official legal status.

The aforementioned B3 group consists of Paulauskas' Our Ranks group, the Lithuanian People's Party and its acting chairman Aras Vyturys Sutkus, and Nacionalinis Interesas (National Interest), a public anti-immigration movement.

This movement was formed by Marius Jonaitis and Vitalijus Balkus, both of whom the report says are known to have pro-Russian views.

Paulauskas responded to the accusations by saying, “I suspect that they didn't have anything to write, because there really aren't any more serious pro-Russian people in Lithuania, but they must somehow show that they're doing something.”

The report also revealed that the State Security Department's list of blacklisted foreign individuals grew three times longer than it was last year.

“These individuals were identified as potentially being involved in the intelligence activities of hostile foreign states, terrorist or extremist groups, or other activities dangerous to constitutional order,” the report said.

Though the report did not include the number of people who had been blacklisted, it did indicate that 66% of them had been blacklisted to protect constitutional order, 16% due to counter-intelligence activities, another 16% due to terrorism, and 2% due to extremism.

Names were not provided, but some of them are known due to widely publicised incidents. In August, Aleksandrs Ržavins, Joseph Koren and ethnic minority rights defender Aleksandrs Kuzmins were barred from entering Lithuania from Latvia for a conference on the rights of ethnic minorities. Human Rights Watch criticised Lithuania for making this decision.

In August, Russian journalist Galina Sapožnikova was also blacklisted. In November, Ukrainian citizen Eduard Akopov was blacklisted and his temporary Lithuanian residence permit was revoked when it was discovered that he had fought as a Russian-supported separatist in Eastern Ukraine.

In March 2016, Rossija 24 journalist Pavel Zarubin and his film team were ejected from Lithuania and placed on the blacklist. Russian political scientist Stanislav Byshok was also placed on this list.

How is propaganda distributed in Lithuania?

The report claimed that pro-Russian information was usually distributed by these groups on websites like ekspertai.lt, ldiena.lt, sauskmas.lt, revoliucija.org, slfrontas.lt, sarmatas.lt, versijos.lt and laisvaslaikrastis.lt.

The report names ldiena.lt as a platform for anti-Western and pro-Russian articles written in Lithuanian. The page is run by Laurynas Ragelskis, who is known for his ideas about Russia's National Security Concept. This is a conspiracy theory claiming that Western corporations are trying to exploit Russia and its rich natural resources.

Russia has also continued to successfully use its existing propaganda distribution system, the report said. The report indicates that, although the economic situation in Russia is difficult, financing for propaganda and the Russian military has stayed stable.

For example, the report said that the Rossija Segodnia agency is seeking to establish its Sputnik project in Lithuania, and it is trying to do so through the baltnews.lt website run by Anatolijus Ivanovas. The baltnews.lv and baltnews.ee websites were also identified as arms of Sputnik that were distributing information favourable to Russia's interests.

Lithuanian officials do not believe that Russia's economic problems will affect the stability of Vladimir Putin's regime or that Russia could soon develop into a democratic society.

Television channels owned by the Kremlin also distribute information favourable to Russia.

According to surveys, about 30% of Lithuania's residents, including 2/3 of its Russian-speaking population, watch Russian-language TV channels every day, while 6-8% read Russian websites daily.

Attempts on the Ministry of the Interior and the President's office

The report included information about the operation of Russian intelligence and security agencies in Lithuania, their cyber-espionage efforts, and their attempts to make use of governmental workers who were not careful with the information they were sharing.

The Russian agencies named included the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). Some of the threats came from Alexander Lukashenko's regime in Belarus, which is friendly to Moscow.

Russia was clearly interested in everything it could learn: defence policy changes, military development, training, exercises, the NATO air policing mission, support for Ukraine, and conscripts.

Lithuanian security officials also believe that Russia could have used the flow of conscripts in attempts to infiltrate the Lithuanian defence system by inserting recruits or finding them among the new conscripts.

The FSB operates within Russia, but it reaches Lithuanian citizens by targeting Lithuanian businesspeople visiting Russia.

Lithuanian businessmen were attracted by offering them protection – controlling local businesses, providing foreigners with licenses, and “taking care” of any criminal elements. This institution was also very interested in Lithuanian civil servants arriving in Russia, as well as former and current civil servants from judicial institutions, who might be experiencing financial difficulties, looking for business opportunities in Russia, or in other ways susceptible to Russian influence.

Lithuania's border regions were targets

The report claimed that Lithuania's border regions were targeted by Russia. Of special interest were people living in areas on the Lithuania-Belarus and Lithuania-Kaliningrad borders. These include Šakiai, Jurbarkas, Pagėgiai and Šilutė.

The FSB's best targets were people driving to the Kaliningrad region to buy products. Real or false charges were leveled against these people, after which they were offered the opportunity to work with Russian intelligence in return for unlimited opportunities to continue exporting products from Russia.

Belarus also targeted Lithuania's border regions and government institutions, though Belarus' actions were less aggressive and more cautious.

Some of the conclusions in the report included the fear that Russia's internal environment will not change in the near future in an attempt to maintain the stability of Putin's regime.

The report claims that expansion of military power and the influence of propaganda, rather than economic development, is the goal of Russia's current government. The report also warned that the threat of terror in Europe and the potential for cooperation would be used by Russia as leverage to push back against NATO's build-up of forces in the Baltics.

The Russian military is prepared for rapid attacks

In their analysis of Russian military preparation, Lithuanian intelligence institutions noted that Moscow is prepared to move its forces to the region quickly, and that it can isolate the region in the event of a conflict.

“Russia is aiming to keep its military reaction time much shorter than NATO's. In 24-48 hours, Russia would manage to generate and deploy forces that would be sufficient to begin military actions against the Baltics,” the report claims.

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