Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN
Dozens of Latvian and Polish citizens have been recruited by the Islamic State and are fighting in Syria and Iraq, insists Lithuania’s State Security Department (VSD). No data on recruited Lithuanian nationals is available, though.
As the West after the Paris attacks is weighing various options to counter the terrorist organization- ground troops, including – an influential Lithuanian lawmaker says Lithuania would need to commit its troops, too, if it the West concurs on the hot issue.
Ground troops: matter of time?
«Indeed, there are people in Latvia and Poland who today fight for the Islamic State. The numbers, however, are not very large in comparison with the citizens of Russia, France, Germany and Belgium. However, they are there,» Artūras Paulauskas, the chairman of Lithuanian Parliament’s National Security and Defence Committee (NSGK), told Lithuanian media on Wednesday.
«We, however, do not have any information whether any citizens of Lithuania have been recruited by IS. I believe it’s just a matter of days when the Western countries start speaking loudly of deploying ground troops in the IS-held territories of Iraq and Syria and we have to be ready for the discussions. And moreover: be ready to commit our troops for the mission,» Paulauskas told BNN.
He says that Lithuania could not shun participation in an anti-IS coalition because of the single reason: the West is a guarantor of Lithuania’s security.
«It’s too premature obviously to speculate if there would be a political will in the Lithuanian Parliament to join the Western allies’ troops in IS-controlled regions in Syrian or Iraq. But I just cannot see Lithuania staying aside,» Paulauskas told.
Decisions are being made behind closed doors
The MP is convinced that Western powers are already discussing – however, behind closed doors- a scenario of deploying infantry troops in the IS-held regions.
«I believe we can expect very far-reaching announcements in the coming days,” the Lithuanian lawmaker believes. «France cannot expect to win the battle against the terrorist state itself and it will do whatever it takes to form a coalition against it».
He says he does not believe that the current air strikes and shelling can wipe out the terrorists.
«Only an overwhelming ground operation can do the job. And if all are up to it, Lithuania will not be able to stay away,» the Committee chairman told in the NSGK hearing, which focused on Lithuania’s preparation for possible terror threats.
The NSGK head says the hired mercenaries from Latvia are of Chechen descent and hold Latvian citizenship.
In the VSD report submitted for NSGK, the number of recruits from Latvia and Poland is put at ten, but the real number could be way bigger, the committee chairman says.
«When the terrorists will be fought back one day, they (mercenaries-L.J) will be coming back. Will they be returning with any specific tasks? And, importantly, why did they leave there?» Paulauskas wonders.
Intelligence service wants more money
Inquired after the meeting why terrorism flourishes, Paulauskas believed that the reason for that is the unwillingness of different intelligences to cooperate. The legislative obligation to respect human rights and personal data hinders the battle, too.
«Special agencies reluctantly share intelligence information among themselves. But the intelligence services are changing after the Paris massacre- they are becoming more open to one another,»the Lithuanian lawmaker said.
«Human rights and personal data protection set barriers to pass information and react to it appropriately,» Paulauskas says.
Lithuania has earmarked 23 million euros for the country’s Sate Security Department, but Kęstutis Budrys, the VSD deputy director, says that additional financing is necessary to acquire new technologies and to maintain the existing ones to gather intelligence.
«The communication of terrorists is becoming more and moresophisticated; therefore we have to invest into new surveillance technologies, which are expensive. If we do not do it, we might be late,» the deputy director warned.
NSGK members shared the notion the service needs larger financing amid the roughed up security situation.
VSD asked extra 5.3 million euros to meet new security challenges.
Will the political will be there?
Tomas Janeliūnas, a Lithuanian political analyst and lecturer at the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences, believes that getting Lithuanian political parties to vote for sending troops to fight IS might be hard.
«It all depends on the arguments that the parliamentarians will be approached with. I’d say that not all the political parties would support the initiative to send our servicemen to the combat zone,» Janeliūnas told BNN. «Particularly I’d doubt whether we would get the votes from the Party of Order and Justice, which is euroskeptic. The Labour Party might be also against it.»
The analyst says he is«skeptic» about Russia’s and West’s joint military response to IS.
«It is not Russia’s main focus, even after the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris and downing the Russian plane over Sinai. For Russia, it is a mere tool to make a comeback to the top-tier politics and bolster the regime at home,» Janeliūnas emphasized.
As a joint military action against ISIS would require intensive sharing of intelligence, Russia is not likely to open up its cards to the geopolitical rivals.
«And even Russia decides to join the battle in one form or another I don’t think it will do it very sincerely. The contribution would come bearing in mind own interests first of all,» the analyst says.
He believes that Lithuania might be safer on the fringes of the European Union, but danger cannot be downplayed.
«Terrorists will likely continue choosing countries and cities where they can make the biggest splash, but as the part of the European Union and NATO we cannot be calm that it won’t affect us someday,» the lecturer told.
On top of all issues: unpredictable Russia
Meanwhile, Vytautas Landsbergis, the patriarch of Lithuanian Conservatives and former MEP, says there are more important issues today after the Paris attacks than guessing whether Lithuania should join a West-orchestrated coalition against the Islamic State.
«Look, how Russia is trying to get around the tragedy and portray itself as a driving-force in the battle against the Islamic State. The West has to be very prudent and suspicious of Russia’s real intentions,» Landsbergis told BNN.
He pays attention to the fact he says many «for some reason” has omitted: the downing of the Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula.
«It was brought down over it, though there’s an important piece of information from some sources that went unnoticed by most: the watch mechanism of the explosive device appears to have been set two hours or so into the flight. It means that the blast had to occur with the plane flying over Ukraine, not over Sinai,» the octogenarian politician reasoned. «Imagine if it had been downed over Ukraine…The West cannot be tricked by Russia and whatever t does because it always minds own interests,» he emphasized.