Hardly ever has the name of Lithuania’s intelligence, VSD officially, rung so frequently as this week. The buzz was about the agency’s released annual report on threats to national security. Experts who spoke to BNN were unanimous: although the document is more voluminous this year, it basically reflects what the country‘s major news sites have reported. Among the findings, an inference that Russia could commence combat actions against Lithuania within 24-48 hours has stirred most ripples.
Based on media reports
«I didn’t hear anything new in the document. Certainly, the State Security Department (VSD) knows a lot more than what was put out for the public consumption, yet the value of such an easy-to-predict report is questionable,» Gediminas Grina, the former VSD chief, told BNN.
Meanwhile, Audrius Butkevičius, the former Defence minister and, now, a security analyst, remarked that this year‘s intelligence report, unlike those from the previous years, lacked concrete names.
«I think this is a positive sign. It might be a signal that the Department has understood that the biggest threats come from exterior factors, not from Lithuanian citizens. It did not feel good to see the names of eminent public figure in recent years‘ VSD reports,» he emphasised to BNN.
He also pointed out that he‘s gotten «an impression» that this year‘s report was compiled by journalists, not intelligence.
«I think Edward Lucas (a prominent analyst and one of the editors of Economist) has said a lot more on all those issues, » Butkevičius, former Defence minister, quipped.
This year, the VSD has singled out six potential threats to national security.
Six major threats
At the top of the list are Russian foreign policies.
«Russia will proceed with its aggressive foreign policies to undermine the Western unity and divert the attention of the population from economic and social problems. The power remains in the hands of President Vladimir Putin, therefore, the risk of unpredictable actions increases. Russia will continue active spying and cyber-attacks,» states the document.
No 2 threat according the VSD is Belarus‘ dependence on Russia.
«Russia will aim to consolidate its influence in Belarus, and the Moscow policies will tighten. Due to the military influence, provocations during the joint military training Zapad 2017 cannot be ruled out,» claim the compilers.
Especially possible provocations can be expected during the Russia military training, known as Zapad 2017, in the autumn.
«The drills held together with Belarus close to Lithuania’s borders include a training scenario of an armed conflict with NATO…The possibility of provocations or premeditated incidents on the Lithuanian and Polish border cannot be ruled out during the Zapad 2017 military training, too,» reads the report compiled by the VSD and the Second Investigations Department under the Ministry of Defence.
Third among the potential threats to national security are issues of energy and economy.
«These threats originate from the construction of the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant in Belarus and the attempts to revive the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant project in the Russian Kaliningrad region, as well as attempts to keep the standing of the Russian gas giant Gazprom. Russia will aim to cut the flow of cargo via the Baltic states,» the State Security Department inferred.
«Ever increasing activity of corporation’s Rosatom «image builders» (lobbyists, diplomats, polit-technologists, and journalists) indicates about an exceptional Russia’s attention to energy projects developed in Lithuania’s neighbourhood. It is likely that in the short-term this attention will grow: it will be further sought to inveigle the officials of European Commission, make impact through press, and exploit Russian and Belarusian polit-technologists,» the VSD assesses.
No 4 on the list are propaganda and fake news.
According to the Department, Russian propaganda will aim to undermine support to Lithuania’s defence and stationing of NATO forces, as well as discredits Lithuania’s history and energy policies.
«To achieve the goals, Moscow will boost Lithuanian-language activities via portals and social networks,» the agency believes.
Ethnic minorities can be used
Last but not least on the list are national minorities which will be used by Russia to escalate ethnic hatred in the country, says intelligence.
«Pro-Russian forces will attempt to unite on anti-Western values, however, are unlikely to gain more influence upon Lithuania’s policies,» says the report.
The country‘s Tartar community appears to be of the biggest concern to intelligence.
«Russia aims to boost it influence upon the Tatar community in Lithuania and take advantage of the disputes on the rights of the Polish residents of Lithuania,» the report warns.
According to the document, Russia is very much interested in having foreign Tatar communities represented by persons who favour the Russian annexation of the Crimea peninsula. The Western world accuses Russia of ever-escalating repressions of the Tatars living in the annexed Crimea.
According to the latest census of 2011, Poles made 6.6 per cent and Russians 5.8 per cent of the Lithuanian population.
Speaking about the country‘s ethnic minorities, the VSD also pointed out that the Poles‘quest for «exclusive rights» in Lithuania also pose risks.
«Granting of exclusive rights to the Polish community would pave way for Russia and its groups of influence to demand analogous rights and, ultimately, an exclusive status for Russian communities in all Baltic states,» the VSD stated.
Remark stirred uproar
According to the report, the Russian objectives are supported by the political cooperation between Russian community coordinated by Russian Embassy in Vilnius with the individuals representing the Polish community of the Vilnius region, as well as the remarks made by Russian diplomats about violations of rights of Russian and Polish communities in Lithuania.
The remark on «exclusive rights» has, however, drawn exasperation of some Lithuanian politicians, who argued that the intelligence agencies have waded into a field not belonging to them.
For example, associate professor Kęstutis Girnius of the Vilnius University’s International Relations and Political Science Institute insisted he thought the State Security Department had made «a big blunder.»
«I believe this is an absolute misunderstanding. The issue of national minorities is a political issue, not a security issue. The issue of national minorities is only viewed as a threat in Central and Eastern Europe. Only because Poles would acquire certain rights does not mean the rights must be granted to Russians. If there is no pressure from Moscow, we could refuse,» Girnius was quoted as saying by Lithuania media.
Meanwhile, Andžejus Pukšto, associate professor at the Vytautas Magnus University, said the department with the comment had exceeded the boundaries of its competences.
In his words, Lithuania’s policies towards the Polish national community in the past 10-15 years reminds of movement in a dark room where Lithuanian institutions have no clear strategies or tactic with respect to how the relations with Poland should be reinvigorated.
And, finally, No 6 on the threat list is terrorism.
«Terrorism threats in Lithuania will remain low in the short-term and the medium-term, however, Lithuania can become one of terrorist transit countries. Risks can be made by the attempts of foreign Muslims to influence the religious life of local Muslims,» the VSD postulates.
Of all the warnings, the VSD conclusion that Russia is capable of triggering combat actions against Lithuania within 24-48 hours has sent shivers down the spine of most.
According to Raimundas Karoblis, Lithuania‘s Defence Minister, it sends «a signal» to both Lithuania and NATO that the alliance and Lithuania should be ready for a military conflict with the nemesis.
Belarus‘ defence minister recently said that Zapad 2017 on September 14-20 would involve 13,000 troops, adding that the exercise would be a defence training.
Among the other things, the VSD has warned that Russia‘s protectionist policies and aims to restrict cargo flows harm Lithuania’s transport business and energy and, furthermore, can split the three Baltic States.
«Russia‘s strategy to divert local cargo to home seaports, which was inciting a competition between the Baltic States’ transport companies, could give background for splitting the Baltic States’ stances regarding the most important region’s economic security issues,» reads the department’s assessment.
According to the document, Russia has reduced crude supplies to Belarus and has begun to press Belarus to shift the oil product export to Russian seaports in return for railway tariffs.
Men with dual citizenship may be targeted
The intelligence agencies also paid attention that Russia seeks infiltration of young men with dual citizenship as Lithuanian recruits.
Colonel Remigijus Baltrėnas, director of the Second Investigations Department under the Ministry of Defence, told a news conference at the parliament that such attempts were reported, however, did not specify the number of established attempts.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis noted, however, that recruits were being screened, adding that «infiltration actually does not work out.»
About 3,000-3,500 young people between ages of 19 and 26 are recruited on an annual basis.
With the report buzz fizzling out, the Department has recaptured the spotlight, announcing Thursday, April 5, that it has barred relocation of 9 refugees amid security threat to Lithuania.
«Nine persons were identified whose purpose of travel, in the assessment of the State Security Department, was not safe asylum and whose presence in Lithuania would have threatened national security,» reads the document.
The Department says, in 2016, it has interviewed 74 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Greece and Turkey who were about to be resettled to Lithuania.