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Lithuanian intelligence speaks about threats from Russia in a more modest way

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Lithuania, threats, security, Russia,

Presentation of threats to national security

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Another year, another report by Lithuanian intelligence on national threats, but, this time, it looked like  a read from the press reports, Kęstutis Girnius, associate professor at Vilnius University, told BNN.

Analyst: «Nothing new»

«Although we heard nothing new – what they told is easily found in the public domain, I’d note yet that, this year, intelligence spoke more modestly about threats from Russia. They have also pointed out, quite interestingly, that Belarus is resisting Russia’s pressure, yet, in general, report is kind of a PR thing,» Girnius said.

To sum up the news conference held this week by SSD director Darius Jauniškis and Colonel Remigijus Baltrėnas, head of the Second Investigation Department under the Defence Ministry (2ID), menaces Lithuania is facing are the same: Russia and, to a lesser degree, China.

Lithuanian intelligence concluded that Russia did not try to meddle in the Lithuanian presidential election held last summer. Yet the country’s major political event was not entirely skipped by Russia. «Russia monitored the 2019 elections and other political processes in Lithuania, however there were no large-scale attempts to influence their outcome or manipulate public opinion,» the SSD and the 2ID said in their National Threat Assessment 2020 report.

According to rapporteurs, during the election race, Russian propagandists did not campaign for any particular candidate, yet ran libel campaigns against Lithuanian politicians who were most critical of actions of Russian authorities. Yet local elections held last March were «a certain exception», as Russia exerted to promote pro-Russia politicians. According to Lithuanian intelligence, Lithuania is able to fully detect and stave off Russia’s influence and its impact on strategic political decisions in Lithuania are limited.

Risks of visa-free traveling

As thousands of Lithuanians took advantage of Russia’s visa-free regime with Kaliningrad, the enclave sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, and, later, with Saint Petersburg, in the eyes of the SSD, the travel facilitation does increase risks to Lithuania’s security by facilitating the recruitment of spies by Moscow, Lithuanian intelligence bodies warned on Tuesday. According to the report, Russian intelligence services receive information about arriving foreigners «the moment they submit their visa applications…Among the travelers, Russian intelligence services look for individuals who may possess valuable information or who are perceived as vulnerable…The Russian intelligence services pay special attention to former and active politicians, businessmen, law enforcement officers, military personnel, and journalists traveling to Russia,» report said.

A concrete example

Intelligence also cautioned that Russia employs «soft power», such as influence over the Russian-speaking diaspora, history policy, promotion of the Russian language and culture, and strengthening of cultural cooperation, to «expand its influence in the post-Soviet space». The report named Pyotr Chagin, an officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), as «one of the most active individuals in these activities» and published several photos of the man.  «For intelligence activities against Lithuania he uses the cover of «Fond Pobedy», a non-existent organization in the Kaliningrad region,» according to the document. Intelligence emphasised that Russia continues to build up its military capabilities in the Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad by creating a new division and deploying ships capable of carrying Kalibr cruise missiles. The report says, among other things, that Russia plans to form a new motorized rifle division in Kaliningrad. The new division will increase the capability of forces in the region to conduct military operations without reinforcement from mainland Russia.

Russian gas imports pose a threat

As Lithuania continued last year importing Russian liquefied natural gas from privately-owned gas producer Novatek, intelligence warned that the imports through the port of Klaipeda pose a risk to the country’s energy independence. Novatek, which owns an LNG terminal in Russia’s Baltic Sea port of Vysotsk jointly with Gazprombank, has sought to enter Lithuania’s LNG market since early 2019, according to the report. «Novatek is able to offer low LNG prices only because of preferential conditions for LNG exports granted by the Russian government… Therefore, by increasing its trade turnover via Klaipeda Terminal, Novatek is playing a part in Russia’s long-term game to restore its dominant position in the regional gas market,» report said.   However, many energy experts downplay the warning, claiming that the gas is «political» embarrassment to Lithuania, but the economy plays by its rules. Novatek’s shareholders include Gennady Tymchenko, a Russian oligarch who is said to be belong to President Vladimir Putin’s entourage and is subject to US sanctions.

Risks arising from far-right extremism

The SSD report also brought up risks stemming from far-right extremism. According to intelligence, it is growing and there have been cases when people were radicalised in Lithuania as well. «We have already had cases when people were radicalized and their brains were affected to such an extent that people become inadequate in their pursuit of goals, and here I am speaking about far-right extremism which seems to be more dangerous than terrorism,» D. Jauniškis underscored.

China-related risks

When it comes to China, rapporteurs stressed that China’s intelligence services act actively and seek new ways in approaching Lithuanian citizen. According to the SSD, Chinese intelligence services are looking for targets in Lithuania on the career-focused social networking website LinkedIn.  «Chinese intelligence uses LinkedIn to establish contacts with selected targets abroad in the early stages of recruitment operations,» the SSD and the 2ID said in their National Threat Assessment 2020 report.

«The most common targets are civil servants, information technology specialists, defence sector employees, scientists, and experts in multiple other fields,» they said. Potential targets allegedly receive offers to become consultants, invitations to China «with all expenses covered», and requests to provide, for a payment, analytical assessment of trends in a foreign country, and summaries of public and non-public political or military information.  Subsequent contacts are made via mobile apps or e-mail until the «target» is eventually involved in espionage activities, according to the report.

The other China-related threat comes from the development of 5G technology, according to the sources. According to R. Baltrėnas, the risk is related to the fact that the existing law requires that Huawei and other state-controlled companies «share collected information with Chinese intelligence services».

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