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Tuesday 28.01.2020 | Name days: Spodris, Kārlis

«Spy wars» get Lithuanian citizen handcuffed in Moscow

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULinas Jegelevičius

It took Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) three weeks to respond to the detention of a Russian intelligence agent in Vilnius and nab a supposed Lithuanian spy in Moscow. Lithuanian security experts do not doubt Russia’s tactics is about tit-for-tat as the two countries’ relations seem to have hit a new low.

The real scale of Russian intelligence activities in Lithuania is «way higher» than single spy detention cases, believes Arvydas Anušauskas, Lithuanian MP and an influential member of the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee.

Lithuanian citizen detained until July 20

The Lithuanian citizen, presented as Aristidas Tamošaitis, has been detained for two months on spying charges. Russian media quotes FSB as saying that the Lithuanian was apprehended last Tuesday after being handed documents with classified information by a Russian citizen.

«After submitting accusations the person in custody confessed that he is an officer of the Military Intelligence Department, known as the Second Department, at the Ministry of Land Defense of the Republic of Lithuania,» the FSB statement read.

Lithuanian officials have been mum following the news and, among the high-level officials, only the minister of the Foreign Ministry, Linas Linkevičius, weighed in, saying that Lithuanian diplomats would try to meet with the detained Lithuanian.

«Our embassy has received official information from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) about the detention of, they said, a Lithuanian citizen whose name was also disclosed. Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, we are going to ask for a meeting with the detained person and will also check all the remaining details,» the minister told media.

Four foreign agents nabbed last year

The Moscow detention follows the apprehension of a Russian citizen in Lithuania in late April, who, Lithuanians prosecutors say, is an FSB staffer.

The Prosecutor’s General Office said in its statement that the Russian citizen «carried out an intelligence operation against Lithuania, aimed at penetrating Lithuania’s governing institutions, Lithuanian law-enforcement and intelligence services.»

The latter case was the fourth last year, two another cases involved two Lithuanian citizens who allegedly cooperated with the Belarusian military intelligence service (GRU), including Romuald Lipskij, a former employee of state enterprise Oro Navgacija (Air Navigation), and Andrej Osurkov, a former paramedic of the Lithuanian army. The two cases are now in court.

But Lithuanian security officials believe the cases are just the tip of iceberg rather single spying cases.

«Russia’s geopolitical interests remain in the entire former Soviet space and Lithuania, a member state of the European Union, is not an exception. Amid the rough geopolitical times we see intensified activities against Lithuania. The key question is how many of the foreign intelligence agents we are able to spot,» Darius Petrošius, a Lithuania PM and member of the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee, also a member of the parliamentary Criminal Surveillance Control Commission, told BNN.

Russian intelligence activity peaked

According to the MP, the Russian security and intelligence agencies in Lithuania pursue various goals: obtain information both on Lithuanian domestic and foreign politics and economics, also energy projects.

«The country’s spies also gather for Russian military planning necessary information about Lithuania’s land defence system and the collaboration with NATO. The spies obviously seek to form unfavourable opinion about the Lithuanian institutions of power and their decisions,» the parliamentarian says.

Russian aggression in Ukraine and the deepening standoff between the two countries, Petrošius believes, have triggered Russian intelligence’s interest in Lithuania’s military and other strategic infrastructure.

«The disclosures of foreign spies by Lithuanian law enforcement and intelligence is a result of long-term operations behind which is tons of preparations, meticulous work and risks,» the PM points out.

Caught in traps foreign spies, he underlines, not always point to a successful result of secret services.

«A tracked down, but not brought up to the light spy usually is more useful as it allows mislead, misinform adverse foreign intelligences, make the person a double agent in pursuit to find out the real volumes of the agent’s operations, methods, ties and et cetera,» Petrošius emphasized to BNN.

When the options are exhausted, just then the agent is detained, he says, and takes court’s stand.

Last year three Russian spies were extradited to Russia on spying charges. They not only gathered sensitive information in Lithuania, but were said to be recruiting local agents.

Gathering intelligence, Russia does so through its own embedded agents or local residents.

«Also, this is being done using the cover of entrepreneurs, journalists, scientists and NGOs for the purpose,» Petrošius emphasized.

As many as 1884 persons in Lithuania have been under surveillance by the Lithuanian Security Department (LSD) in 2014, according to the LSD public data.

It cannot be a coincidence

Arvydas Anušauskas, the deputy head of the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee, points out to the timing the detention of Lithuanian citizen occurred in Russia.

«What brought my attention in the Russian news is the juxtaposition of the piece of news on the Lithuanian citizen detention to the recent arrest of the Russian citizen. So it just reaffirms my belief that the arrest in Moscow is a response to the Lithuanian actions,» said Anušauskas. «In this case, there cannot be any coincidences.»

The PM also points to the contradictory aspect of the FSB information on the supposed Lithuanian spy.

«It says the Lithuania has illegally got into Russia and conducted illegal activities. Such information sounds pretty weird to me, as well as the news that the person has graduated from a KGB school in the past and might be a double agent (working for several intelligence agencies). At the point, there’s too much contradictory various information. It is necessary to obtain more information to make a conclusion, but I cannot put aside a possibility of provocation,» Anušauskas told BNN.

Western intelligence helps Lithuania with resources

The announcement might show Russia’s willingness to get back Lithuania’s detained Russian agent in late April, he believes.

«But it won’t be as simple as some may think it can be- get at the border and complete the swap (of the agents). Most of the countries stick with another way of dealing such cases: scrutinize all the circumstances after arrest of such a kind before letting court weigh in on the investigation. Only then the swap is possible,»- the Lithuanian legislator said.

Speaking of Russia’s spying scale in Lithuania, he says the « real scale» of the Russian intelligence activities in Lithuania are «way bigger».

«The neighbour obviously uses not only agents as the tool of intelligence, but, certainly, also technical and digital surveillance and intelligence. I’d say a wide range of sources are employed,» the lawmaker said, adding, «Obviously, Lithuania cannot boast the variety and complexity of the intelligence forms and capacities Russia has.»

But in patching up the gaps, Lithuania is helped by the Western partners, he says.

That the arrest in Moscow is a retaliatory measure against Lithuania does not also doubt Mečislovas Laurinkus, the former chief of the Lithuanian State Security Department.

«I was wondering why there was no response from Russia when Lithuania detained an FSB officer, although his identify was not disclosed and only his employer was mentioned. I thought there would be nothing until 9 May, until all the parades were over. They will respond after some time. And they have responded,» Laurinkus told BNS, a Lithuanian news agency.

There have been no situations in the past when Russia would not hit back in a spy scandal, he said, adding that the detentions of spies in Lithuania and Russia are obviously linked.

Ref: 020/

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