21 Mar 2014

Report about Russian intelligence activity in Lithuania

Targets and methods of Russian secret services

Last week, a report of the Lithuanian State Security Department (VSD) on the foreign intelligence activity in Lithuania was presented. The conclusion of the paper is that Russian intelligence agencies are the most active in the country, usually working under diplomatic cover. It is also noted, that the activity of Russian secret services is currently the highest observed after the EU and NATO accession.

They are interested in various aspects of the Lithuanian state and pursue to gain information on domestic politics (processes, election campaigns, leaders and their personal traits), foregin policy (the country's position in international organizations, bilateral relations, strategies), economy and energetics projects, secret services (intelligence and counterintelligence informations, the services' relation to political leadership, possibilities of their activity, personnel), national defence system (military force, military infrastructure and civilian infrastructure of strategic importance, military cooperation with NATO and EU), telecommunication and cyberinfrastructure, security gaps.

portraits of Russian spies and a photo (left corner) taken by Russian intelligence in Lithuania

There are certain cases described in the report about Russian intelligence operations in Lithuania.
The second secretary of the Russian Embassy in Lithuania, GRU (Russian Military Intelligence) officer Valeriy Katula has tried to recruit a high-ranking Lithuanian civil servant in attempt to get some confidential information about the Lithuanian presidency of the council of the EU (events and priorities, association agreements with the Eastern Partnership countries, results of foreign delegations' visits in Lithuania). According to the findings of the report, Katula did not reveal his connection to the military intelligence, he told his contact that the he needs the information to write a report to Russian Foreign Ministry (which, basically, does not make much difference). A financial reward was also promised in exchange for the information. 

Russian intelligence operates in Lithuania not only via embassies but also from the territory of the Russian Federation. The officers and agents of Russian security services are working at various institutions: central and local government bodies, media, private and state companies, NGOs.  In their activity, their make use of these institutions' connections with corresponding Lithuanian institutions. Intelligence connections are created during the visits of Russian delegations in Lithuania and Lithuanian delegations in Russia.

 Research institutions are an example of such activity. The Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS)  was created in 1992 and according to the report of VSD, closely cooperates with FSB (Federal Security Service of Russia). The Baltic Regional Informational and Analytical Centre, a local subdivision of RISS is headed by SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) general Gennady Kretinin. In 2013, this institute was attempting to broaden its activity in Lithuania, forging closer ties with Lithuanian research institutions, political research centres and the media. RISS experts are interested in taking part in discussions with members of the Lithuanian academic community and publishing their works on Lithuanian web portals.  RISS organizes conferences and other events in Russia, where they invite Lithuanian political and economic experts, diplomats, politicians. In this way, Russian intelligence collects public and nonpublic information about processes and events in Lithuania, data on Lithuanian politicians, diplomats, political and economic experts; identifies targets for recrutiment and disseminates information which goes against the interests of Lithuania and influences public and experts' opinion in the country.

Lithuanian businessmen working in Russia are said to have been put under pressure to form public opinion in favour of the Kreml. 

The report also mentions that Russia aims to make use of the ethnic tensions in Vilnius region (largely populated by Poles and Belarussians). According to VSD, Russia supports the electoral  cooperation of parties created on ethnic basis especially actively. (At the European Parliament elections this year, Polish Electoral Action and Russian Alliance will take part together.)

The Lithuanian secret service also comments on the country's diplomatic scandal which took place last year during the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the EU. In July, recordings of two Lithuanian diplomats' phone calls were published on YouTube. The ambasssadors of Lithuania to Azerbaijan and to Hungary were discussing their views on Azerbaijan and Armenia and the upcomig visit of the Lithuanian prime minister to Russia. Both of them have resigned after the incident. Although most Lithuanian public figures already that time have pointed to Russia, VSD now officially confirmed that it was an operation of the Russian intelligence and security services in order to discredit the Lithuanian EU Presidency, the Eastern Partnership programme and to raise tension in Lithuanian domestic politics. The Lithuanian State Security Department has also underlined that Russian secret services have the technical capabilitites to control the inernational phone calls of institutions and persons they are interested in, as part of the international calls of Lithuanian telecommunication service users are transmitted through Russian telecommunication operation networks. Meanwhile, one of the former ambassadors concerned, Renatas Juška claims he has proofs that the original copy of the published recording are stored at VSD. He has called for the clarification of the role of Lithuanian institutions in the case. 

The report also notes that Russian secret services are able to observe and controll not only phone calls, but also internet communication in Lithuania, such as e-mail and internet banking services and cybersecurity situation is deterioriating in the country by each year. 

Some Parliament deputies object the State Security Depratment that it concentrates on foreign nationals acting in the country and does not pay sufficient attention to disloyal Lithuanian citizens.

The fact that has provoked the most incomprehension in connection with the report is that the persons suspected with intelligence activity are still not exterminated from the country. The Russian Embassy did not want to comment regarding the suspected diplomats. They have confirmed that a person with the surname mentioned (Katula) is working at the embassy, but as they have not received any official information concerning the case, he will continue his work in Vilnius. VSD claims to have taken "preventive measures and stopped his further intelligence activity". Lithuanian foreign affairs minister Linas Linkevičius has stated that the publication of his connection to GRU was a sufficient measure.

The significance of this report is that it reveals the targets and the methods of Russian secret services. These are likely to be the same in many Post-Soviet and former socialist countries in Eastern Europe. Lithuania has become a top target of Russian intelligence in recent years, also called a 'new Vienna', where secret services of several countries used to compete.





20 Mar 2014

Gagauzia in action

New breakaway region in the post-soviet space?

the flag of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia

Last week the National Assembly of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia in Moldova has decided on the creation of a National Guard, which is meant to be a self-defence force on a voluntary basis. There are also intentions to create own law enfomcement bodies, counterintelligence, business intelligence, and anti-terrorism units. So, it really seems that Gagauzia wishes to form an army of its own. However, it is not decided yet, if the self-defence guards will be armed; for the time being they will patrol with truncheons.

This decision was motivated by a raid of the police when 92 policemen in bulletproof wests and with automatic rifles examined several petrol stations of the Conan company, which belongs to a Gagauzian deputy. The company is suspected with tax evasion and other financial crimes.

Some local deputies, however, perceived this action as a threat to the autonomy of the territory, and they are afraid of provocations in the future, as, they say, the Moldavian law enforcement bodies are too politicized. They also added, that the events in Ukraine have also raised concerns in the region. Another explanation was the recent deterioration of public safety, the spread of petty thefts.

According to Russian news portal Regnum, on 15 March in the Gagauz capital Comrat a meeting was held, where Gagauzia was compared with Crimea and Kosovo, and the question was articulated, why Gagauzia could not have the right for secession. The Russian flag was also raised during the course of the meeting.

The Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia, situated in the south of Moldova, has a status which can be compared to the Crimea's. The majority of the population is Gagauz (82%), who are a Turkic people with Orthodox religion. Other nationalities include Bulgarians, Russians (around 6%), Ukrainians, while Moldovans make up only 5% of the inhabitants. Russian language is used as lingua franca in communicatoin between different nationalities and as the language of education.

Gagauzia has a history of separatism. As part of the Russian Empire, the territory has declared independence after a peasant uprising in 1906 as the Republic of Comrat, which existed only 6 days. After that, Gagauzia has been the part of various states: the Russian Empire, Romania, the Soviet Union, and, finally, Moldova. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gagauzian leaders were concerned, that Moldova would be incorporated in Romania. Gagauzia declared itself independent in 1991. The unrecognized Republic of Gagauzia existed between 1990 and 1994, as a parallel of Transnistria. In 1994, leaders of the Republic of Gagauzia and Moldova agreed in the incorporation of Gagauzia in the Moldovan Republic with special authonomy status.

In February this year, a referendum, not recognized by the Moldovan authorities, was held in Gagauzia on European Union and Customs Union accesion. Organizers and the Russian press claim that about 97-98% of the voters has expressed their wish not to join the EU and to join the Customs Union and break away from Moldova if it loses its independence (clearly having in mind the EU accession).

Moldova, of course, assumes that all these processes are backed by Russia. The name of a new political party the leader of Gagauzia would like to create is - hard to believe - Party of Regions, just as the party of Janukovich. Russia is clearly willing to maintain its influence in Moldova and to this end plays the ethnic card, just as in the case of the Crimea. What is the final goal of Putin with Gagauzia? To annex it to Russia like the Crimea? Not very likely, as in this case the whole Ukrainian Black Sea coast should be occupied. It is more feasible that he wants to turn it into a close vassal state like Transnistria or Abkhazia. It seems to be the part of a Russian offensive to regain the territories that once belonged to the USSR and to the Russian Empire. The representative of the Russian Federation to the EU was probably only swaggering about returning Alaska, Finland and Poland to Russia (I am not so sure about tha Baltic states though), but this clearly illustrates the current imperialistic thinking of the Russian leadership.








12 Mar 2014

Is Russia planning to occupy the Baltic states?

As events in Crimea and east Ukraine are unfolding, both the Baltic countries and the US seem to be concerned about the security of the three tiny republics on the eastern border of NATO. The US has sent six F-15 fighters to Lithuania to complete the four other jet fighters regularly patroling over the Baltic states. In the weekend, Barack Obama had a phone conversation with the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian presidents.

The latest development is an online petition on the website avaaz.org, collecting signatures for annexing the Klaipėda County to the Russian Federation. On the same site, there is also a similar petition about the annexation of Latvia. (For Latvia, even financial benefits were promised in case of joining Russia.) According to the data given on the website, the initiative was raised by a certain Ivan D. from Cuba. It was published on the website of a local prorussian organization Būkime vieningi (Let's Be United).

The organizers aim to collect 10 000 signatures, yet so far they only have less than 200.

Klaipėda, which used to belong to East Prussia (Memelland) was occupied by Lithuania in 1923 by a Lithuanian revolt. In 1939, it was taken back by Germany, and then occupied by the Soviet Union, belonged to the Lithuanian SSR. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the region became part of the restored Republic of Lithuania. Klaipėda has a significant Russian population, about one quarter of the city's inhabitants. Motivating the annexation to Russia, the organizers of the petition state, that Russia has both moral and legal right to the Klaipėda region, as at the end of WWII, 130 thousand Soviet soldiers died during the liberation of the territory from Nazi Germany. (However, it was the Soviet Union, and not Russia.) The organizers of the petition also mention the discrimination of Russians in Lithuanian education system, that they are not allowed to use their mother tongue at school. It is a completely new grievance, as although some representatives of the Polish minoritiy have such complaint, we have not heard anything similar from Russians in Lithuania so far.

A small but important detail,  it was published just before the memoration day of restoring Lithuanian independence in 1990 (11 March). Head of the Defence Comitte of Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas), Artūras Paulauskas has said in an interview that this act can be regarded as an attempt to the territorial integrity of the country according to Lithuanian Penal Codex, and in this case it has to examined by the State Security Department in order to establish, who organised this provocation.

Among Lithuanian politicians, MEP and former head of the Seimas, Vytautas Landsbergis seems most concerned about the petition. In his speach at a concert on 11th March, he asked State Security Department to stop this provocation.

German foreign affairs minister Frank Walter Steinmeier tried to calm down his colleauges in the Baltics. He told them that the EU understand and shares their concerns, as these are Europe's common problems. He added that the European Union plans to react on the situation in Ukraine after this weekend's referendum. However,  Lithuanian officials hold the opinion that the EU is late to react to Russian agression in Ukraine.

Last week, the State Security Department of Lithuania has warned that Russia is preapring new informational attacks against Lithuania. On the 13th March the director general of Lithuanian secret services discusses the situation with head of state Dalia Grybauskaitė, and part of the report of VSD on this issue will be published. According to the informations of 15min.lt, it should reveal that it is Russia that represents the highest threat for Lithuania's state security, by the activity of the Russian embassy and local Russian communities, especially in the Klaipėda County, with the help of the local Orthodox Church.

Meanwhile, as a reaction to this initiative, another petition was started on avaaz.org, campaigning for the annexation of the Kaliningrad Oblast by Lithuania. The motivation is that the region is historically and culturally much closer to Lithuania and the EU than to Russia.






11 Mar 2014

Dairy war and curd revolution in Kaliningrad

Locals in Kaliningrad dislike the prohibition of import of dairy products from Lithuania, which entered into force in October. They are now protesting on Facebook by changing their profile pictures to photos of Lithuanian cheeses, yogurts and creams. A meeting is also organized on this issue.

picture by BBC Russian service

The restriction was introduced because - according to Russian authorities - the quality of the products concerned does not meet Russian Federation standards. While it does not apply to the whole country, but for specific companies, it practically covers the most important Lithuanian firms that sell their dairy products in Russia. However, this explanation cannot be taken seriously, as the restriction entered into force just before the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit in November last year and Russia has used similar measures to put pressure on countries which are considered to belong to Russian sphere of influence: ban on Georgian wine and mineral water after the war with Georgia; or on Moldovan wine also before the Vilnius summit.

This measure hit Kaliningrad especially severely, as the region is not able to produce enough food to sustain itself, including dairy products. Local producers can only satisfy 56% of the dairy product need. The remaining part of the market is covered by products, imported from Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and other parts of Russia.

Local people got used to Lithuanian dairy products already in Soviet times. Although these usually cost more, customers in Kaliningrad appreciate the premium quaility of Lithuanian curd, cheese, yogurts etc.

picture from an earlier demonstration of the BRP

The ban can also impede trade and investment from Lithuania, decrease competition and this way contribute to increasing prices. But it is not only about curd and not only about money. Residents of the Kaliningrad Region again have the feeling that they have to suffer because of the political maneuvers of the leaders of the Russian Federation. Their interests were not taken into account. They are already experiencing an inconvenient situation, locked in the exclave, not beeing able to comfortably travel to the rest of Russia and to the EU. They have to pay high prices for goods, imported from the EU - because of the taxes, and for goods, brought in from Russia - because of shipping costs. Perhaps being able to experience Europe (in spite of all the restrictions they face) made them think differently about their identity, their relationhip to Europe and Russia. At least, this was my impression when I was living in Kaliningrad. The Prussian heritage (e. g. the tomb of Immanuel Kant, on the Island of Kant, as it was renamed by the Russian minicipiality a couple of yers ago, the neogothic fortresses) has formed the consciousness of some inhabitants of Kaliningrad, where it is now not uncommon at all to call a bus company or a sports club 'König'. When the veriest Russians wave the flags of East Prussia and Königsberg, it is not difficult to see, that they must be either romantics who feel nostalgia for the past or be somewhat disappointed with Russia. The Baltic Republican Party, which requires autonomy for the Kaliningrad Oblast, could no longer exist as a political party but continues to work as a civil movement. If the region feels ignorance of Russian leadership, it is likely that pro-European sentiments will invigorate. Being a remnant of a world order that ceased to exist a long time ago, this exclave is an inclusion in modern Europe, its existence is somehow absurd, not logical and not practical for any of the sides concerned. It is not sure that the future of Kaliningrad is tied to Russia for all times.