Lithuania’s intelligence has released this week the annual National Threat Assessment 2019 report, with core threats coming from the hostility of Russia in a vast spectrum of aspects.
The core threats to national security stem again from the hostility of Lithuania’s closest neighbour, Russia, but, China, as a country with interests detrimental to Lithuania’s security, has been added on the list of national threats for the first time.
«Simply speaking, there is nothing much new in this year’s intelligence report on national threats, besides the fact that China is mentioned. However, China is nothing new in terms of threats to those who work in the intelligence community,» Gediminas Grina, former director of Lithuania’s State Security Department, told BNN.
He however hastened to add that the State Security Department (VSD) and the Second Investigation Department under the Defence Ministry, the compilers of the report, has said «little» of what is «perhaps known» to the intelligence bodies.
«Released information cannot alert our nemeses on what Lithuanian intelligence knows about them. It is meant to impel our lawmakers to raise their awareness of what is happening in the country and to act accordingly,» Grina, now a security analyst, emphasised.
Among the conclusions the intelligence agencies made is the firm inference that Russia has failed to gain desired political influence in Lithuania, but will however try to intervene in the country’s domestic affairs in the foreseen future.
VSD brought attention to the fact that Russia ramped up efforts aimed at recruiting Lithuanians abroad.
Moscow often targets men who served in the Soviet Armed Forces and people who have relatives in Russia and Belarus, they said. Specifically, Russia’s intelligence agencies search for individuals ideologically close to Russia and recruit Lithuanian and foreign citizens travelling to Russia and Belarus, according to the report.
The agencies also pointed out that Russia seeks to influence political processes in Lithuania, but there are currently no solid indications that Russia has achieved the desired influence.
VSD claims it has not yet recorded any clear signs of Russian intelligence services trying to influence upcoming elections in Lithuania, but adds that this is possible.
The agency however predicts that Russian intelligence is «very likely» to ratchet up hostile activity ahead of the 2019–2020 election cycle in Lithuania.
Lithuania will elect municipal councils in March and its next president and members of the European Parliament in May.
Russia may also stage provocations against Lithuanian officials related to a mass trial of people charged with involvement in the January 1991 bloody crackdown on protesters in Vilnius, the agencies said.
According to the rapporteurs, Moscow strived to fulminate ethnic enmity and animosity in Lithuania, disparage Lithuanian statehood and evoke nostalgia for the Soviet era.
Lithuanian intelligence report also emphasises that Russia is consistently building up its military capabilities in its Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, but the presence of NATO forces reduces the likelihood of Moscow venturing to attack the Baltic countries.
According to the report, Russia’s military strategy regards Belarus as a «buffer» state. «Russia attributes Belarus to its zone of influence and uses its territory for military operation planning and demonstration of force,» it says, adding that Belarus’ gradually deepening military integration and economic dependence on Russia limits its ability to pursue an independent defence and security policy.
Lithuanian secret service believes that Russia uses drones for surveillance of Lithuania.
«It’s a new tendency. These are not unmanned vehicles of similar type, flying in a conflict zone. It is Russian intelligence activity carried out during peacetime in a sovereign state, in the territory of a NATO country,» Colonel Remigijus Baltrėnas, head of the Second Investigation Department under the Lithuanian Ministry of National Defence (military intelligence), told journalists at the Lithuanian parliament on Tuesday.
A photo of the Russian drone was shown during the Tuesday presentation of the annual report on threats to national security, prepared by Lithuania’s State Security Department and the Second Investigation Department.
The intelligence reports says «the same type of aircraft conducted intelligence collection flights over the territories of Syria, Libya and Eastern Ukraine, where Russia supported the ongoing combat actions. The components of the found UAV were made in several countries. However, it contained Russian software and corresponded to known UAV analogues used by the Russian intelligence and security services.»
Some of risks are high-tech and fin-tech related, specifically having to do with Russian investments in Lithuania.
VSD said in its report that Lithuania has recently blocked an investment by a Russian holding company in a local firm that could be used to collect cartographic data for the Russian Armed Forces.
Sistema, a holding company controlled by Russian oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov, bought a Lithuanian aero-scanning and mapping firm through an investment company owned by his son, the State Security Department and the Second Investigation Department pointed out.
At the same time, Sistema controlled Kronstadt, a Russian company that several years ago won a contract for setting up digital cartographic data centres.
According to the report, Russia seeks to collect more cartographic data to enable an efficient use of new missile launching systems.
The increasingly widening geography of potential investors in the financial sector ranges from Cayman Islands to Vanuatu, VSD pointed out in National Threat Assessment 2019.
According to the agency, seeking to conceal the actual beneficiaries and reduce the tax burden, these actors employ sophisticated and shady business management schemes that are implemented through legal entities based in preferential tax zones.
For the first time, Intelligence warned of China’s increasingly aggressive spying in Lithuania.
«As Chinese economic and political ambitions grow in Lithuania and other NATO and EU countries, activities of the Chinese intelligence and security services become increasingly aggressive,» the State Security Department and the Second Investigation Department underscored.
According to the annual report, two Chinese intelligence services operate in Lithuania: the Ministry of State Security and the Military Intelligence Directorate.
«Primarily, China’s domestic policy issues drive Chinese intelligence activities in Lithuania. For example, it seeks that Lithuania would not support independence of Tibet and Taiwan and would not address these issues at the international level,» the bodies said.
Chinese intelligence also has broader interests in Lithuania, including its domestic and foreign policies, its economy and defence sector, and information accessible to Lithuanian citizens about foreign countries’ international cooperation projects with China and future plans, they said.
To the observation that Klaipėda authorities seek to build an outer seaport with a heavy investment from an unidentified yet Chinese company, Grina, former VSD chief, agreed that negative assessments of China’s aggressive expansion should be considered but they do not stipulate immediate necessity to act on them.
«It is exclusively up to politicians, those in Klaipėda too, as to how to react to the intelligence findings. Politicians have to find «middle way» in dealing with this kind information from VSD. If we say “no” to all Chinese investments, we will see one extreme and if we embrace all of them, there will be another extreme,» Grina said.
Lithuanian intelligence agencies also warned of potential security risks due to Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s links to China’s intelligence bodies. The Lithuanian government says however it currently has no reasons to restrict the use of Huawei equipment for civilian purposes.
Interviewed by Lithuanian national broadcaster, Vytautas Bakas, a member of the parliamentary Committee of National Security and Defence, advised not to «demonize» China as a country and consider that Lithuania has just recently started intense economic relations with the Eastern giant.
«I’d perhaps single out two aspects of the issue. We indeed need to heed what is going on (in relation to China) in our partner countries, especially in the United States. On the other hand, we need to learn how to properly treat Chinese investments. Anyway, the findings will impel us all to think what kind of investments we want, what are the limits of granting someone right to invest here and et cetera,» Bakas said.