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Lithuania

Lithuania

  • Within the EU, Lithuania is at the forefront of efforts to counter Russian disinformation and other forms of aggression and hostile influence
  • Given its strategic location bordering both Russia and Belarus, Lithuania has been a frequent target of Russian military intimidation
  • Lithuania supports a stronger EU/NATO response to Russian aggression as well as increased aid to Ukraine

Relations with the Russian Federation


Principled defender. Held concerned views of Russian foreign policy and now is at the forefront of the European response to its aggression.[1]

Like its two Baltic neighbours, Lithuania was one of the few ex-Soviet states to join the EU and NATO in 2004. Lithuania’s strategic location between the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the Republic of Belarus contributes to its acute awareness of threats posed by the Russian military. Moreover, Russian spy networks remain heavily active in Lithuania, although its Russian minority (at only 6%) is considerably smaller than that of Latvia or Estonia. Lithuania stands in the avant-garde of EU and NATO states in raising awareness about the Russian threat, while also rapidly implementing measures to lower national dependence on Russian energy supplies.

Lithuania has been one of the chief advocates for an EU treaty with Ukraine, and the annexation of Crimea only intensified its concern and preparation for a potential hybrid attack by Russia. Lithuania is highly supportive of the EU sanctions regime and eager to aid Ukraine. Overall, Lithuania shares frosty political relations with Russia, and maintains a strong internal political and social consensus on mitigating Russian aggression and on related security issues. Within the EU, Lithuania is one of six ‘principled defenders’ at the helm of the European response to Russian aggression, together with its Baltic neighbours, Poland, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.

Political acknowledgement of the threat


Within the EU, Lithuania is one of the states at the forefront of the fight to counter Russian disinformation and other hostile influence operations. Given its geographic proximity to Russia and strategic location between Kaliningrad and Belarus, Lithuania has acute security concerns about a Russian military offensive, similar to that in Ukraine. Indeed, recent years have witnessed a number of military incidents in the region (primarily violations of Lithuanian airspace and threatening narratives). Even prior to the onset of the war in Ukraine, Lithuania has sought to raise awareness of the Russian threat with both NATO and the EU, together with its Baltic neighbours. Now, it is a European leader in terms of education and strategy development to counter Russian aggression.

Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation


Russia’s disinformation campaign has also led to Lithuania’s prioritization of information and cyber security issues. The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry has established a Strategic Communication Group that publishes a regular newsletter (Lithuanian Diplomatic Playbook, Weekly News from Lithuania) and maintains an active social media presence.[2] Indeed, concerns about Russian aggression, disinformation, and other hostile influence feature prominently at every level of society, including politics, academia, and the public sphere. The Ministry of National Defence has even published several manuals on resisting Russian invasion.[3] On one occasion, the Lithuanian radio and television commission suspended the Russian state-owned broadcaster VGTRK after strong anti-U.S. comments. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a member of the Russian Duma, stated that if U.S. troops move near Russia’s borders, “they will burn down with the crew.” Lithuanian regulators considered this statement to be “an incitement to war, discord and hatred” and suspended VGTRK for three months.[4]

Furthermore, Lithuania has requested an increased NATO presence (receiving a German-led battle group of 1000 troops) and increased its military spending by 50%.[5] The German presence in Lithuania in February 2017 became the target of a Russian fake news campaign involving rape allegations.  False emails claiming that German troops had raped an underaged Lithuanian girl were sent to Lithuanian politicians and media outlets aimed at targeting NATO’s mission in the Baltics.[6]

Significant security assistance also comes from the permanent presence of the United States and its sophisticated surveillance technology. Lithuania has also announced a plan to invest millions in missile defence systems that would fill a defence gap on the border with Russia.[7]

Lithuania is a sponsoring nation of the NATO STRATCOM COE and has a seconded-national expert working on the EEAS East STRATCOM Team. It is also a participant in the Finnish COE on Countering Hybrid Threats. In sum, Lithuania is at the forefront of European efforts to counter Russia’s disinformation campaign and other forms of subversive influence.

 
The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference


Russian spies are thought to be the most active foreign agents operating in Lithuania. In 2014, Lithuania expelled three Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover and several diplomats had to leave their office before the expiration of their accreditation. Ten Russian intelligence officers operating under an unofficial cover were exchanged for individuals accused of collaboration with Western security services in Russia.[8] Russia has also been accused of bugging the phone calls of Lithuanian diplomats. On multiple occasions since 2015, Russian spyware has been discovered on government computers, followed by attempts to hack and infect devices with malware.[9] In addition, a NATO air base and intelligence sharing hub in the city of Siauliai was infiltrated by an alleged Russian spy ring.[10] The Lithuanian State Security Department has launched a television, radio, Facebook advertisement urging the public to be wary of strangers and to call a new ‘spyline’ to check that they have not unintentionally being lured into espionage.[11]

Activities of the non-governmental sector


A number of NGOs, foundations, and think tanks are involved in strengthening Lithuanian and regional civil society through promoting Western values and developing new defence strategies. Some of the more prominent include: the Eastern European Studies Centre (EESC), the National Defence Foundation, and the Institute of International Relations and Political Science (IIRPS). Lithuania also has concerns about the impact of Russian state propaganda on its Russian minority.[12] Consequently, Lithuanian elites and NGOs have jointly launched projects to promote more accurate information for this minority.

A growing resistance movement in Lithuania is a group of over 5000 volunteers, which call themselves the “Lithuanian Elves”, fighting against pro-Russian trolls online. Some of their activities include exposing pro-Russian trolls, fake online accounts, propaganda and disinformation, and they help journalists fact-check their sources. The movement first started in 2014, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as a way to protect Lithuania from becoming a future victim to Russian aggression.[13]  



[1] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/ 
[2] See  https://twitter.com/LT_MFA_Stratcom?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5 Eauthor  
[3] What We Know About the Resistance of Active Guidelines for Action (2015). Ministry of National Defence, Lithuania.  http://kam.lt/download/55077/2016%20aktyviu%20veiksmu%20gaires%20internetui_.pdf 
[4] “Lithuania Suspends Russian TV After Anti-U.S. Comments”. RFE/RL. 17 November 2016.  http:// www.rferl.org/a/lithuania-suspends-russian-tv-anti-american-comments/28124570.html 
[5] Sytas, A. & Shalal, A. (2017). “NATO Troops Deploy in Lithuania, Underscoring Commitment to Defense”. Reuters. 7 February 2017.  http://www.reuters.com/article/us-lithuania-nato-germany-idUSKBN15M2BZ 
[6] “NATO: Russia targeted German army with fake news campaign”. Deutsche Welle. 16 February 2017.  http://www.dw.com/en/nato-russia-targeted-german-army-with-fake-news-campaign/a-37591978  
[7] Samuels, G. (2016). “Lithuania to Invest Millions in Missile Defence Systems as Fears of Russian Attack Grow”. The Independent. 28 September 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-lithuania-defence-missile-system-investment-invasion-fears-a7335561.html  
[8] The State Security Department: Annual Review (2014). State Security Department, Republic of Lithuania.  http://www.vsd.lt/Files/Documents/635718603371696250.pdf 
[9] Sytas, A. (2016). “Lithuania Said Found Russian Spyware on Its Government Computers”. Reuters. 22 December 2016.  http://www.reuters.com/article/us-lithuania-cyber-idUSKBN14B1PC 
[10] Ernst, D. (2015). “Alleged Russian Spy Ring Busted at NATO Air Base in Lithuania”. The Washington Times. 2 January 2015.  http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jan/2/russian-spy-ring-busted-at-nato-air-base-in-lithua/ 
[11] Sytas, A. (2016). “Met a Friendly Stranger? Call Us, Say Lithuania’s Spy Hunters”. Reuters. 30 November 2016.  http://www.reuters.com/article/us-lithuania-spies-idUSKBN13P26U 
[12] “Lithuania Suspends Russian TV After Anti-U.S. Comments”. RFE/RL. 17 November 2016.  http:// www.rferl.org/a/lithuania-suspends-russian-tv-anti-american-comments/28124570.html 
[13] http://www.euronews.com/2017/09/28/lithuania-has-a-volunteer-army-fighting-a-war-on-the-internet 

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