The request by the Kremlin-linked paramilitary Russian neo-Nazis extremist group Rusich to collect and provide them with intelligence on border and military activities in the Baltic States has divided experts into two camps – while some suggest not to take such requests lightly, others call for preparing for various provocations, reminding us of the “little green men” in Ukraine, Indrė Naureckaitė and Agnė Liubertaitė are writing at lrytas.lt news portal.
A long list of requests
Last week, Rusich’s request to the population of the Baltic States, which the group calls “Provisional Republics”, to provide them with intelligence on military sites was posted on Telegram. The group asks for the anonymous sharing of information on military units and their equipment, on soldiers and their relatives, and even on their private cars.
The State Security Department (VSD) and the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) have already reacted.
“Russian entities, including intelligence and security services, have an interest in collecting, regularly and in various ways, information of interest to them on strategic and military objects in Lithuania, as well as other political, economic, military, scientific and technological information.
We urge Lithuanian citizens to refrain from collecting any information and providing it to hostile states’ entities, not to engage in activities that are directed against the interests of the state and could harm Lithuania’s national security,” said the representatives of the VSD.
They urge you to take it seriously
Retired Colonel Vaidotas Malinionis is convinced that the Rusich group’s request should be taken seriously – various provocations can be expected.
“The Guardian wrote about this group. According to them, Rusich might not be listening to the central government and might be thinking of doing something independently. This is a likely development, as Putin is weakening Russia by allowing Kadyrov and Prigozhin to set up such private armies, sharing the monopoly of power.
(…) Then there is a risk that other shareholders of the monopoly of power might start doing something on their own”, Malinionis said.
The retired colonel stressed that Rusich’s activities could be independent or coordinated by the Kremlin. Still, the most important thing, he said, was that there should be no ambiguity in the eyes of the NATO allies, who should understand that it was the same Russia.
“We need to prepare ourselves because times are not calm, and all sorts of provocations can happen. If they were to invade the Baltic States, the Kremlin would say that they are not in control of this group, just like with the Little Green Men. There is a specific danger that NATO would see this not as a Kremlin game but as an independent activity of this paramilitary organisation. The bad thing is that it would avoid giving the Kremlin the same answer.
If Russia attacks a NATO country, the Kremlin knows full well that they are legitimate targets. And when such “little green men” come in, supposedly uncontrolled by the Kremlin, there is always ambiguity, and nobody wants to go to war with Russia”, Malinionis said.
The retired colonel recalled that before the annexation of Crimea, Putin had also explained that he was unaware of the “little green men” – Russian special operations soldiers wearing uniforms with no insignia – who were operating in Ukraine.
“There is a risk, but I hope that our NATO partners have learnt the lessons of Crimea and that solutions will be found,” he hoped.
According to Malinionis, Putin does not need to collect information like Rusich has claimed to do – the Kremlin has other channels for this. Therefore, the retired colonel hoped that both NATO and Lithuanian intelligence organisations would take note of this.
“We must take it seriously and be prepared for various provocations, including a possible invasion. All options are now possible”, he said.
Targets are “very clear”, he says
For his part, political analyst and commentator Marius Laurinavičius assessed such activities as one of many provocations by the Russian regime.
“The objectives of this provocation could be many, but one and the most simple is to create confusion and fear. This is a standard Russian modus operandi.
The other thing is a bit more complicated – just trying to see how the reaction is. Not only how the special services react, how the security services react, but how the public reacts – what can be done, what cannot be done. This is a kind of psychological operation to see how the public can be influenced and what conclusions can be drawn about it,” Laurinavičius said.
However, according to the commentator, this should not be exaggerated too much. “In principle, I think it is good that we are discussing it, but the right thing to do is to ignore it. That would be the right reaction”, he added.
According to Laurinavičius, Lithuanian services are constantly reacting. They are engaged in preventing and monitoring such provocations, regardless of whether certain information is published by a neo-Nazi group or by the Russian special services.
“If hostile activities are carried out against Lithuania, the Lithuanian services just naturally react. This is their job and routine. And I think they handle it well enough,” he told lrytas.lt.
According to the political analyst, such events can also be traced back to previous provocations – for example; some individuals took photographs of important strategic objects in Lithuania in spring.
“When it comes to special services operations, when it comes to gathering information on military facilities and other things, gathering information is an entirely routine intelligence activity, carried out by all sorts of people.
Sometimes it is Russia itself, sometimes, it is recruited Lithuanian citizens, and it is a routine daily activity that has to be handled. I think it is handled successfully by the Lithuanian services.
If the aim were to gather information, nobody would make it public. Therefore, the objectives are obviously different,” Laurinavičius said.
There is already a system in place at the border to neutralise cases
Minister of National Defence Arvydas Anušauskas also reacted to the situation. The Minister stated that the authorities do not see any threats from the neo-Nazi group’s ambitions yet, but if necessary, they will react accordingly.
“So far, we do not see any such threats without public statements. However, of course, the intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies need to gather information, and if there is such information, we will react,” Anušauskas told the lrytas.lt portal.
Earlier, Giedrius Mišutis, spokesman for the State Security Department (VSD), also pointed out that the alleged efforts of Kremlin-linked groups to obtain intelligence information on the Baltic States had been brought to their attention.
However, he notes that when the state of emergency was introduced at the border, a certain system to counteract such cases was already in place.
“That information is visible, it is known, it is taken into account, but the situation on the border itself, returning to the state of emergency, is stable. There is a reinforced control due to geopolitical tensions, and the situation is being monitored and reinforced with additional forces and technical resources.
If there is any activity, we react immediately, and if there are any deviations from the normal situation, they are checked immediately,” Mišutis told Elta.
The representative of the SSAT pointed out that the country has legislation regulating access to the state border, and ID checks are carried out at the border section.
Mišutis points out that an additional tool of the border guards is also the controlled access to Belarus since he notes only authorised persons can enter.
“Every person who enters the SSAT zone, which is up to one kilometre inland, is already checked by issuing a permit. If a person who does not have a permit is detained, action is immediately taken to find out what he or she has been doing there and for what purpose and to carry out an investigation of some kind.
There are security measures in place, and this increased patrolling is an antidote to such things,” Mišutis added.
“The information that is published can be seen as important and interesting, but there is also a system in place to counteract such cases,” the SSAT representative said.
For its part, the Department of State Security reminds us that acting against the Republic of Lithuania is punishable by law.
For example, the Code of Administrative Offences provides for administrative liability for filming, photographing or visualising military territory in any other way or for transmitting the visual information obtained to other persons without the right to do so, while the Criminal Code provides for criminal liability for assisting another state in acting against the Republic of Lithuania, and for collecting and/or transmitting information of interest to the foreign state intelligence.
“Persons who have important information about threats to state security that have arisen or may arise are invited to inform the State Security Department without delay,” the VSD noted.