This is not a scene from unexpected police exercises, when similar ones were held in April in Šalčininkai, organized by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. On morning of May 21st a message was received that in the forest, near Nemenčinė, a group of men with guns were noticed.
According Viktoras Grabauskas, an anti-terrorist operations ARAS team leader, police immediately decided not to risk and evaluate the seriousness of the message, sent police forces, a rapid response team on call was used. And what happened after the event participants recall differently.
Ramūnas Matonis, head communications department in Lithuanian police, said that upon arrival officers detained 12 men with automatic weapons, some of them actually wore a Russian-type camouflage overalls and Russian army paratrooper t-shirts. However, it turned out that the weapons weren’t real but very realistic-looking replicas used by airsoft enthusiasts. Detainees were interviewed, house searches were carried out.
“During that time illegal weapon was found, ammunition and possibly improvised explosive devices. Vilnius County VPK launched a preliminary investigation of illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, explosives or explosive materials under the Ministry of the Criminal Code, Article 253″ states the police report.
In turn, the detainees have a slightly different version. Airsoft team members complained that during the police operation officers exceeded theirs and violated the rights of detainees’.
Said that they’ve experienced violence from officers
“We got ready, split into groups and then two Minivans drove up, “Aras” officers ran out of them, laid us down with us and started shouting “hands behind your head.”
Before I had time to raise my hands I got kicked from a shoe to the head. Thy tied our eyes, put a hat on the nose for another, covered everyone’s eyes so we couldn’t see anything” said one of the 12 detainees Jevgenijus Denisovas.
The detainees said that officials allegedly behaved roughly, disrespectfully, used Russian swear words and even mocked the detainees, who have been laid face down and spent a couple of hours like that.
“We were lying face down for four hours of and the police waited for investigators, examined our equipment, although it only takes 15-20 minutes to figure out that the weapons are fake. Saw a petard and called the bomb squad.
I really didn’t like the behaviour of officers, I felt as though it was some kind of racism. Shouting our names surnames, took away phones. Those, whose names are Lithuanian, I lay down on one side, and us, five Russian-speaking people, to another. And only five were taken to the station.
Then they searched our houses, looked for weapons. Jokingly said that they’ll check if we aren’t green men. I feel angry, it’s absurd, after all, a spending my whole life in this country and I am a citizen of Lithuania” assured J. Denisovas.
Suspicion to competitors
Meanwhile, “Aras” commander V. Grabauskas strongly denied that the officers were bullying.
“Of course, we use force during arrest but once in detention there can’t be any physical or other forms of violence, it would violate our own code of honour” said V. Grabauskas and emphasized that what happened can’t be called “Aras” operation, since it was a police operation. It is in Vilnius VPK that a preliminary investigation for illegal possession of firearms, ammunition, explosives or explosive materials was started.
J. Denisovas admitted that at the home of one detainees Viktor Muchin during a search a “gas gun” and improvised explosives was found – firecrackers allegedly bought in Gariūnai marketplace, which additionally can be filled with peas.
“It’s just an imitation, it’s allowed in official games and policemen said that everything here is legal. After all, bangers and uniforms were purchased Gariūnai” assured the airsoft lover. Indeed, the Russian paratroopers used to disguise suits called “Beriozka” are popular among airsoft players especially in Russia or Belarus.
J. Denisovas thinks that the theory can’t be dismissed that the police in the former communications centre was warned about the game in forest of Nemenčinė, had been warned in advance because even the participants themselves without reaching the spot noticed a van with tinted windows where “Aras” officers could have sat. J. Denisovas and other participants of the event could have been ratted out to the police by competitors of the airsoft page kariauk.lt.
“It was not our first game in that place, as we have gone there often over the last few years. It’s a fenced place where there are no people” said J. Denisovas.
In fact, the former Soviet Union for military back-up communications point, or object No.523, in case of war would have taken over the functions of Vilnius phone station and Government communications transmission. Now the object is abandoned, curious people go there, police officers have checked us out previously in this place, only such things as Sunday have never happened before.”
Amateurs got what they deserved?
At that time head of kariauk.lt Nerijus Stankus, laughed at the accusations that that he or someone in his community ratted out the airsoft players to officers.
“This version is not logical. We also have checking’s because we are open to the public, we don’t have anything to hide, we are the oldest organizers, have rules and we have no reason to catch them. We publish events in the forum and for that have a registration, and such illegal activities are attractive to those, who do not like our rules, for example, they use powerful firecrackers.
People like them, with their attitudes and behaviour are harming our entire community, which unites about 2-3 thousand members. These young people are not members of our community, don’t participate in our events, and carry out their illegal activities” said N. Stankus.
J. Denisovas admitted that the game on May 21st was unofficial, and acquaintances joined the event on a Facebook group.
“We are a group of friends on Facebook: we message each other, gather, who want can join in, we don’t collect money or anything. Just meet to have a good time, shoot, this is our hobby and here we go, we got in trouble” assured J. Denisovas.
Warned about relations with Russian services
However according to N. Stankus such unregistered games can be very dangerous. Especially because the event participants in Nemenčinė forest wore Russian sample uniforms of had weapons.
Even from a small distance it can be difficult to distinguish whether it’s “little green men” or just people playing airsoft with weapon imitations. And after the scandalous exercise in Šalčininkai when officers posing as green men came from the border undetected and successfully stormed the police station, the officers and residents are alert and are reluctant to take risks.
Moreover, a few years ago the Department of State Security warned that members of Lithuanian Airsoft club last year went to a tournament in Kaliningrad, where they studied military tactics used by Russian troops.
The intelligence report says that several members of the club airsoft “imitated the tactics used by Russian Special Forces and trained with the Russian and Belarusian Airsoft teams.”
According to the VSD report, airsoft enthusiasts from Lithuania took part in the tournament in Kaliningrad region, “Put ‘k pobede”, which was organized by the veterans of Russian special forces and Association of war participants “Spetsnaz-Rus “.
According to DHS, persons belonging to the Russian military intelligence GRU Special Forces train these tournaments.
“Airsoft club members participating in these events learn the military tactics used by Russian army, these skills can be used in real military actions of the Russian armed forces” said the VSD report.
This way, many Lithuanian airsoft players appeared under a microscope, especially teams “Special Force” and “Vostok” that simulated the Russian forces. However, N. Stankaus said that these teams, which officially belong to Lithuania airsoft community, fully understood the signs from intelligence.
Don’t intend to repeat the mistakes
“After the Crimea events normal groups, even the” Special Force “and” Vostok” team try to be open to the public, understand the situation, try not to go to unknown events. Everything is ok with them, they don’t get involved in politics, abide the rules, he took off the Russian flag, and you won’t find St. George ribbons.
The noise was caused by the fact that “Aras” showed these young people that this is not a game, they did their job perfectly” N. Stankus was happy with the officers’ actions.
“Nemenčinė is a hornet’s nest because the base is not maintained and people go there illegally. Perhaps the locals couldn’t stand any longer the improvised grenades sounds. Our community uses only certified pyrotechnics of industrial production but those people, who want more sound making it themselves with beans or peas” stressed the head of kariauk.lt.
J. Denisovas himself agreed that people seeing Russian uniforms and weapons, may get scared and do the right thing – call the officers.
“On the one hand this is normal and I support that if people really react and call the police. But the police have gotten such messages before and could behave more carefully” said J. Denisovas.
He said that next time he will do as he was advised by the officers – about will alert on the emergency number 112 about the upcoming game, will inform who and where is it happening. Then nobody will touch them. However, J. Denisovas and several other airsoft players promise to write complaints due to the alleged improper actions of officers.