The Kremlin is planting weeds in Lithuania and hoping they will wake up. This is how experts describe the propaganda visits of “people’s diplomats” to Russia and the illegally set up organisations and forums pretending to be democratic. The instigators of propaganda are not naïve people lost in the twists and turns of politics; they are the pursuers of certain objectives. Not dangerous now, but with potential, Jūratė Važgauskaitė writing at tv3.lt news portal.
The war raging in Ukraine and the incessant flow of Russian propaganda makes us even more sensitive to marginal political actors who would otherwise simply be relegated to the political margins.
Founded illegally but still active
However, the fact that Algirdas Paleckis, who is in prison for espionage, manages to set up the “International Forum for Friendly Neighbourhood” and its representatives to travel quickly to Moscow to attend “talks” and press conferences with representatives of the Kremlin regime shows that this group of people who believe in Russian propaganda and who spread it is not accidental and innocent.
Experts in politics, communication and propaganda are convinced that the people who belong to this Forum, who go to Moscow or Minsk and slander Lithuania there, are carrying out the work they are supposed to do and are spreading ideas that are not so much intended to fool the Lithuanian public as the foreign public.
It is not only the propaganda content of the speeches that Paleckis’ supporters are using that is causing problems. They also concern the organisation itself, which, although founded illegally using a prisoner’s electronic signature, is still functioning.
The Prison Department has established that Paleckis himself was not able to sign the founding documents of the ‘International Forum for a Friendly Neighbourhood’ because at the time of his sentence, on 25 June, the prisoner did not have access to and did not use, the electronic communication devices at the place of detention that enabled him to sign with an electronic signature. It has also been established that the convicted person serving his sentence, prior to his arrival at Kaunas Remand Prison, had transferred his electronic communication devices and the login data for his mobile signature to a third person.
This information, as well as questions regarding the legality of the Forum’s establishment, has now been forwarded to the Kaunas County Police. They, according to the police representative, are familiarising themselves with the material forwarded.
Matas Maldeikis, a member of the Seimas, has reportedly asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to open an investigation into the visit of representatives of the so-called “International Forum for Friendly Neighbourhood” to the Russian Federation. This also included the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the Forum.
Dainius Žalimas, a lawyer and former chairman of the Constitutional Court, wrote on his Facebook account that certain articles of the Criminal Code could be applied to these people as well, which provide for liability for aiding a foreign state to act against the Republic of Lithuania, creating and participating in unconstitutional organisations, and denying Soviet aggression against Lithuania. The fact that the representatives of the International Forum for a Friendly Neighbourhood act against Lithuania are also acknowledged by the President’s National Security Adviser, Kęstutis Budrys.
However, political observers miss the courage of the Lithuanian authorities to act more boldly against such pro-Kremlin propagandists, and according to Laurinavičius, there are still some gaps in the assessment of national security. This company and its free-wheeling activities are one of them.
The Kremlin is creating such organisations specifically
Mantas Martišius, a communications expert, says that organisations such as the International Forum for a Friendly Neighbourhood are set up and supported by Moscow and should not be ignored, as they can gradually become dangerous.
“This is a tactic of setting up supposedly non-governmental organisations, which are hardly known inside the country but are invited to Russia, interviewed and quoted there. It is claimed that, let’s say, the Lithuanian government is not equal to the Lithuanian people, and they think like this organisation. These and similar organisations go to, say, the OSCE conferences in Warsaw and speak from positions that are beneficial to Russia. In principle, this organisation, founded by the prisoner Algirdas Paleckis, echoes what Moscow is saying”, the expert said.
According to him, this organisation and its founders in Lithuania are considered marginal, maybe not taken very seriously.
“Maybe we don’t take them seriously, they talk and talk, and nobody will quote them. But in Russia, they are given a platform from which they speak and say that the Lithuanian government is bad and the people are good, but this organisation represents the oppressed majority.
This is believed in Russian society, and this information is being ‘eaten up’ in other countries. <…>Their speeches become part of the political vocabulary, and eventually, they can get their way, and foreign countries will start to say that here we have a problem, we need to solve it. And when the problem is basically invented. But when you talk about it for a long time, when you fund organisations like this and similar ones, as we are seeing now, they can become Sosnovsky’s bugs, which will be difficult to eradicate; they will become dangerous,” said Martišius.
The language used by the participants and creators of the “International Neighbourhood Forum” is not harmful in the here and now, but it could have very unpleasant consequences over time. According to Martišius, you cannot silence these people, and you don’t need to, but it is necessary to pay attention to them.
“If we start to silence them by legal means, it would give them an additional incentive to speak out. Look, they are being censored. <…> But there are a couple of things that need to be done, and they are being done. One of them, don’t ignore it. Because if you ignore them, they can grow into a big weed that will take a lot of effort to uproot. The other important thing is not to “drop the subject” and to give a different opinion, to show the real face of these organisations. This is what politicians and diplomats do,” said Mr Martišius.
According to him, foreign human rights organisations and freedom of speech activists need to know that there are organisations that work for the Kremlin while pretending to work for Lithuania.
According to the expert, these are hybrid threats that other countries have already faced, and many such pseudo organisations are also working for the Kremlin in other countries.
It’s strange why they are still running around freely
Nerijus Maliukevičius, a political analyst and propaganda expert, says that such demarches in Moscow and the creation of illegal organisations are part of Russia’s foreign policy.
“It is a tool that is being used very purposefully in the region. Belarusian “voyages” by the same people, and now we see a continuation with Russia. It is strange how such a visit could occur when we have seen the prehistory of their visits to Belarus and their praise of Aliaksandr Lukashenko.
Knowing and suspecting how that pro-Russian organisation was set up, it should simply have been denied entry because of irregularities. There must be an investigation into how they were established. Laws are being broken, anti-state activities are being carried out, and for that reason alone, this process must be suspended.
Frankly, there is a big question as to how much tolerance we can have for such anti-state activities. This was evident in their pro-Lukashenko activities, and it is evident now,” he said.
The expert added that the company had broken the law and, therefore, there was “no need for any philosophical reflection” on whether they could be held accountable.
“This organisation was set up while its leader was in prison. So there are no ideological undertones here. <…> The law and order mechanism should have been in place before the trip to Russia”, said Maliukevičius.
He wants to show that Lithuania and its people are not the same
Political commentator Marius Laurinavičius says that the trip to Moscow by Lithuanian Kremlin supporters was not dangerous, but it was not intended to be.
It was meant to speak to a Russian audience, to show that although the Lithuanian government is anti-Russian, “ordinary people” are pro-Russian. This is disinformation for the local Russian market.
“And here’s the other part, the more interesting part. Let’s remember the case of Algirdas Paleckis. Here, the actions of such individuals also pose a danger to Lithuania. So, those who have now travelled to Moscow may have been given tasks during their visit that they should carry out in Lithuania.
These are not necessarily the same tasks that were once given to Mr Paleckis, but they are different: from subversive activities to espionage to creating confusion and other activities that are hostile to Lithuania, they could certainly have been given such tasks. Unfortunately, this is how the regime works, by having loyalists and trying to exploit them against the countries they live in,” the political commentator reflected.
According to him, there are all sorts of ways to curb activities hostile to the state, but we are not doing it, we are looking the other way.
“I am not only talking about those persons connected with the already convicted Paleckis and their activities. There are many other gaps in national security. For example, it was recently announced that some 10 000 Belarusians and a few thousand Russians had come here in the last six months.
I wonder what they are doing here, on what basis they have been admitted, and why it is being made public that only two Belarusians and a few Russians have been refused entry. So, there are many examples of a dismissive attitude to national security. There are all sorts of firms still operating, and there are many things to be done,” said Mr Laurinavičius.