Captain Aurimas Navys, officer of the Lithuanian Army’s Strategic Communications Department, says that the Russian government does warrant comparisons to terrorist organizations.
Navys gave a presentation in a conference on information aspects of the Ukraine crisis. He said that what made Russia comparable to a terrorist organization was that it had military and civil flanks for its foreign operations as well as a specific extremist ideology. According to Navys, Moscow has deployed a full arsenal of terrorist measures in Ukraine, while Lithuania is currently experiencing “information terrorism”.
Navys thus responded to comments by Prof. Egdūnas Račius, who said that, in international law, terrorism is usually seen as something used by non-state actors fighting against states. Meanwhile states are seen as supporting terrorism or terrorizing their own citizens, but not as terrorist.
Civil and military flanks and ideology
Navys has noted that Russia’s military strategy has gone through a significant transformation since the 2008 Georgian war. Back then, Moscow relied on the so-called hard power, arms, while in Ukraine it is equally focused on both conventional warfare and information operations.
According to Navys, Russia has already used hybrid war methods in foreign countries before.
“Just like a terrorist organization has a military flank, so does the Kremlin. Igor Strelkov-Girkin, who used to be a special agent at the FSB, had made many visits to Ukraine prior to Russia’s actions in Crimea and south-east Ukraine. What did he do there? He took part in WWI and WWII history clubs. In Lithuania, we also have Vladimir Orlov who is the official leader of World War One History Club,” Navys says.
“Terrorist organizations often also have a civil-administrative flank. It includes people, civil leaders that you have seen in south-east Ukraine and Crimea. We have a similar situation in Lithuania, too. We’ve got the leader of the civil flank, Valery Titov, who heads the organization ‘Let’s be united’. Officially, its goal is to unite the Samogitians [historic nation in west Lithuania]. In reality, though, he tours the three Baltic states, Russia and Russian-speaking conferences, where he relates ‘facts’ about Klaipėda region, saying it is facing civil war because Russian speakers there are oppressed,” says the Lithuanian Army representative.
Russia is also adept at deploying the fifth column, he continues.
“Just like any major terrorist organization, like Al-Qaeda or ISIS, the Kremlin makes use of the fifth column or supporters. We know of the fifth column from the Spanish war, but today it refers to people, active or passive supporters, who do not take up arms or engage in military action. They wait until troops come here and will join them then – take up arms or support in any other way, like giving food or flowers. They are very active online: in blogs, social networks, etc.,” Navys says.
He gives the example of a Facebook group targeted at Lithuania’s Russian-speakers called “For a Just Cause. Lithuania’s Russians, Unite”. Another example is Mr. Titov’s petition to call a referendum in Klaipėda on seceding from Lithuania.
“In addition to the military and civil flanks and supporters, a terrorist organization also has ideology. The Kremlin’s ideology is based on lies. Soon after Crimea’s occupation, a government institution published a book called ‘Ethical Policy in the Baltic States’. It is not a thick volume, but it contains very particular messages. Among other things, it alleges that Russian-speaking children in the Baltic states are bullied, that they are denied the right to go to kindergartens and schools and be instructed in minority languages. In Lithuania, they are allegedly forced to study in Lithuanian,” according to Navys.
He adds that the Kremlin incites hostility against Lithuania by using references to World War Two and myths spread at the time that most Lithuanians were fascists and Nazis.
“The Lithuanian president is often shown during her visits in military bases accompanied by high German officials. Why? Because in the Russian collective memory, Germans are Nazis or fascists,” Navys explains.
The Russian propagandist media insistently depicts Lithuania as a spearhead that will soon attack the Russian Federation. Everything Lithuania does is in preparation for the attack. “Lithuania and other Baltic states are NATO members, therefore, just like NATO, Lithuania can attack. That’s the idea,” he says.
“I can assure you that Russian TV channels are outlets of propaganda, there is no free media in Russia. It is controlled by the Kremlin in entirety,” Navys is convinced.