Soon it became clear that it’s an unannounced exercise, which later received a lot of criticism. A month later, officials presented their evaluation, where they have a lot of criticism for themselves but promised step up and learn from their mistakes.
The exercise was planned to happen in Vilnius, where they planned to use distraction at the border to seize the wall at Šalčininkai, where they wanted to take over the armoury of a precinct.
The aim was to check the readiness of the forces of the Ministry of Interior and carry out the search and detention of armed people and people who left the transit train.
They also wanted to check the readiness to respond to “green people” attack and check cooperation of institutions that took part in the exercises, like the sharing of information, how decisions are being made and whether the plans are effective. In the theoretical exercise, everything seemed nice and worked without major issues. But it’s not enough.
The had a lot of criticism for the organizers
“We wanted to see how the Lithuanian emergency services respond to this situation. The only one informed about the exercises the chiefs of the police, the State Border Guard and the Public Security Service. Regular officers, operators in the Emergency centre didn’t know about the exercise – explained the Minister of Internal Affairs Eimutis Misiūnas right after the exercise “The response to unconventional threats.”
Even although the leaders who organized the exercises emphasised that most officers reacted calmly, the rebels who stormed the wall were countered, disarmed and detained, and some that managed to reach Šalčininkai police station had to surrender. However, some of them managed to achieve their goal: they marched from the border a few kilometres to the Šalčininkas police station, disarmed some of the officers, “killed” some of them and some hostages.
According to E. Misiūnas, “the officials weren’t properly prepared for the situation, they improperly evaluated it.”
The Minister also emphasized that the tactical preparation, and arming o the officials was not proper. However, the Minister admits that he rushed to conclusions. In the report of VRM saw the most problems not in the cooperation of t officials and between institutions.
“The cooperation and communication of the workers in Vilnius County Police Headquarters Operational Management Division, BPC senior official’s was insufficient, the PBC didn’t get back enough feedback about the events. It should be stated that there exchange about the VRM events wasn’t proper.
The activity of the VRM management and the territorial statutory bodies would be much more difficult if the mobile and radio connection is blocked. Some officers and employees don’t know how to act during a cellular and radio communications blockade, the alternative information transition tools aren’t clear” said the report. The recommendation suggests to eliminate these problems, but E. Misiūnas says that they need to think about buying tools for satellite communications.
When he was asked how many points out of ten would he give for the organizers of the exercise, participants and the public, E. Misiūnas said that he takes part of the responsibility.
“I would give six points for the organizers. I was an organizer myself and I and the vice-Minister Česlovas Mulma could have done more. I didn’t evaluate the possible responsibility and danger of the situation, and I take a lot of the criticism” said E. Misiūnas.
The unannounced exercises received a lot of resentment in Šalčininkai, whose leadership and residents resented the imaginary “Šalčininkai the People’s Republic” and the Parliament too. The MPs criticized the exercises especially for the risks that they didn’t think through: what if a hunter or an armed civilian would have shot first at the armed people, who were moving from the border with Belarus? Who would take responsibility?
“In this case, the exercise leader would be responsible, the Vice-Minister, VST officer, who decided to give guns and we would evaluate the adequacy of the one who shot, if he and the sovereignty of the state was threatened” said E. Misiūnas.
In his opinion and in the 8-page report of the Ministry of Interior says that even though it was discussed previously that they won’t try to hijack for the purposes of security, the officials playing the enemy won’t have and demonstrate real guns, and the exercises will be supervised by appointed officers, the reality was different.
“The actions of the participants of the exercises, who imitated a simulated hijacking of the police headquarters, was extremely active, aggressive, and had limited safety” the report says.
The exercise could have ended in tragedy?
“The conclusion the exercise scenario needs to be more detailed. We didn’t think that the officers will take the script literally and decide that they can use weapons.
We should strengthen the controls on how the script is given to the commander of the training execution, who doesn’t know about the agreement not to use weapons.
A serious discussion about instructions was needed, to tell about the real situation, because not everyone understands the words the same.” E. Misiūnas commented on the exercise which could have had tragic consequences because of miscommunication.
He admitted that not even the army, the PM or the President have been informed of the excercise.
“It was another one of our errors. They had no idea, and I informed the Prime Minister at about 11 or 12 o’clock that we are doing the exercise”- said the Minister of VRM.
In his opinion, the officers of Public Security that overdid it are to blame but the Ministry of Interior, including the Minister himself are responsible. However, E. Misiūnas thinks that even if all the risks were taken into account, it’s doubtful that in reality a hunter, official or an armed civilian would have shot without warning at “green people”.
“These situations were taken into consideration but it is doubtful if they’re realistic. After all, journalists went together “green people”” said E. Misiūnas. However, when he was reminded that pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine are also followed by journalists of Kremlin propaganda, it doesn’t stop the illegal groups from carrying out their criminal acts, the Minister backed down and emphasised that even in a case like this, the evaluation of the situation would clear.
“If I myself saw armed people, I don’t think that I would immediately shoot, first the situation would be assessed, reported to the police, the citizen shouldn’t start shooting instantly” stressed E. Misiūnas.
Meanwhile, Vitalijus Jagminas, the chief investigator of the 1st Vilnius County Police Headquarters, the chairman of the Vilnius County investigation institutions union said that a disaster could have happened during the exercise.
“We found out too late about the training, at first we just had instructions to execute the plan “Detention”, we have plans of limited use for various situations marked as “secret”. They tell us in advance how to act.
We received a message that we need to arm ourselves and go to the road blocking positions at the entrances and exits to Vilnius. That was the whole information. Only later did we know that an exercise was going on but until then it could have been the real situation. So, any officer could have used his service weapon” said V. Jagminas.
He says that if he was in the place of officials of Šalčininkai and saw a gun in front of him as a former, he wouldn’t have hesitated, he would’ve shot first as the former soldier of the National Defence Volunteer Forces.
“It depends on the person and how they assess the situation, I would shot, everything is clear for me” said he.
Who is to blame for the lack of preparation?
He assured that they have communicated with the officials of Šalčininkai, who became both hostages, and “defeated ones” during the exercise. It seems that the officials didn’t understand what’s going on, if it’s serious, and if their headquarters will be attacked, when the station was in at work, people are being interviewed, real crimes are investigated.
“No one had been warned, and most importantly weren’t ready to react. We have never participated in similar exercises are have no training, even in theory. Why not? You need to ask the management. If they think that an unconventional threat may arise, they should prepare for it.
How do you respond to tens of people armed with “Kalashnikov” guns when there are three of you in the post, and all you have is a pistol “Makarov” (only some officers have a more modern “Glock” pistol), you won’t jump in front of the gun. What you have to do, how to act, what tactics to use, how to react when there’s a gun pushed into your back, no one has taught us.
There is a special unit, a mobile company, that is ready to respond to similar threats. We weren’t prepared, there was no co-ordination, and officials had no idea where to go. The only thing we did is block roads and check cars. We only knew that we were looking for armed people. Only did we realize that they had machineguns and only had handguns, no bulletproof jackets, since there are not enough of them.” V. Jagminas recited to the shortcomings.
He also regular police officers shoot very rarely in a year.
“Every officer can make shoot five or six shots. They bring an empty pistol to learn to shoot: the first exercise is with three rounds, the second is a couple more and that’s it. This number is ridiculous, and you need at least 20 shots a month, which is not much if you need to get comfortable with a gun.” said V. Jagminas.
According to him, Lithuanian police officers need to have equal opportunities. In addition, if exercises like these are already happening, he wouldn’t mind to use the US example, where the police are armed with automatic weapons, and nearly every bigger town has tactical units.
“Also, for example, cars in the United States and some Scandinavian countries have special armoured windows, doors, can act as a cover, and then look at our cars, you won’t hide behind the Renault, not even if you squat near the engine” said the officer.
He admitted that Šalčininkai officers made simple errors: allowed them to go wherever they want, did not block in the territory. On the other hand, because of the poor motivation and lack of preparation don’t even know what to expect.
“That’s why we say that the leaders should take responsibility, they could assess the situation, because people’s expectations for the police are higher. We’re not living very well.
Exercises should have been held after training. I hope that they will learn from their mistakes and they will take care of the simple supplies. I hope that there will be training because there’s no time to and the managers need to see and fix the problems” said V. Jagminas.
Promised change and response
E. Misiūnas agreed with most of the criticisms and promised that the Ministry of the Interior is going to make serious conclusions, especially in regards to the tactical training of the officers.
“It’s a fact that this situation, lack of knowledge of officers and tactical ability will help to develop guidelines and methodological instructions on how to react and make decisions in similar situations. Each officer has to know what to do step by step said E. Misiūnas.
The issue of shooting exercises for the officers the Minister promised to clear up with the police leadership because it is important not only to know how to correctly quickly pull out, load, and point the gun, it’s also important to be psychological ready for the shot itself.
“It’s hard to say that there’s a lack of ammunition due to the lack of funding because the police buys expensive cars and has enough funding, so it’s not a problem to buy several million rounds for a hundred thousand euros and arrange the training.
Perhaps the organizational aspects are the issue, when there are a lot of job vacancies in the, workloads are large and financial issues is the least important factor.
I do not know whether it’s a problem with the Police Chief or the General Commissioner because we didn’t talk about it with them but the exercise showed the tactical gaps and we will talk about it” promised the Minister.
According to him, training won’t be demonstrational, just for the management because the whole police have to be prepared on an equal level.
“We needed this exercise, the shock to see both good and bad examples, as we raise the public to a higher level, the questions of communication of officers as well as their tactical preparation are being raised” assured the Minister, who promised execute similar exercises this autumn.
When he was asked what he thinks of the ridicule about failed Lithuanian exercises which were posted by the Russian propaganda channel, E. Misiūnas retorted that it would have been much better to see the situation instead.
“All of us could have played a pre-reported performance, we could have celebrated, but if a real situation like that happened, we would be lost on what to do. Maybe it’s better for others to laugh at us that we’re doing these exercises but if a serious situation happened, no one will find it funny because our troops and officers will act professionally” promised E. Misiūnas.