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Rimvydas Valatka: Vilnius replaces Vienna as a backyard of Russian spies

Šaltinis: 15min

How will we remember the year 2013? The year when we finished reconstructing and finally opened the Palace of the Grand Dukes. If one were to believe lofty opening speeches, interspersed with sentimental songs, one should be in a state of national euphoria. The ultimate symbol of our statehood is back up, no one will destroy it again for ages to come; moreover, Lithuania is at the helm of the EU Council.

Pure joy, isn't it? Not quite. Something is missing. Right before the opening celebrations at the Grand Dukes Palace, conservative MP Mantas Adomėnas published his conversation with a Western intelligence officer who told a rather different story.

Vilnius has become a backyard of foreign intelligence services, dominated by far by Russian spies. Meanwhile Western intelligence officers are losing faith in their Lithuanian colleagues, because their intelligence service, the State Security Department (SSD), has been destroyed by the conservatives, those self-appointed patriots, in tandem with the (allegedly Russian-influenced) Labour and Paksas's men as well as the president whose rhetoric has grown markedly more anti-Russian than in the beginning of her term.

Paradoxical? Only at a first glance. But that's a topic for another time. The issue at hand is that Vilnius has become what Vienna was during the Cold War – a beehive of spies. And in it, Lithuania is increasingly left to fend for itself.

What were the salient features noted by the Western officer who has observed the invisible life in Vilnius? And what has been missed by our own watches in Vilnius, blinded as they were by the spotlights of the EU presidency? This is why not just politicians, but all citizens of this country should take a look at what Adomėnas has published, if we want to build a genuine state rather than just sing sorrowful songs.

1. Vienna has moved to Vilnius. In Lithuania, though, “the situation, compared to Vienna, is much worse, because Russian intelligence people have stayed on and Lithuanian services still have not identified them.”

2. From the very start, Russia has regarded Lithuania as a very serious opponent. In December 1991, the Lithuanian division of the SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki – Foreign Intelligence Service) already had a staff of 20. Ant they were not just any people. The division was styled after the one in the UK which had always been one of the strongest department in the KGB.

3. At first the SVR would recruit people who spoke Lithuanian, but several years later, everyone with any ties to Lithuania had been replaced by native Russians. The SVR academy trained enough agents who were fluent in Lithuanian.

4. The Russian embassy in Lithuania is better staffed than in Latvia and Estonia combined. Half of the embassy's personnel in Vilnius have ties with intelligence services, like the SVR, the FSB (Federal Security Service), and the GRU (military intelligence). The SVR's methods are more subtle while those of the GRU – rather rough, they often employ methods of discrediting: digging up, buying off, planting, provoking.

5. Even though operations of Belarusian foreign intelligence are highly inefficient, they are very aggressive when conducted from within the country. Everything related to Lithuania is meticulously controlled. All business, cultural, and particularly educational projects are filtered by the KGB who scrutinize them for anything to pick on.

Lithuania underestimates the naiveté, simplicity, and even stupidity of its politicians. Therefore Russian spies find it easy to manipulate even the most influential statesmen via their 'inner circles'.

In Lithuania, no one paid particular attention to the fact that one former SSD employee spent three years in a Belarusian prison on no apparent charges. He was imprisoned in retaliation for one Belarusian lieutenant-colonel who was spying on a Polish diplomat and was captured in Vilnius.

6. Lithuanian services do not stand a chance of infiltrating into the SVR or the GRU. Operations are too costly, so the only way to efficiently counteract the Eastern opponent is by cooperating with Western intelligence services. It is this kind of cooperation, however, that has become increasingly difficult lately: “Just like your president is having hard time getting into the White House, so do leaders of other services struggle to draw the attention of their colleagues in the West.”

7. The SSD has has massively bled – especially its intelligence and counter-intelligence operations. So Russian servicemen find more and more room for manoeuvre in Vilnius. Russian spies should be made to feel that someone is constantly on their backs – certainly, this would not eliminate spying, but Russia's services would have to invest more money, time, and labour, which would drive the cost of spying up. Whereas now Russians are working under a different regime than before, when both Lithuanian and Western counter-intelligence services were on their backs.

8. Previously, the CIA used to appoint general-rank officers to fight Russian spies in Lithuania. This sent a message to the Russian representation not to get too cosy. It is no longer so, therefore Russian spies are raising their heads.
9. Lithuania underestimates the naiveté, simplicity, and even stupidity of its politicians. Therefore Russian spies find it easy to manipulate even the most influential statesmen via their “inner circles.” All it takes is to plant some disinformation with someone in the “inner circle” of a politician who is already at odds with the SSD and other intelligence services – and the information is taken for a genuine thing, because it comes from one of “our own people.” And since politicians are rather predictable in their reactions, all Russian spies have to do is frame the information in the way that resonates with their target and victory is assured.


The British officer did not say anything we had not known before. Many Lithuanian writers had noted these things. Take, for instance, the story of Col. Vytautas Pociūnas, who died in Belarus, and the subsequent lashings that the SSD received at the Seimas; or the CIA prison search campaign; let's remember, which politicians bought the disinformation and we will see how easy it is for Russian intelligence services to exploit the “ naiveté, simplicity, and stupidity” of our public figures.

This time, however, the point is made by a well-informed Western officer. And it makes all the difference, because everyone else who had said similar things vilified as Russian agents by the conservative propaganda machine.

Paradoxical? Only at a first glance. And only for those who still believe in the politicians from point 9 and refuse to think. The Eastern puppeteer rejoices in  hearing us sing sentimental national songs and say sickly patriotic speeches. Too often are our actions the exact opposite of what we say. All the easier for the puppeteer to pull strings without much hiding.

And then enter the specially-trained online commentators.

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