Lithuania: China and Russia Featured as Key National Security Threats
Lithuanian intelligence bodies published their annual National Threat Assessment Report on Feb. 6, 2019, with China being named and featured for the first time this year as “a country with interests detrimental to Lithuania’s security” alongside perennial national security threat, Russia. China’s embassy in Vilnius issued a vehement denial of the “totally unacceptable” conclusions of the report on Feb. 9. Lithuania joined several other countries — mainly US allies and fellow NATO states — in expressing concerns over Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s activities regarding critical telecommunications infrastructure in Europe, the US, and beyond.
However, the vast majority of the 66-page report, compiled by Lithuania’s State Security Department (VSD) and the Second Investigation Department (AOTD) under the Ministry of National Defense, concerns Russia, Russian military and intelligence activities, and Russian actions in neighboring countries.
The report notes that while Moscow is facing noticeable internal dissent as challenges to its continued rule, adept manipulation of information and maneuvering of military resources to draw attention away from domestic concerns has allowed for the ruling regime to suppress any domestic threats to its rule. Additionally, the report acknowledges that Russia has expanded its footprint abroad in the Middle East and Africa — although the “great ambitions” of Moscow have produced “mixed results” — while also increasing its influence over neighboring states, most prominently the former Soviet republics.
Via the report, the VSD and AOTD predict that Russia will spend a significant amount of time and effort to influence neighboring regimes “using structural dependence and frozen conflicts.” Upcoming elections in Belarus, Armenia, and Moldova — three post-Soviet states still intimately reliant on resources from Moscow — will likely see the Kremlin “meddle actively and overtly” in order to prevent any significant shifts in politics away from a pro-Russia orientation in any of the three former Soviet republics.
With regards to military developments, the report plainly states that “Russian military power is the essential enabler of its aggressive foreign policy” and notes the continued development of Russian military resources and practices “in all strategic directions… including Lithuania.” For domestic Lithuanian media, the most concerning development in the report was the mention of Russia’s strengthening of military units in Kaliningrad Oblast as a forward position to project into the Baltic Sea, Eastern Europe, and NATO.
The AOTD also warned that Russia is using unmanned drones for spying in Lithuanian territory, with the drones flying in from Belarus being “in fact a new tendency…. It is Russian intelligence activity carried out during peacetime in a sovereign state, in the territory of a NATO country.”
Additionally, the report did not rule out further military action by Russia in Ukraine as Moscow seeks “opportunities to destabilize [the] internal situation in Ukraine and discredit Kiev in the eyes of its Western allies and international community.”
Accordingly, the report underlined that “growing defense capabilities of the Baltic States and NATO military contingents deployed in the region reduce Russia’s ability to localize potential military conflict and rapidly achieve desirable results avoiding a large-scale NATO involvement” and predicted Moscow would “further seek to convince Western (and Lithuanian) politicians and societies that additional NATO security measures in the Baltic region are counterproductive and increase tensions.”
China earned its first-time feature in the Lithuanian National Threat Assessment Report on the grounds that “[China’s] growing economic and political ambitions… resulted in the increasing aggressiveness of Chinese intelligence and security services’ activities not only in other NATO and EU countries, but also in Lithuania.”
The report noted that Chinese intelligence uses diplomatic cover, state-funded Confucius institutes, Chinese companies and news agencies, and Chinese students studying abroad as agents, with the main goals of Beijing being driven by Chinese domestic policy issues and attempts to obtain “sensitive or classified national or NATO and EU information.”
The VSD and AOTD also concluded that “given the growing threat posed by Chinese intelligence and security services in NATO and EU countries, their activity in Lithuania in the long term is also likely to expand,” especially in Lithuania’s transportation and energy sectors.
In response to the report and Chinese protests, Lithuanian Prime Minister, Saulius Skvernelis, issued a statement on Feb.7 asserting that proposed investments (and the associated threats posed by such investments) by China “must be carefully assessed.” While Lithuania has not seen any major Chinese investment proposals yet, the Prime Minister stated that “if we had, we would really assess them in a responsible way.”