In astounding written testimony Rolandas Kriščiūnas, Lithuanian Ambassador to the United States of America, gave blistering evidence to the US Senate of Russia’s efforts to cut the transatlantic relationship between Europe and the US, and undermine NATO.
According to the written evidence, “Russia updated basic strategic documents, indicating NATO, and particularly the U.S., as threats. It is written in official documents, it is publically said by Russian politicians, and it is constantly broadcasted on TV for the public. Russia withdrew from international agreements aimed at building trust and stability and thus assuring existence of the international security system. Russia is violating basic international law norms, and is keen to change current international order.”
At the time, the Ambassador wrote, NATO was aiming to build a strategic partnership with Russia, cutting defence structures and focusing on expeditionary forces. Meanwhile, Russia was increasing its investments into defence, modernising its armaments and military structures, reviewing its strategy, doctrine and tactics.
Turning to disinformation and fake news, the evidence says “Russia is extremely active in the information field, using pro-Russian media (e.g.Russia Today, Sputnik), propaganda, disinformation, fake news, trolls, leaks etc. in order to confuse public opinion and influence the decision-making. Russia also employs lobbying, PR agencies to disseminate the conspiracy theories, to discredit other states in the international arena and harasses those who criticize the Kremlin.”
“Russia tends to support European extremist and anti-EU groups, strives to foment divisions and instability in the target countries, and to create divisions inside the EU and NATO. Other forms of action: cyber activity (attacks against critical infrastructure, hacked and leaked emails, and cyber espionage), initiation of population resettlement (in order to change the ethnic composition of a frozen conflict region), creation of the proxy groups (pseudo-NGOs, youth organizations, research institutes, think tanks, motorcycle clubs).”
The statement adds information on further Russian strategies, saying “The compatriot policy (providing financial, health care or other kind of benefits to Russian-speakers abroad, issuing Russian passports, and justifying aggression against neighboring countries with protection of Russian speakers’ rights) is being used as an additional tool for Russia’s disruptive strategies abroad.”
According to Kriščiūnas, the Kremlin increasingly sees Europe’s status as “whole, free, and at peace not as an opportunity for prosperous coexistence, but as a threat to its geopolitical agenda and regime survival.”
“Moscow views the Western values – pluralism and openness – as weaknesses to be exploited. Its tactics are asymmetrical, subversive, and not easily confronted. U.S. is presented as an abuser of a global dominant position and Russia knows a solution – diminishing U.S. role in the world to achieve multipolar international order. Western governments have ignored this threat for too long, but finally, awareness is growing that the transatlantic community must do more to defend its values and institutions,” he adds.
While hybrid conflict and countermeasures are broadly covered – a topic this investigation has covered extensively – the central interest in the statement relates to disinformation.
Kriščiūnas writes, “Russia pursues to influence Lithuanian and Western audiences by setting up and promoting international media channels that spread its views and disinformation on the sensitive topics – such as migration crisis, terrorism, ethnic relations, deployment of NATO troops in Central and Eastern Europe etc.”
“The most active propaganda project of Russia’s international media outlet “Rossyia Segodnia” in Lithuania is website Baltnews.lt. It realizes Russia’s informational and ideological policy, disseminates articles which cover main narratives of Russian propaganda. Baltnews.lt gets funding from “Rossyia Segodnia” in a complex and non-transparent financial scheme through intermediary companies in foreign states,” he explains. “A new “Rossyia Segodnia” propaganda project “Sputniknews.lt” was launched in Lithuania in December 2016. “Sputniknews.lt” is oriented in Lithuanian-speaking audience, but for the moment failed to gain any popularity.”
Citing a specific example, he details the most recent example of an information attack as having been attempt by Russian media outlets and pro-Russian activists, in February 2017, to the spread the fake news that German soldiers stationed in Lithuania were culpable for the rape of the teenage girl. “This particular piece of disinformation failed to attract attention of mainstream media, but the like information attacks against NATO military personnel deployed in the region are highly likely to be repeated in the future,” he wrote.
Further expanding on Russia covert funding of disinformation channels, he explains that Moscow’s attempts to regain the influence in the post-Soviet region “materialize in Russia’s efforts to weaken Lithuania’s social integrity and to escalate intra-ethnic tensions. Russia employs so called compatriot policy to achieve that. Kremlin’s aim is to discredit and hinder any efforts made by the authorities’ to carry out a successful integration of national minorities. The main goal of Russia’s compatriot policy in the Baltics is to incite ethnic tensions”
“The Fund to Support and Protect the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad, which was established by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the federal agency “Rossotrudnichestvo”, finances two Lithuanian-based organizations, which try to fuel ethnic tensions within Lithuania. The Centre for the Protection and Research of Fundamental Rights uses various international human-rights events to blame Lithuania for violating the rights of ethnic communities. Independent Human Rights Centre, takes part in pro-Russian propaganda campaigns against the US and NATO,” he adds.
Both organisations, according to the evidence, receive nearly 100,000 Euro from the fund every year.
Vladimir Pozdorovkin, the current coordinator of the Baltics in the fund, had been the chief of SVR under a diplomatic cover at the Russian Embassy in Vilnius from 1994 till 1996.
Kriščiūnas savages Russian intelligence operations in Belarus, writing that “in 2014 Belarusian intelligence operation against Lithuanian military
communications system was terminated.”
According to the Lithuanian diplomat, Belarusian military intelligence undercover officer Sergey Kurulenko carried out the failed operation in which he tried to collect information about a fibreoptic cable network belonging to the national
Lithuanian air navigation system. The cable was also used by the
military among others for NATO communications.
“Due to close military cooperation between Belarus and Russia,” Kriščiūnas writes, “it is highly likely that the Belarusian GRU shared the collected information with the Russian military intelligence GRU.”
He also reports that approximately 100 pro-Russian groups are active in Belarus – many of them paramilitary, patriotic groups and some of them related to Belarusian Cossacks movement. These groups are most active in Belarus regions bordering Lithuania and Poland.
Cossacks, the evidence says, played a significant role in the Russian hybrid warfare against Ukraine, including the Crimea takeover operation.
“Belarusian Cossacks and other pro-Russian paramilitary groups operate in the same fashion as in Ukraine, using representatives of Russian Orthodox Church as liaison officers for the Russian intelligence services,” the Ambassador writes, adding that “Pro-Russian groups in Belarus can be used by Russia to pressure Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko as well as various operations (provocations) against the NATO member countries, e.g. Lithuania and Poland.”
Such provocations are highly likely during the “Zapad 2017” military exercise due to take place in September, Kriščiūnas says.