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Belarusian regime’s threat perception is the driving force behind the intense activity of intelligence services against Lithuania

Belarusian regime’s threat perception is the driving force behind the intense activity of intelligence services against Lithuania

The Belarusian regime perceives Western support for the Belarusian democratic opposition and Belarusians fighting on the side of Ukraine as the main threats to its security. To counter these threats and safeguard the ruling regime, Belarusian intelligence services have expanded their intelligence operations abroad and strengthened domestic counter-intelligence. Belarusian intelligence has been focusing on the Belarusian opposition based in Lithuania as well as on a growing community of Belarusians. As a result, Lithuania has become one of the main targets for Belarusian intelligence services. The Belarusian diaspora in Lithuania consists of over 62,000 Belarusian citizens and grows by about 15,500 people annually. It includes members of the political opposition and non-governmental organisations, independent journalists who fled the country because of the regime’s persecution after the rigged 2020 presidential election as well as of economic migrants.

A growing Belarusian diaspora in Lithuania provides an opportunity for Belarusian intelligence services to find targets for recruitment. Contacts between Belarusian intelligence and some members of the Belarusian diaspora pose a significant threat to Lithuanian national security, particularly when maintained after their arrival in Lithuania. Belarusian intelligence services exploit former employees of Belarusian state institutions who currently reside in Lithuania. This activity is made possible due to the system of agent recruitment in Belarus that the country’s intelligence services run in state institutions, strategically important entities, and the armed forces. Belarusian intelligence services have recently begun to establish and re-establish contacts with members of the Belarusian diaspora and recruit new intelligence assets using modern remote communication methods.

In addition to counter-intelligence threats, the growth of the Belarusian diaspora in Lithuania has brought other challenges. Some members of the diaspora promote radical political ideologies, such as Litvinism, a radical branch of Belarusian chauvinism, which has recently attracted attention in Lithuania. Litvinism denies the Baltic origin of the dukes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and questions the rights of the Republic of Lithuania to the Vilnius region. Some Lithuanian-based adherents of Litvinism actively promote their ideological views on social media. A widespread dissemination of such views among the Belarusian diaspora has a negative impact on the integration of Belarusians into society and could lead to an increase in ethnic tensions. The Belarusian regime conducts information attacks themed around Litvinism to incite confrontation between Belarusians living in Lithuania and Lithuanian society.

Some members of the Belarusian diaspora also support far-right ideologies. In late 2023, the Belarusian cell of the international right-wing extremist network ‘Active Club’ was established in Lithuania. ‘Active Club’ is an extremist movement inspired by the American far-right activist Robert Rundo. Its followers combine promotion of right-wing extremist ideologies and the dissemination of propaganda with martial arts and other physical activities.

Belarusian intelligence services use members of the Belarusian diaspora to collect information on Lithuanian institutions as well as on the Belarusian democratic opposition and the diaspora itself.

According to available information, Belarusian intelligence intensively uses questionings of people who travel from Lithuania to Belarus and collects information for its activities against Lithuania. These questionings have peaked in 2023 and while their primary purpose is ostensibly to prevent threats to the Belarusian regime, they are also used to gather intelligence and identify individuals with a potential for intelligence activities in Lithuania.

Belarusian intelligence officers inspect mobile devices and personal computers of individuals seeking to enter Belarus, check their contact lists, social media accounts, and photographs for any relevant information. While questioning and performing checks, Belarusian intelligence services collect information on the travellers’ purpose of visit to Belarus, their political views, employment. They also investigate whether individuals crossing the border have any links to the State Border Guard Service of Lithuania, law enforcement agencies, Lithuanian intelligence, or the military. Belarusian intelligence services attempt to identify current and former employees of state and municipal institutions, the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, and the Lithuanian armed forces, as well as businesspeople, employees of strategic companies, journalists, and individuals involved in illegal activities. Belarusian intelligence services seek to recruit individuals who have a potential to provide relevant intelligence or perform other tasks. Belarusian intelligence officers may use psychological pressure and blackmail to coerce individuals to cooperate based on various traffic accidents, violations of law, visa regulations, or border crossing procedures.

We assess that the Belarusian regime’s perception that Lithuania and other neighbouring countries pose a threat to its stability is the driving factor behind the increased activity of Belarusian intelligence against Lithuania. It is highly likely that Belarusian intelligence services will continue to target Lithuania, its citizens in Belarus, and the Belarusian diaspora in Lithuania in the near term. Belarusian intelligence services are likely to use members of the growing Belarusian diaspora to gather intelligence in Lithuania. Additionally, they will continue to target individuals travelling to Belarus for personal, tourist or other purposes in order to gather information and identify potential candidates for recruitment.

Sign at Lithuania’s border with Belarus warning travellers of the dangers of visiting Belarus EPA / STRINGER / Scanpix

Recently, Belarusian intelligence services started to target the staff of the Lithuanian diplomatic mission in Belarus. Belarusian intelligence observes the Lithuanian Embassy personnel and collects information about their relations, habits or anything that could compromise them. The collected information or administrative measures are used to intimidate the employees. By carrying out such activities, Belarusian intelligence services aim to recruit Lithuanian diplomatic mission employees and force them to act against Lithuania’s national security interests.

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