Belarusian intelligence services recruit their own nationals fleeing to Lithuania
After the 2020 Belarusian presidential election, tens of thousands of Belarusian citizens arrived in Lithuania, fleeing arrest, imprisonment, or other types of legal prosecution. The growing Belarusian diaspora in Lithuania leads to increased activity of Belarusian intelligence services.
According to available intelligence, the priority targets for Belarusian intelligence services are representatives of the Belarusian democratic opposition, regime opponents as well as methods of their entry into Lithuania. Some individuals who enter Lithuania are exploited by Belarusian intelligence and law-enforcement services – the State Security Committee (KGB), the Main intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Belarusian Armed Forces (Belarusian GRU), and the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of internal Affairs of Belarus (GUBOPiK).
The KGB infiltrates its agents among fleeing Belarusians. In Lithuania, they collect intelligence about their diaspora, democratic opposition and its organisations, Lithuania’s intelligence institutions, border crossing procedures, and organisers of legal and illegal entry to Lithuania. In case of their return to Belarus, the regime’s propaganda exploits these individuals in smear campaigns against Lithuania, its state institutions, and the Belarusian democratic opposition.
Andrey Abramenka, a former officer of Belarusian OMON, prosecuted for his protest activity in 2020. In 2021, Abramenka crossed the Lithuanian border illegally and applied for asylum. After a few months, Abramenka returned to Belarus and became one of the main characters Abramenka appearing on Belarus 1 channel after his return to Belarus in a Belarusian propaganda movie defaming Lithuania. Abramenka disseminated false information about individuals who organise entry to Lithuania, routes, verification procedures, and Lithuanian state institutions. It is highly likely that Abramenka was cooperating with the KGB.
Starting from 2021, the Belarusian regime and the KGB are implementing the ‘Way Home’ initiative, which offers members of the Belarusian diaspora an allegedly safe return to Belarus in exchange for information (spying). For the provided opportunity to return home, the regime forces some Belarusian citizens to go public on Belarusian television with their stories on escape and return. Belarusian opposition activists and NGO representatives keep receiving messages through Telegram social network accounts inviting them to return to Belarus. A considerable number of the Belarusian diaspora representatives in Lithuania say they have received such offers.
It is highly likely that in the near term, Belarusian intelligence services will step up their efforts to exploit the growing Belarusian diaspora in order to gather intelligence about Lithuania’s institutions, Belarusian democratic opposition, and diaspora. The Lukashenka regime will use such information to defame Lithuania and Belarusian democratic opposition, and weaken the morale of diaspora members. It is possible that in the near term, the propaganda and disinformation campaigns orchestrated by the Belarusian regime will increase the Belarusian diaspora’s disillusion with the Belarusian opposition. Belarusian intelligence services will exploit disappointed Belarusians for gathering intelligence and influence operations within their diaspora in Lithuania.