Russian intelligence searches for new methods to collect intelligence in Europe, but its primary focus is the war against Ukraine
The intensity of human intelligence operations conducted by Russian intelligence has fallen in Europe. As a response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, European countries expelled more than 400 Russian intelligence officers who had worked under diplomatic cover. This coordinated decision has negatively affected Russia’s intelligence gathering capabilities. Under such circumstances, Russian intelligence highly likely will resort to other information gathering methods and will search for new intelligence opportunities. Russia likely will use cyber espionage, officers under non-traditional (non-diplomatic) cover or with fake identities (the so-called ‘illegals’), and intelligence from the Russian territory more often. Simultaneously, Russia highly likely will pursue efforts to restore intelligence positions in its diplomatic representations by delegating new officers.
Russia’s ability to perform human intelligence in Lithuania has also diminished. In 2022, five intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover were expelled from Lithuania. The sanctions against Russia, which include travel restrictions for Russian citizens, limit the possibilities for Russian nationals collaborating with intelligence to visit Lithuania and, therefore, a potential for human intelligence from the Russian territory. With the decreasing number of border crossings between Lithuania and Russia, Russian intelligence likely will intensify its efforts to recruit individuals without any access to sensitive information.
Russia’s Federal security service (FSB), which is also responsible for border protection, has become more active on the Russian–Lithuanian border. Lithuanian citizens visiting the border area with Russia or crossing the Lithuanian–Russian border are at risk of becoming targets for the FSB provocations. Those travelling to Belarus face a similar threat.
In August 2022, the FSB Border Service detained a Lithuanian citizen who had crossed the Lithuanian–Russian border by mistake after getting lost. He was interrogated for three days and was subjected to psychological violence. His smart devices were examined; he was questioned about his contacts, connections to law enforcement, military and intelligence institutions, as well as about sensitive personal information. The FSB threatened to hand him over to the Donetsk People’s Republic, where he would be tried for terrorism, because his devices contained information about his support to Ukraine. The Lithuanian citizen spent two weeks in detention.
Currently, the FSB dedicates most of its foreign intelligence capabilities to operations against Ukraine. The service plays a pivotal role in securing the control of Russian-occupied territories, establishment of occupation administrations, and identification of residents loyal to Ukraine. The Department for Operational information (DOI) of FSB 5th service (intelligence and influence operations), the FSB Military Counterintelligence Department (counterintelligence in the Armed Forces and military intelligence), the FSB special Purpose Centre (combat support), and other FSB units are most active in Ukraine and against it.
Lithuanian citizens who travel to Ukraine to provide support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces or local residents, especially those who visit territories close to combat zone, face a risk of becoming targets for Russian intelligence. In case of detention by the Russian Armed Forces or pro-Russian militant groups, Lithuanian citizens would be handed over to intelligence officers. In spring 2022, a Lithuanian national was detained, interrogated, and subjected to psychological and physical violence, highly likely to ascertain whether the detainee had any connections to Ukrainian military or intelligence.
The Main Directorate of the General staff of the Russian Armed Forces (GRU) constantly collects intelligence on strategic military and civilian infrastructure in countries bordering Russia. Such information allows Russia to assess military capability and weaknesses of its opponents. Russia uses this knowledge not only for planning subversions that target state functions and democracy procedures but also military operations, like the one against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. It is highly likely that most of the targeting information about Ukraine’s strategic infrastructure was collected by the GRU, which is responsible for collection, processing, and verification of such intelligence during peacetime.
Despite the war against Ukraine, Russian intelligence services retain their interest in Lithuania and continue to collect information on military and civilian infrastructure. For this purpose, they use cyber espionage, which allows them to collect open-source intelligence or penetrate the systems of state institutions.