How the Lithuanian Security Department assesses the situation in neighboring Belarus.
The Lithuanian special services - the Department of the State Security and Military Intelligence - recently published an annual statement on the threats to Lithuania’s national security, in which Belarus traditionally holds a stable position in the list of threats along with Russia and China, the Charter97.org correspondent in Vilnius reports.
The document gives assessment to the events, processes and trends that have had the greatest impact on the situation in the field of the national security of Lithuania. On this basis, long-term trends have been defined, and the assessment of risk factors and threats in the near term (2020-2021) and long-term perspective (up to 10 years) has been given.
Characterizing the political situation in Belarus and Russia, Lithuanian intelligence uses only the definition of “regime”, noting an increased pressure from Russia on Belarus, and the weakness of the Belarusian authorities. This weakness is explained quite simply - “undemocratic configuration”. Moreover, if the undemocratic configuration weakens the position of Belarus before Russia, then democracy is a direct threat to the Lukashenka regime, the report says.
In general, it can be noted that the Lithuanian intelligence services in this report devote less space to actual issues, paying more attention to the general situation in Belarus, the reasons for its cooperation with Russia, and the risks to Lithuania coming from Belarus in this situation.
What has been said in general
Let us first see what is generally considered in Lithuania as threats to the national security of the country. Traditionally, the Lithuanian secret services have reckoned the Russian foreign policy and security policy as the main source of threats to the country, claiming that it is “based on the Kremlin’s desire to ensure the stability of the regime, and convince the internal audience that it is irreplaceable.”
“Although dissatisfaction is gradually growing in Russia due to the declining standard of living and the actions of the authoritarian regime, the largest protests in Moscow in the recent years have not been able to excite the passive society,” the document says.
The second point is the strengthening of the military potential and activity of the Russian Federation in the Western Military District and the Kaliningrad Region of the Russian Federation (strengthening of conventional and nuclear forces, development of new weapons, large-scale exercises), as well as deepening military integration with Belarus. That is, Belarus appears already in the second paragraph of the introduction to the fact sheet.
“The military potential of Russia and the fast, centralized decision-making process by the Kremlin creates a great advantage over Lithuania and other neighboring states,” the Lithuanian special services point out.
The third point concerns Belarus even more, and is connected with intelligence. The largest threat to the Lithuanian intelligence is the Russian intelligence and security services that are actively cooperating with the Belarusian special services. The system of free visas to Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, in the opinion of the Lithuanian special services, creates favorable conditions for the Russian intelligence to collect information from tourists arriving in the country, and search for purposes suitable for recruitment. Russia (Belarus should be added, apparently) is actively collecting intelligence information about Lithuania.
The fourth point is the cybernetic activity of Russia and China. By the way, China appeared in the annual report of the Lithuanian special services last year, this topic does not leave the agenda of the Lithuanian politics, and is also constantly voiced in the statements of the country's leadership. However, the emphasis in this paragraph is still placed on cyber espionage of the Russian Federation.
The fifth point is that the aims for the actions of propaganda and historical policy of the Russian Federation in the information field are the events related to the statehood of Lithuania, and the resistance of its inhabitants to the Soviet occupation.
In the next paragraph of the list of threats Belarus is mentioned again. The document says that the biggest risk to Lithuania’s energy independence is Russia's desire to maintain energy dominance in the Baltic markets. Russian energy companies are trying to gain a foothold in the Lithuanian natural gas market, and adapt to the new conditions of projects ensuring the country's energy independence.
In this regard, the project of the Belarusian NPP under construction in the neighborhood does not meet international safety standards, and the Rosatom corporation implementing the project ignores the conclusions of international and Belarusian experts, which are unfavorable for it, etc.
The Union of Independent States (CIS) is named by the Lithuanian special services as the most important zone of interests and influence of Russia. They state that negotiations between the Russian Federation and Belarus on energy cooperation and further integration of the two countries are turning into political pressure. Despite the fact that Minsk still manages to drag out the decision-making process, the financial and economic dependence of Belarus on Russia helps Moscow in its quest for closer political integration.
Relations between Belarus and Russia: further integration in exchange for economic assistance
The recent visits to Belarus of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and representatives of and a number of other neighboring states, according to columnist Konstantin Eggert, clearly demonstrated that Washington does not and will not consider Russia's neighbors as vassals of the Kremlin. The Lithuanian secret services, in turn, argue that Russia seeks to strengthen its influence in Belarus. The main leverage in this, according to Lithuania, is “a weak Belarusian economy that is not diversified from preferential conditions and remains dependent on cheap energy sources received from Russia”.
The periodic confrontation during bilateral negotiations on energy cooperation develops into Russia's political pressure on Belarus, the authors of the report continue, and the “increasing pressure of Vladimir Putin will not allow Aliaksandr Lukashenka to breathe.”
The two countries’ different positions complicate their negotiations on deeper integration. First of all, Belarus seeks to solve the main bilateral economic problems and only then go further along the path of integration. Russia, as Lithuania’s special services say, imposes unacceptable conditions on Belarus to deepen integration processes, while Lithuania believes that “there will be no significant progress in the union state’s project, at least in the short term.”
Regarding the talks about Belarus establishing economic relations with Lithuania and the EU as a whole, the Lithuanian security services have no illusions: “Belarus declares the goals of diversifying foreign trade, but Russia remains the main partner.” In order to reduce dependence on Russia, Belarus is in search of alternative sources of financing and energy supply, according to the statement. However, despite the expansion of cooperation with China, Kazakhstan and other countries, “it is unlikely that in the medium term Belarus will be able to reduce its financial and economic dependence on Russia.”
“The increase of Russia's political influence on Belarus caused by this dependence will adversely affect the security of the region, including Lithuania,” the authors of the note said.
Undemocratic order as the cause of weakness
The parliamentary election in Belarus, according to Lithuania, was the rehearsal of the presidential election of 2020, and it is considered not meeting the requirements for holding democratic elections. The opportunities of participation thereof for the opposition were limited.
“Real democratic changes undermine Lukashenka’s power, and for many years the authoritarian power of the president not only de facto destroyed the civil society, made law-enforcement institutions ineffective, but also reduced the importance of politics as a whole. It is now perceived in the country as a tool for managing economic affairs,” the statement says.
Against the background of mutual shaking hands during the meetings of representatives of the Belarusian regime with Western politicians and leaders, the following paragraph needs to be quoted:
“In order to maintain power without democracy, the Belarusian regime has gradually become a hostage of its own policies. Although the president presents himself as a defender of sovereignty, his long-term authoritarian policy of postponing the implementation of necessary reforms weakens Belarus,and reduces its ability to withstand Russia's growing pressure.”
The regime considers military integration with the Russian Federation a guarantee of security
Belarus considers Russia to be the guarantor of its defense against military threats and, in the course of general military exercises, improves the actions of its armed forces, and the military industry of the Russian Federation remains one of the most important sources of modernization of the Republic of Belarus.
In addition to this, the statement notes that the Belarusian political elite sees army and security forces, and the world situation in the way close to Russia’s vision, but with certain peculiarities. Belarus, unlike Russia, does not have the mentality of a “great power,” therefore Belarus is less critical of NATO expansion, although Minsk estimates the alliance as a risk factor for Belarus.
“In addition, the distrust between the regimes of Lukashenka and Putin forces Minsk to avoid the permanent deployment of the Russian Armed Forces in Belarus,” the Lithuanian special services note, adding, however, that in the near and medium term, Minsk’s defense policy will meet Moscow’s interests.
In the report, Belarus was also named Russia's most important ally in the field of intelligence. It is indicated that “The Belarusian intelligence services are actively cooperating with the Russian intelligence, and provide assistance in the operations of the Russian Federation in Belarus.” This also applies to the recruitment of Lithuanian citizens during trips to Russia and Belarus.
Concealed incident at a nuclear power plant, lack of will and competence
When assessing threats to the national security, Lithuanian intelligence did not bypass the issue of construction of the Astravets NPP. The report says that as the day of the NPP launch is approaching, tension between the Belarusian departments and the Rosatom project company is growing.
“As the deadline for launching the Belarusian NPP is approaching, tension increases between the responsible Belarusian departments, the project’s customers and Rosatom’s representatives - they all fear responsibility for possible incidents at the Belarusian NPP built in a hurry,” the report says.
According to the intelligence, late in June last year, due to negligent actions of the staff, a fire started in the first block of the nuclear power plant, next to the reactor. However, the Belarusian authorities did not report this incident:
“According to the intelligence, the directive to hide the information about the shortcomings of the BelNPP project is supported by Rosatom, because it fears for its international reputation as a reliable partner in the implementation of nuclear power plant construction projects.”
The Lithuanian special services draw attention to the fact that Dzmitry Ramanets, who supervised the construction of the NPP, resigned in July 2019, and attributed this to the fact that the specialist wanted to avoid responsibility for the incidents that had taken place and further complicated the work on preparing the station for launch.
According to the report, the Investigatory Committee of Belarus is conducting an investigation of incidents at the construction site, specialists working for the Russian contractor have already been detained, however, due to the pressure from the diplomats of the Russian Federation, those cases were terminated.
The document also states that Rosatom’s representatives are negligent in meeting the requirements of construction control institutions of the Republic of Belarus. At the same time, it is emphasized that Belarusians themselves lack the competence and will for proper control.