The ruling regimes in Russia and Belarus are increasing their pressure on non-systemic opposition organisations, which, due to strong government and law enforcement pressure and persecution, are shifting their activities to foreign states. These states attract the attention of Russian and Belarusian law enforcement agencies, propaganda journalists and intelligence services.
Illustration: State Security Department of Lithuania
Russian intelligence services, especially the Russian FSB, are active against opposition organisations and activists both within Russia’s territory and abroad. The main unit of Russian intelligence services working against Russian opposition activists is the Directorate for the Protection of Constitutional Order of the FSB’s Service for Protection of Constitutional Order and Counter-Terrorism. It is responsible for overseeing and controlling political, social, religious, extremist organisations and processes in Russia. FSB officers carry out surveillance of opposition activists, wiretap them, seek to infiltrate their surroundings, organise provocations and even attempts upon their lives. In 2020, FSB officers from this unit organised an attempt to assassinate Russian opposition leader Navalny.
Lithuania is one of the main directions of emigration for Russian opposition activists. There are several hundred Russian citizens who have been granted asylum in Lithuania, as well as individuals who did not apply for special status but are engaged in political or journalistic activities. Representatives of political, public and media organisations opposing the Russian government from Russia or EU countries regularly visit Lithuania; Russia’s opposition events take place here as well.
Russian intelligence services are interested in information about the Russian opposition activists residing in Lithuania and their organisations, plans and courses of action. RIS may seek to infiltrate agents into Russian opposition organisations operating in Lithuania, deploy intelligence staff with unconventional cover, and to penetrate the IT systems of opposition activists and organisations by cyber means. As political repression in Russia is expanding and the number of political émigrés from Russia is growing, the attention of Russian intelligence services to the opposition activists in Lithuania is also likely to increase.
Since the beginning of the political crisis in Belarus, when Lithuania became one of the centres for Belarusian political opposition, the activity of Belarusian intelligence services against Lithuania has increased. Belarusian intelligence services are involved in handling the political crisis in Belarus. They seek to identify and intimidate the opposition and its supporters, besides, they use the collected intelligence for discrediting them and running propaganda campaigns against them. Belarusian intelligence services are not limited to intelligence gathering and act aggressively against opponents of the Belarusian regime in Belarus and abroad. It is highly likely that Belarusian intelligence services planned and carried out the diversion of Ryanair’s aircraft flying from Athens to Vilnius, to forcefully land in Minsk airport in order to detain Roman Protasevich, who resided in Lithuania.
The State Security Committee (KGB) of Belarus monitors the activists of Belarusian opposition living in Lithuania, gathers information about them, records their activities and seeks leverage to influence them. Not only the KGB but also the services subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior of Belarus (e.g. GUBOPIK, the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption) and the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus (Belarusian GRU) are using active measures against the opposition. In addition, Belarusian intelligence services work against the political opposition in cooperation with their Russian counterparts.
It is highly likely that in the near term the intelligence and disruptive activities of Belarusian intelligence services against the country’s political opposition and diaspora will intensify, while foreign states, the opposition from which is most active, will remain targets for propaganda, discrediting and disinformation campaigns.
While visiting Lithuania Navalny was under surveillance by four Russian citizens
Russian leadership and intelligence services consider Navalny and his organization as posing high-risk to the regime. For this reason, Navalny was under surveillance both in Russia and abroad even before his attempted assassination. Our intelligence suggests that during Navalny’s visit in Lithuania in April and September 2019, a group of four Russian citizens followed him from Russia with a task to carry out his physical surveillance. This group of people made simultaneous visits across Europe as Navalny. These Russian citizens officially claimed to be retired and stated tourism as the purpose of their trips to Europe. All of them are affiliated with Ten (Тень), a private detectives’ agency, based in Ryazan (Russia), and were previously employed in Russian law enforcement or military. Russian intelligence services frequently use various intermediaries – people, companies or organizations – indirectly related to them in order to minimize possible risks in case of mission failure.
Source State Security Department of Lithuania
In recent years, intelligence services of Lithuania’s allies have uncovered a number of attempted assassinations for opposing or displeasing the Kremlin that Russian intelligence planned and perpetrated. The disclosed operations reveal that Russia’s political leadership and intelligence services consider the risk of possible response for conducting such operations abroad as acceptable.
Russian citizens who followed A. Navalny in Lithuania: Alexander Borzunov (b. 1976), Vyacheslav Romashin (b. 1973), Andrei Malikov (b. 1977), Alexander Zarubin (b. 1982) / Source State Security Department of Lithuania
The article was prepared for publication by volunteers of the Res Publica – Civic Resilience Center. Source State Security Department of Lithuania Facebook page.