Lithuania wary of Russian meddling in busy election season

Lithuania wary of Russian meddling in busy election season
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw February 5, 2019

Russia is gearing up to influence the outcome of elections in Lithuania in 2019 and 2020, the Baltic state’s security agency VSD and the ministry of defence said in a joint report on February 5.

Long subject to Moscow, Lithuania has seen Russia as the major geopolitical adversary since gaining independence during the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Vilnius’ worries about its big neighbour peaked in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which fuelled fears Lithuania and other Baltic states Latvia and Estonia could become the next targets.

As European, local, parliamentary, and presidential elections are all due in 2019 and 2020, the EU and Nato member Lithuania will be the focus of Russia’s disruptive activity, the VSD said in a report on the state of Lithuanian security.

Russia is also likely to use the help of Belarusian intelligence services in order to collect information – such as on the armed forces or critical infrastructure – and exert hostile influence on Lithuania.

“The upcoming elections in 2019 and 2020 provide an opportunity for Russia to seek influence in the Lithuanian political processes from the municipal to the European level,” the report said.

“The 2019–2020 election cycle will likely be the main object of Russian interests. It is possible that Russia will seek to sway the course of elections by information and cyber means.”

Russia dismissed the report’s claims as “absolute nonsense,” Reuters reported. “Russia does not interfere in elections in other countries,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

But the concern that Russia might meddle with the elections to the European parliament, due to take place in May, is widespread in the EU.

The report also notes Russia’s continued military build-up in the Kaliningrad region, the Russian exclave that borders on Lithuania and Poland.

“Russia strengthens its capabilities to start execute combat orders with 24-48 hours' notice. Significance of the military force as one of the main instruments of the Russian foreign and security policy increases,” the report cautioned.

“Growing defence capabilities of the Baltic States and NATO military contingents deployed in the region considerably reduce chances that Russia would resort to military means against the Baltic States,” it said, however.