Cyber attack targeted Lithuanian defense minister

Defense minister Raimundas Karoblis and government institutions were the targets of a small cyber attack against Lithuania on Thursday.

The attack consisted of three different elements. First institutions from the government, ministries, and embassies received emails containing an attached file with a virus. Then at 19.15 hackers took over the website tv3.lt and posted a fake news story discrediting defense minister Karoblis. The story was online for about five minutes before the TV-channel managed to remove it.

The fake story was written in decent Lithuanian, according to delfi.lt. It claimed that Karoblis had sexually harassed a (male) journalist and at least eight anonymous diplomats. The hackers attacked from a server in Saint Petersburg.

The third element of the attack was another fake news story that appeared on foreign websites claiming that Lithuania had introduced sanctions against Mongolia. Apparently this gave the Lithuanian diplomacy some extra work, and they consider it a conscious provocation.

Karoblis is known as an avid advocate for a tough military line against Russia. It is suspected that the cyber attack is a response to Lithuania’s so-called Magnitsky list which was published on Monday. This list bans 49 named Russians from Lithuania.

More US soldiers and Baltic Sea Policing Mission among ICDS recommendations for NATO

How should the United States and NATO prioritize their resources to the Baltic States? That is the topic of this policy paper that Erik Marmei and Gabriel White have written for ICDS.

The policy paper outlines a series of weaknesses with the defense in the Baltic States. It is pointed out that despite the fact that all three Baltic States spend more that NATO’s 2 percent of GDP goal, there will not be enough local funding to create a credible defense against the threat from Russia. …Continue reading

The Baltic nations would be hard to beat

One of the things that I didn’t touch on in my description about how a war between Russia and the West will play out was the resistance that the populations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would muster after a Russian occupation. That was a deliberate omission because you just can’t fit everything into one piece, but to be fair this is indeed so important that it deserves attention. …Continue reading

Maybe former Soviet republics don’t like to be Russia’s “sphere of interest”

Mikhail Barabanov in Moscow Defense Brief:

Russia holds the Zapad drills along its western borders once every four years; the previous such event took place in 2013. This year, however, the reaction from some of Russia’s neighbors to the west has been nothing short of hysterical.
[…]
For all the Western concerns, the scenario of the main phase of the drills was purely defensive, and focused on defending an allied state (Belarus) from hostile actions and then a direct invasion by the West. In that sense, the scenario was fully in line with the Putin administration’s perception of the domestic and external threats facing Russia. The exercise was a fairly typical reflection of how Russia believes it should act in the former Soviet republics to protect its “sphere of interests” from any encroachment by foreigners. It did not imply any major military operations beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. As with the famous “Gerasimov Doctrine” (which reflects Russian views of how the West operates, but which Western commentators choose to interpret as Russia’s own preferred course of action), the [Zapad] 2017 drills were not a simulation of a Russian act of aggression. Rather, they reflected the growing concern in the Russian military-political leadership about increasingly blatant Western meddling in former Soviet republics.

Gee, I wonder what caused the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to become so hysterical.

Lithuania gives old weapons to Ukraine

Lithuania has decided to give some of its old weapons to Ukraine. This is some 7000 Kalashnikovs, machine guns, mortars, anti-tank weapons, and other equipment including ammunition. The total value of the weapons is just a little short of €2 million.

This is the third time that Lithuania supplies weapons to Ukraine. The first time was in 2014, and the second time was in 2016 when Ukraine received 146 machine guns of different calibers and approximately 150 tons of ammunition.

Not too many years ago, Lithuania was in the receiving end of foreign military aid. It is a good sign that the country is now in a position to be critical about the equipment in its stock. But this also shows that the security situation in the Baltic is interwoven with the war in Ukraine, and the Lithuanian step is obviously controversial in both Russia and some NATO countries.

Lithuania hopes for NATO air defense agreement in 2018

Lithuanian defense minister Raimundas Karoblis says he hopes that the NATO countries can reach an agreement in 2018 on the principles for a comprehensive air defense concept for the Baltic region, writes Delfi.lt.

According to the Lithuanian minister the problem is political, as the technical details are mostly worked out. He therefore hopes that air defense can be included in NATO’s existing plans for a forward presence in the Baltic countries.

Air defense is considered by Lithuania as the weak link in the defense of the country. In October the country signed a €109 million deal for the Norwegian air defense system NASAMS, but Lithuania hopes that the Polish acquisition of Patriot missiles can integrate into a broader comprehensive system. Patriot has a longer range and a better capability against missiles than NASAMS, and the Polish missiles could provide protection over Lithuania if they are placed close to the border.

It is unlikely that NATO can have a permanent deployment of ground based air defense systems in the Baltic Countries, because the alliance doesn’t have enough of them. But a stronger mandate for the air policing mission in the Baltic Countries is seen by the minister as a possible step to a comprehensive air defense.

Lithuania acquires Norwegian air defense system

Lithuania has announced the purchase of the Norwegian air defense system NASAMS in a €109 million deal with Kongsberg. The system is expected to be fully operational in 2021, reports armyreconition.com.

NASAMS is a ground based solution with air defense radars and surface launched medium range missiles. Such a system will be very useful in a tactical scenario, significantly improving the country’s ability to defend its airspace. The range of the missiles is limited, but the geography of Lithuania makes it possible to move the missiles around quickly and hide them almost everywhere, so the mere existence of the system will challenge the ability of an attacker to dominate the air space.

In addition to an air defense system, Lithuania is also in the process of acquiring the Boxer armored fighting vehicle and PzH 2000 howitzers.

Lithuania increases defense spending to meet 2 percent goal

Lithuania will increase defense spending to hit the NATO target of 2 percent of GDP in 2018, reports AFP according to digigataljournal.com. With that the total number of NATO countries to meet the goal is up to eight:

  • United States
  • Greece
  • Britain
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Estonia
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania

AFP quotes Lithuania’s defense minister Raimundas Karoblis for saying that “In the light of the current global security situation, it is important that each NATO member demonstrates its commitment to the Alliance and meets the defence spending target”.

It is good to see another country meet the 2 percent goal. Other countries – typically those with a larger GDP and a longer distance to Russia – are hesitant to increase defense budgets to meet the goal, as a large political opposition questions the necessity of spending that much money. However, it is a risky course for Europe to base its security on a continued willingness of an ever more reluctant United States to pay a larger bill than everybody else. As more countries meet NATO’s goals, it will put more pressure on the remaining to also increase defense budgets.

Lithuanian borders violated by Russia and Belarus in September

You would expect border guards to know where the border is. Or at least you would think that border guards had enough respect for the concept of a border to keep a safe margin if they are in doubt. But nevertheless there were two cases in September where border guards entered illegally into Lithuania.

The first incident happened on September 9 when a Russian border guard was captured near Kaliningrad. He explained that he had gotten lost, and after straying around all night he swam across a lake in search for help, unaware that he had crossed into another country. At first, Russia denied any connection with the border guard, but later admitted the work relationship. According to the Lithuanian prosecutor the border guard worked for FSB. The detainee, who admitted his guilt and was sentenced to 30 days of prison, was released on Monday.

The other incident happened a few days later and involved a Belarusian border guard who was caught on camera crossing the border. On the video two border guards are seen strolling practically on the border when one of them decides to make a quick visit to Lithuania. He returned to his own country after less than a minute.

While the first case alludes to possible espionage, the second seems more like recklessness. But nevertheless it shows a disturbing disregard of the integrity of the Lithuanian border on the part of Russian and Belarusian institutions.

In addition to these incidents on land, Lithuania also experienced a violation of its airspace during the Russian-Belarusian exercise Zapad 2017. Russia has explained that incident as a necessary maneuver to avoid bad weather.

Pessimistic farewell by outgoing EU ambassador to Russia

Outgoing EU ambassador to Russia, the Lithuanian diplomat Vygaudas Ušackas, has a pessimistic farewell message in The Guardian:

When I arrived in Moscow as the EU’s ambassador to Russia four years ago, relations between the two blocs were strained but functional. Within months, though, Russia would annex Crimea and intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine, plunging ties to their lowest point since the cold war. They have been in deep and acute crisis ever since and, as I leave my post, I am pessimistic that we will be able to return to a normal partnership in the near future. The differences between us are vast and hinge on principles of European security.

Today, the entire apparatus of the Kremlin has a singular focus: ensuring smooth and “credible” 2018 presidential elections that return President Vladimir Putin to power. Over the course of the six-year presidential term that will follow, it seems probable that the current clash of world views between Moscow and the west will continue.

At the heart of this clash are fundamental differences over the future of Ukraine and Georgia, and their right to choose their own alliances. This clash is also about core European values.