2019.11.15 16:36

Lithuania and Russia conduct unprecedented spy swap

BNS2019.11.15 16:36

Two Lithuanians and a Norwegian were returned to Lithuania on Friday as part of a spy swap with Russia, the Lithuanian president's office said.

"Two Lithuanian citizens, Yevgeny Mataitis and Aristidas Tamošaitis, have been returned to Lithuania and are currently on their way to their families," Jonas Vytautas Žukas, a presidential advisor, told reporters.

As part of the operation at a border checkpoint, two Russians jailed for espionage in Lithuania were handed over to Russia after being pardoned by President Gitanas Nausėda.

Darius Jauniškis, the director of the Lithuanian State Security Department (VSD), said the exchange took place at Friday noon.

Mataitis and Tamošaitis were convicted of spying for Lithuania and jailed in Russia in 2016.

Tamošaitis was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Moscow court. A court in Kaliningrad handed a 13-year prison sentence to Mataitis, a dual Lithuanian-Russian citizen.

Frode Berg, the Norwegian sentenced in Russia to 14 years in prison for espionage, was handed over to Norway's embassy in Vilnius on Friday.

Care for citizens

According to the presidential advisor and the intelligence chief, the operation shows that the state cares about its citizens.

"States must protect their citizens and use all available tools for that purpose. Citizens need to know that the state will not abandon them. This is a key precondition for confidence in one's country," Žukas said.

"Lithuanian citizens' freedom is a core value that must be protected," he added.

Jauniškis said after Friday's meeting with the president that "this international operation was carefully planned and carried out by experienced intelligence officers".

"This operation shows that Lithuania cares about every Lithuanian citizen and that every effort will always be made to defend and protect its people," he added.

Lithuanian officials never commented on intelligence links with Mataitis and Tamošaitis.

Mataitis lived in Vilnius before his arrest in Kaliningrad in 2015. He is married and has two underage sons, Antanas Bubnelis, Nausėda's spokesman, said.

Tamošaitis, who also lived in Vilnius before his arrest in Moscow in May 2015, has an adult daughter, he added.

Neither the VSD director nor the president's office responded to questions from journalists on Friday.

Russian agents

The Lithuanian president's office announced on Friday morning that Nauseda had pardoned two Russian citizens, Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergey Moiseyenko.

Filipchenko was detained on April 29, 2015 when traveling by train from Russia's Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad to Belarus via Lithuania.

On July 7, 2017, Vilnius Regional Court convicted Filipchenko of espionage and sentenced him to ten years in prison.

According to Lithuanian law enforcement, he was an officer of the Kaliningrad branch of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and operated under a fake identity.

According to Lithuanian intelligence, it was the first time that a Russian security service cadre had been detained in Lithuania for spying.]

Lithuania's law enforcement said earlier that Filipchenko had sought to recruit officers from Lithuania's VIP Protection Department to bug the office and residence of the then President Dalia Grybauskaite. There were no comments on that information following the court's judgement.

Moiseyenko, an officer of Russia's military intelligence GRU, was detained in late 2014 and sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison by a court in Šiauliai on February 28, 2017.

Moiseyenko, an army surgeon, had lived in Lithuania since the 1970s and worked at a military hospital in Šiauliai. The man was stripped of his Lithuanian citizenship after it turned out that had concealed his Russian citizenship from Lithuanian authorities.

In 2012, Moiseyenko recruited Sergej Pusin, a Šiauliai military air base officer he had known since childhood, to supply him with information about the Lithuanian Armed Forces and NATO's air-policing mission, military flights and exercises, deployment locations, and operations in Afghanistan.

Copies of documents of Lithuania's Ministry of Defence and the personal files of some officers at the Šiauliai air base were handed over to Russian intelligence.

Based on the case evidence, Moiseyenko paid from 500 to 1,000 euros to Pusin for the information collected and handed by the officer. The two men had clandestine meetings in Moiseyenko's garage in Lithuania.

Moiseyenko denied his guilt and appealed against his sentence, but the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court rejected his claims.

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