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2019.11.19 17:45

Lithuania’s silence on spy swap may hide state failures

Asta Martišiūtė, Deividas Jursevičius, LRT RADIJAS2019.11.19 17:45

Silence surrounds two Lithuanian citizens exchanged for Russian spies, despite the Norwegian citizen freed in the exchange speaking openly about the ordeal. This may be down to the state’s failures in providing for the families left behind, according to Lithuania’s former prime minister.

Lithuania and Russia conducted a spy exchange on November 15, when two Lithuanians and a Norwegian citizen convicted of spying in Russia were exchanged for two Russian intelligence workers sentenced in Lithuania.

Little has emerged since.

Vytautas Eidukaitis, a family friend of one of the returned Lithuanian citizens, Yevgeny Mataitis, says that Lithuanian security services might be trying to cover up their mistakes.

While Mataitis served his prison sentence in Russia, his wife, who has a Russian citizenship, was nearly deported from Lithuania.

“His wife had a temporary residency permit [in Lithuania],” which expired and had to be renewed following Mataitis’ arrest in Russia, Eidukaitis tells LRT RADIO. “She turned to [Lithuania’s] Migration Department [and] was told that she lacks the funds to sustain the family.”

The Migration Department “paid no attention to the fact that her husband was arrested in Russia and sentenced to 13 years in prison,” he adds. “I think [the authorities] are afraid of publicity,” says Eidukaitis.

The then Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius had to intervene to prevent the family from being deported to Russia’s Kaliningrad, even though their two underage children are Lithuanian citizens.

“[We] stated clearly that she can’t leave Lithuania, and has to live here,” says Butkevičius. “The mother of [Mataitis] said she guaranteed the family’s financial survival and the ability for the children to live and study here,” according to Butkevičius.

Although Mataitis’ wife was subsequently given permission to stay, the family was left without a source of income.

The authorities, therefore, are hiding information from the society and the journalists, adds Mataitis’ family friend, Eidukaitis. “Admit that you made a mistake, so that the people can trust you,” he says.

Butkevičius claims he was warned not to interfere in the proceedings surrounding the Lithuanian citizens’ arrest in Russia. “When I was no longer a prime minister, I was told not to look into the question [of supporting the family] any longer,” he tells LRT RADIO.

The head of the Lithuanian parliament’s Defence Committee, Dainius Gaižauskas, says the security services have classified the details surrounding the exchange, adding that the journalists should have patience, and after a while “we will tell [everything]”.

Lithuanian Ministry of Defence and the State Security Department (VSD) did not provide a comment for LRT RADIO.

Read more: Lithuania and Russia conduct unprecedented spy swap