Strategy documents prepared by the Russian president’s office show Moscow’s plans for maintaining influence in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. These include funding pro-Russian NGOs, efforts to keep Russian language in schools and oppose demolitions of Soviet monuments.
The LRT Investigation Team has obtained secret Kremlin documents revealing Russia’s ambitious plans to influence all three Baltic countries - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
The documents were prepared by the Directorate for Interregional Relations and Cultural Contacts, which is directly under the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. An international team of journalists have previously reported on similar plans for Belarus and Moldova.
The Kremlin’s plans for the Baltics were drafted in autumn 2021. According to intelligence experts interviewed for this article, the drafters may not have aware of the impending invasion of Ukraine, as its potential consequences are not discussed in the plan.
The plans for each Baltic country consist of two parts. The first one describes threats to Russian interests and the second one sets out steps to address them. Political, military, military-technical and security objectives, trade and economic objectives, and finally humanitarian or social objectives are in turn divided into three different time frames: short-term (until 2022), medium-term (2025) and long-term (2030).
The documents were obtained by the LRT Investigation Team alongside its partners: Estonia’s Delfi, Sweden’s Expressen, the London-based investigative journalism centre Dossier, Latvia’s Re:Baltica, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, WDR and NDR, Ukraine’s Kyiv Independent, Poland’s Frontstory, and Central Europe’s Vsquare.
The plan for the Baltic states reached Putin’s administration in autumn 2021. One of its objectives is to exploit pro-Russian forces and organisations, already present in the Baltics, to its advantage.
In Lithuania, some of pro-Russian activists rally around Algirdas Paleckis, a former politician who has been sentenced for spying for Moscow. In autumn 2021, when he was still on trial, his supporters held a rally in Vilnius. The rally was attended by Paleckis himself, as well as Kazimieras Juraitis and Edikas Jagelavičius. Latvian MEP Tatyana Zhdanoka, a member of the Latvian Russian Union, and two Irish politicians also came to support Paleckis.
Paleckis was found guilty of spying for Russia and sentenced to six years in prison. In return, he hoped to receive funding from President Putin’s party, United Russia.
One of the speakers at the rally was Erika Švenčionienė, at the time a little-known activist. After Paleckis’ sentencing, she took over as the head of his organisations.
Švenčionienė organised trips to Belarus to meet with Alexander Lukashenko and his administration. Together with another Paleckis supporter, Jagelavičius, she planned to go to Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine as an observer of illegal referendums. She also took care of registering two NGOs, the International Good Neighbourhood Forum (Tarptautinis geros kaimynystės forumas) and the Civic Movement Dawn of Justice (Pilietinis judėjimas Teisingumo aušra).
After a court decided to dissolve the International Good Neighbourhood Forum, Švenčionienė commented: “We will not slow down, because our activities are beautiful and have been planned for several years ahead. We will set up several organisations so that state administrators have work to do, so that we can carry out our activities normally, activities that are beautiful and necessary for Lithuania.”
There have also been campaigns to oppose the demolition of Soviet-era monuments in the Baltic states.
On May 13, 2022, a protest took place in Riga. It was organised by the Latvian Russian Union, whose leader Zhdanok previously took part in Paleckis support rallies in Vilnius. Zhdanok was arrested after the Riga rally, because the event did not have the authorities’ authorisation.
On August 24, the UN Human Rights Committee received a complaint from five people about the demolition of Soviet monuments in Latvia. A month later, Lithuania was also informed about an injunction from the UNHRC over a planned removal of World War Two monument in Vilnius Antakalnis Cemetery. The claimants are identified as “ethnic Russians”, including Juraitis.
On September 23, the Latvian-based website IMHO-club.lv published a call for Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians and Poles to appeal to UNESCO to preserve Soviet monuments. It included a template for the appeal.
While these appear as disparate actions by pro-Russian activists, they are in line with the Kremlin’s objectives as outlined in the Lithuania section of the plans by the Directorate for Interregional Relations and Cultural Contacts.
One of the short-term plans for 2022 was to “create new public structures, foundations, NGOs to promote and protect closer cooperation with Russia”. The document also talks extensively about preserving historical memory, for example by stopping the demolition of Soviet monuments.
Stopping NATO influence
However, the focus of the strategy paper for the Baltic states is countering NATO.
In 2022, even before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia was concerned with stopping the expansion of US and NATO presence on Lithuanian territory, as well as preventing Lithuania from bringing post-Soviet countries into the NATO sphere of influence.
The document shows that the Kremlin’s greatest preoccupation both in the short and in the long term (by 2030) is with NATO’s plans for the future deployment of a permanent base in Lithuania and with “the militarisation of Lithuanian territory”.
The Kremlin’s plan has as its aim to prevent the deployment on Lithuanian territory of NATO-integrated medium-range anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems, and to reduce the number and scope of NATO operational and military preparedness measures on Lithuanian territory.
In the longer run, Russia wants to create the conditions under which the Lithuanian authorities would be forced to recognise the potential damage to the country’s national security caused by NATO’s expansion. The intention is to restore constructive relations between Lithuania and Russia, including in the military sphere, and there must be politicians in Lithuania who are committed to the development of Vilnius-Moscow relations.
Similar strategies are in place for the other Baltic countries. The most undesirable outcome for Russia is their active engagement with NATO its increasing presence in the region.
In Estonia and Latvia, the Kremlin’s plans rely on ethnic Russian minorities.
Russian language, port, and business
The activities of Russian opposition in Lithuania are another point of concern for the Kremlin, a “threat” with the potential to grow. The “aggressive” policy of the Lithuanian government towards Russia is also identified as a threat.
In the trade and economic sphere, Russia is concerned about EU sanctions, Russian businesses getting pushed out of Lithuania, the country refusing to buy Russian energy. Possible isolation or even blockade of the Kaliningrad region is also seen as a threat.
In the social sphere, Russia’s concerns focus on possible persecution of the Russian-speaking population, an image of Russians as enemies, elimination of the Russian language from education as well as a total ban on its use in public, restrictions on the Russian media.
Moscow is also worried that demolitions of Word War Two monuments to the Soviet victory may eventually lead to all-out revisionism of the war’s history.
The Kremlin’s document also reveals plans to counter economic sanctions by redirecting its cargo flows to Russian north-western ports. Moscow also foresees a more assertive defence of the interests of Russian businesses in Lithuania, and efforts to convince Lithuanian businesspeople that the Russian market holds great potential for them.
Moreover, Moscow would like to encourage Lithuanian manufacturing companies to invest in Russia, the country to import Russian gas and electricity, and to fully restore economic relations between Lithuania and Russia.
In the humanitarian and social spheres, the Kremlin’s plan includes efforts to preserve Russian-language education, which would be helped by talented young people studying at Russian universities.
Moscow also plans to continue its fight against the deniers of the Russian version of history.
Increasing Russia’s cultural presence in Lithuania is included as a separate point.
Coordination of propaganda
The Directorate for Interregional Relations and Cultural Contacts, which is directly under the Russian president’s administration and which developed the plan for the Baltic states, reports to Dmitry Kozak, who is acting as deputy head of the administration.
According to Nerijus Maliukevičius, a political scientist and expert on information warfare, Kozak is “one of the most important administrators in Putin’s system”.
“He is the person who is entrusted with controlling problematic files, such as Ukraine. He is one of the people who are instructed to resolve, to put things right in one region, then in another region,” he says.
According to Maliukevičius, the specificity of the Directorate for Interregional Relations and Cultural Contacts is that its heads and employees are often agents in one of Russia’s intelligence services.
“One of their hats is a job in the presidential administration, and at the same time they hold a position in an intelligence institution. In some cases, this is quite clear from their public biographies, in other cases there is an attempt to cover it up,” says Maliukevičius.
Among the authors of the Baltic plan is Vadim Smirnov, a rapporteur of the directorate.
Smirnov is a former director of the Baltic Research Institute in Kaliningrad. Back in 2012, Baltic intelligence authorities made Smirnov’s name public and put him on the list of persons banned from entering Lithuania because of his links with Russian intelligence services and hostile activities against Lithuania.
According to Lithuania’s State Security Department (VSD), Smirnov used a thesis he was writing on Lithuania’s political elite to make friends with Lithuanian politicians and political scientists and to gather intelligence information.
“There have been constant attempts to create platforms of Baltic researchers, attempts to bring them to Kant University [Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad], to seminars, to some kind of discussions. Most suspicious were Smirnov’s attempts to do research on the Lithuanian political elite that he used to study the political positions of various Lithuanian governments. I think that’s when he drew attention from Lithuanian and other countries’ intelligence services,” according to Maliukevičius.
Smirnov’s interest in the Baltic countries, especially Lithuania, did not end even after his personality became public.
Data collected by the LRT Investigation Team show that Smirnov gathered information and managed disinformation about Lithuania, mostly with the help of the propaganda website RuBaltic.ru, edited by Sergey Rekeda. LRT has seen Rekeda’s emails published by the Dossier Chernov project.
RuBaltic.ru was launched in 2013. In late January of that year, Smirnov wrote an email to Rekeda, saying he was planning a discussion on energy in the Baltic Sea region: “I would like to know what is your specialisation? Would you be able to participate in a discussion on this topic? What areas of Russian-Baltic relations would you be able to prepare articles on for publication?”
Their communication continued. For example, before Lithuania’s Independence Day, March 11, 2013, RuBaltic columnist Alexander Nosovich was given a task by Smirnov, communicated via Rekeda: “V. A. [Vadim Anatolyevich] has instructed to prepare an urgent and amusing analysis of the persecution of Algirdas Paleckis. There is no need to wait for the article, he wants to edit it himself, but if you want, I will send you a draft.”
Subsequent correspondence says that the interview with Paleckis will be “a gift to Lithuania for Independence Day”.
The leaked emails show that Smirnov was regularly consulted about coverage on RuBaltic, he would be sent weekly summaries and consulted about interviewees.
Smirnov and Rekeda were also working on a project analysing elites in the Baltic states. Smirnov was named as the project manager, while Rekeda was the executor.
“Regarding payment. I need to take in 100,000 (after taxes). What you do with the rest of the money (some paper, tapes, etc.) is up to you. The first trip under the grant will be in the first half of June and Rekeda will have to pay the expenses. All other trips are subject to my agreement,” wrote Smirnov in the summer of 2013.
Plan to stop grid synchronisation
The leaked documents from the Russian president’s office also show the Kremlin’s plans to stop the Baltic countries from leaving the post-Soviet BRELL Treaty, under which Baltic electricity grids remain in one network with Russia and Belarus.
The Baltic countries are set to complete the synchronisation of their electricity grids with Europe and carry out a joint test by the end of 2025. Moscow’s plan, however, is to keep the Baltic countries in the BRELL network. In the part of the plan for Latvia, withdrawal from the BRELL Treaty is identified as a threat.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė believes that, in today’s situation, Russia’s plans are unrealistic, as the Baltic countries are investing heavily in energy independence and security.
“The electricity grid is the only part that is still not there, but there are no commercial flows, just the technical situation that we try to sort out sooner,” Šimonytė said.
“I wouldn’t rule out that this is a typical plan like many others in Russia – drafted to get the funding, while how realistic it is was not given much thought.”
Some Western intelligence officials believe that in 2021, when the Russian president’s directorate was drafting the strategy, its authors may not have been aware of Putin’s intentions to invade Ukraine.
“It is likely that the changed situation due to the war has forced the Kremlin to reconsider and modify some of its plans for the Baltic states,” says one intelligence official familiar with the provenance of the documents.
Russian intelligence undermined by corruption
“Drafting plans like this is an institutional legacy that the Kremlin inherited from the Soviet era,” Maliukevičius told LRT.
According to him, each new document looks at mistakes made in the previous ones, measures that failed to achieve impact, and proposes new ones. Maliukevičius also questions whether the Kremlin’s plan is realistic and how dangerous it is for Lithuania and the other Baltic countries.
“Perhaps we shouldn’t imagine that [the Kremlin] is a powerful system with powerful people. Ukraine has shown that corruption has eroded not only the army but also intelligence services. The operation in Ukraine was based on intelligence that was completely out of line with reality,” according to Maliukevičius.
“Yes, you need to understand what they are doing and how they are doing it […] but at the same time you should not overestimate your opponent and think that all the listed objectives will be automatically achieved,” he added.
Russia’s previous plans for Lithuania were a fiasco. Although not without some hiccups, Lithuania has reached an agreement with Germany on deploying a NATO brigade. Soviet monuments have been dismantled across the country, while the Russian language in schools is being replaced by others. Russia and Belarus have had to divert their cargo from the port of Klaipėda because of US and EU sanctions.
“It sounds like a list of unfulfilled hopes. It is unrealistic for Putin to believe he can cut the Baltic countries away from NATO and the European Union. On the other hand, it is really important for Russia that anti-Russian sentiment in the Baltics is kept in check,” says Wolfgang Ischinger, former head of the Munich Security Conference.
For him, the Baltic plan is not a strategy, but rather an effort to prevent things from getting worse.
A Western intelligence official interviewed and asked to assess the Kremlin’s plan also shared the view that the document is not about Russia’s efforts to gain more influence in the Baltics, but to maintain at least the influence it has.
For that, Russia is deploying hybrid measures: supporting pro-Russian parties, using Russian-speaking minorities, especially people who have dual citizenship in Latvia and Estonia.
“We are fighting a hybrid war with Russia and the Baltic plan is just a classic soft power tool,” says the expert.
“Naturally, we have to pay serious attention to such plans,” says Aleksander Toots, deputy director general of the Estonian Internal Security Service, KAPO.
“But we also need to understand which point in time the documents originate from. We can’t only make assessments based on such documents because sometimes they can be intentionally misleading regarding the seriousness of Russia’s real desires.
“This means that we also need to assess the signs on the ground – are there signs that they are trying to enforce such plans. Or maybe the set strategic goals have already become obsolete because of changed circumstances. If you see that the plans are being implemented, you need to do everything you can to put brakes on it,” Toots added.
LRT has sent questions Juraitis and Švenčionienė, who are mentioned in this story, but has not yet received any reply.