Briefs

Kremlin accuses Lithuania of supporting the Russian opposition

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On 25 May, the pro-Kremlin website rubaltic.ru warned ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the Baltic region that the United States and the European Union want to convert “Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, into the capital of Russian opposition,” where, “on the basis of Lithuanian infrastructure and American money, Russian dissidents and political emigrants would meet.” This argument reflected the Kremlin’s reaction to two events that took place in Vilnius in May: the 4th Russia Forum on 18-19 May, and the 3rd Forum of Free Russia on 25-26 May.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that “Lithuania indulges in activities of an openly hostile policy towards Russia.” She also claimed that “only political marginals, among whom are persons under investigation for criminal offenses and who are wanted, found shelter in Vilnius.”

More than 100 civil-society representatives, academics, politicians, and journalists from Lithuania, Russia and other countries attended the 4th Russia Forum, which was supported by Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry. Invited guests included Mikhail Khodorkovsky, imprisoned by the Kremlin for many years; Vladimir Kara-Murza, who had been hospitalized twice after a suspected poisoning; the widow of the murdered Alexander Litvinenko; and the daughter of murdered Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. Likewise, Russian opposition figures attended the 3rd Forum of Free Russia—led by its co-founder, chess Grandmaster and political activist Gari Kasparov—which focused on Russian and global politics, as well as how to rescue Russia from political, economic and societal crisis.

Rubaltic.ru reminded readers that a decade ago, the United States and the EU had implemented a similar project for Belarus. “Vilnius was turned into the capital of Belarusian opposition and the headquarters for the geopolitical reorientation of Minsk,” it said, noting that the attempt failed. “Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko stays in the union with Russia, while the Belarus opposition is marginalized towards the U.S. and EU structures.”

The Lithuanian website Lrytas.lt. also voiced doubts about whether Lithuanian authorities should have supported the Russia Forum, noting that Lithuania and Russia are neighbors, the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin will last for another decade; therefore it might be too risky to support the opposition. Lrytas.lt is known for its frequent references to Kremlin media. Yet Lithuanian officials defended their decision to host the event. According to Foreign Affairs Minister Linas Linkevicius, “the dialogue with Russia’s civil society reminds us that Russia is not just its official government. It is very important that people who care about the future of Russia may assemble in Lithuania and discuss this matter openly.”

Here, the Kremlin employed a “wolf cries wolf” technique—falsely accusing others of malicious acts which it carries out itself. Moscow backs fringe, ultra-nationalist and separatist parties. For example, last August, several secessionist groups—including representatives from Texas, California, Catalonia, Puerto Rico and Northern Italy—took part in a conference partly funded by the Russian government.  In fostering meetings by these groups, Moscow is trying to destabilize NATO and the EU, to thwart U.S. missile defense installations along NATO’s eastern border, and to fight Western sanctions imposed against Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea.