Lithuania bans its soldiers from visiting Russia, Belarus and China citing espionage risks

Lithuanian National Defence Volunteer Forces.

Lithuania has banned its military personnel, border guards and police officers from visiting Russia, Belarus and China while off duty, citing espionage concerns. Vilnius claimed the three countries pose “threats to the security of Lithuania and its citizens.”

Along with fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania has repeatedly suggested that Russia is planning to invade it, ever since Moscow launched its military campaign against Ukraine in February 2022.

Belarus, which borders Lithuania and Latvia, is one of Moscow’s closest allies, and has hosted Russian tactical nuclear weapons since last summer.

Meanwhile, relations between China and the US and its allies in NATO – of which all three Baltic states are members – have been on a downward spiral in recent years, in particular over the issue of Taiwan.

Citing the alleged threat of “espionage” by the Russian, Belarusian and Chinese intelligence and security services, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry has declared that a travel ban to these three countries for service personnel is justified, national broadcaster LRT reported on Wednesday.

According to the ministry, the three nations’ respective intelligence services gather information on Lithuanian citizens who have access to classified information, probing for vulnerabilities that may help recruit them.

In addition, Lithuanian citizens could be subjected to “interrogations and provocations” in Russia and Belarus, defense officials reportedly claimed.

Exceptions may be made in cases when Lithuanian military or security personnel have close relatives residing in those countries who are critically ill or have died. Moreover, permits may be issued for personnel who need to carry out parental or guardian duties in those jurisdictions, or have property rights there, LRT reported.

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized Latvia for deporting ethnic Russians who have failed or not taken a compulsory Latvian language test. He described the issue as “directly affect[ing] the security of our country.”

Moscow has for years accused Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia of discriminating against the substantial Russian-speaking ethnic minorities in each of the three countries. Putin also insisted in December that Russia “has no interest… in waging war against NATO.”

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