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The Vilnius Telegram: KGB’s Active Measures to Stop the Independence of Lithuania

Filip Kovacevic

Filip Kovacevic analyzes the "active measures" undertaken by the Soviet KGB to prevent Lithuanian independence in the late 1980s.

Karinauskas dispatched top-secret cipher telegram No. 3441 to the deputy chief of the Service A, Colonel M. A. Sotskov [Lev F. Sotskov], informing him of the measures the Lithuanian KGB planned to implement to tarnish the cause of Lithuanian independence
A top-secret cipher telegram sent in March 1989 that outlined measures the Lithuanian KGB planned to take to tarnish the cause of Lithuanian independence.

In February 1987, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party – the supreme political authority in the Soviet Union – sought to address the ever-growing vocal support in the international community for the independence of the Baltic republics (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia).

The resulting Politburo decree, titled “On the Measures for Counteracting Ideological Diversions against the Soviet Baltic Republics,” was summarized for the KGB of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic by Lt. Colonel Vilius P. Kontrimas, deputy chief of the First Department (foreign intelligence) on March 24, 1987, which I have translated into English for publication on DigitalArchive.org.[1][2] Kontrimas emphasized that the Politburo wanted the Communist Party Central Committees of the Baltic republics to work closely with the republic-level KGBs in “preparing the necessary propaganda materials…for implementing offensive measures” (emphasis added) against the “anti-Soviet” activities of the Baltic émigré circles in the West. He affirmed the leading role that the KGB played in the Soviet system in designing and running offensive propaganda activities, also known as active measures.[3]

It was within this context that, about a year and a half later, on October 20, 1988, the chairman of the Lithuanian KGB, Maj. General Eduardas A. Eismuntas[4] approved “a plan of counterpropaganda measures” proposed by Col. Vytautas L. Karinauskas, the long-time chief of the First Department.[5] I have also translated the “plan” into English and published it on DigitalArchive.org.[6]

The “plan” centered on the publication of a series of articles in the major Lithuanian newspapers on the following four topics:

“1. The collaboration of the public figures of the bourgeois Lithuania with Hitler’s Germany;

2. The inspiration of the nationalist underground and armed resistance in Lithuania by the German security services;

3. The orientation of the prominent representatives of the bourgeois Lithuania on the Soviet Union;

4. The economic conditions in the bourgeois Lithuania in the 1930s.”[7]

Interestingly, the files that the KGB proposed to use to supply the documentary veneer for its “counterpropaganda” came from a wide variety of sources, such as the archives of the post-WWI independent Lithuania and the NKVD rezindentura (station) archive from Kaunas, which was Lithuania’s temporary capital in the post-WWI period. The specific cases that the KGB was interested in re-introducing into the Lithuanian public sphere included those of Augustinas Voldemaras and Augustinas Povilaitis[8] as well as the case of a more recent dissident [Boleslav] Lizunas.[9]

The KGB also recommended two books by what appeared to be pro-Soviet Lithuanian authors published at least a decade earlier. One of the books, titled On the Path of Treason, was supposedly “written” by the author whose last name was given as Yakaitis. However, as another top-secret document signed by Karinauskas reveals, this book was actually put together by the KGB in the mid-1970s in order to “sow distrust and [cause] other complications” in the leading Lithuanian émigré circles abroad.[10] At the same time, according to Karinauskas, the KGB pursued another related goal: “to make the intelligence services of the United States and other capitalist countries re-evaluate their relations” with the émigré circles.[11] In other words, the book was intended to play the role of a kompromat.

The other book mentioned in the “plan” – titled On This Side and on the Other Side – is described as having been written by the author whose last name is Mikutskis. However, the above mentioned report by Karinauskas also states that the book’s author was in fact a KGB agent abroad codenamed TUVIM.[12] Mikutskis and TUVIM might have been the same person.

 Last but not least, the KGB planned to use the testimonies of its two veteran counterintelligence agents codenamed KOTIK and GRANITAS. KOTIK appears to have been an important agent of the Lithuanian KGB who was sent to West Germany in the mid-1950s to persuade several leaders of the Lithuanian émigré organizations to quit their political activities. Evidently, he was personally acquainted with the pre-WWII governor of the Klaipeda region Erdmonas Simonaitis and was successful in convincing the latter to withdraw into private life.[13]

Once these materials were collected from various sources noted above, the KGB proposed that they should be prepared for publication by their trusted rezidents (in other words, the heads of agent networks) RASHIDOV and DYMOV and edited by the agent codenamed KARALIUS.[14] The actual publication was to be carried out by the Lithuanian KGB press section under the supervision of Karinauskas’ First Department.

 As emphasized in the title of Karinauskas’ plan, the main target of these activities was the domestic audience in Lithuania. However, the seriousness of the situation demanded that an international dimension be worked out and implemented as well. This is what necessitated the involvement of the Service A of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB (foreign intelligence), which ran the KGB international disinformation and propaganda operations using its vast network of covertly funded journals and sources in foreign countries. One of the Service A senior officers, G. G. Derevenskov, traveled to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius in early 1989 in order to meet with the top officials of the Lithuanian KGB. It is reasonable to assume that he spent most of his time with Karinauskas who, as the above documents have shown, headed the Lithuanian KGB “counterpropaganda” efforts against the advocates of the Lithuanian independence.

On March 1, 1989, Karinauskas dispatched top-secret cipher telegram No. 3441 to the deputy chief of the Service A, Colonel M. A. Sotskov [Lev F. Sotskov], informing him of the plan agreed on during his face-to-face meetings with Derevenskov. I call this telegram “the Vilnius telegram” in light of its importance in revealing what measures the Lithuanian KGB planned to implement to tarnish the cause of Lithuanian independence. I have also translated the telegram into English and published it on DigitalArchive.org.[15]

As presented in the telegram, the measures encompassed using both the KGB HUMINT sources abroad as well as the covertly controlled KGB media platforms in the Soviet Union and beyond its borders. Regarding HUMINT, Karinauskas disclosed to Sotskov that the First Department had a trusted source codenamed KLUGER in the Lithuanian émigré community. According to Karinauskas, KLUGER had supplied them with the materials that could be used to “deepen the contradictions” (KGB technical jargon connoting the creation of animosities and discord) between the most vocal advocates of Lithuanian independence, the émigré organizations the Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania (VLIK) and the World Baltic Council, and the members of the European Parliament scheduled to debate the legitimacy of the continued Soviet rule. While the content of the materials is not mentioned, it is likely that they had to do with personal details concerning the lives of the émigré organizations’ leading figures, perhaps related to their financial affairs or moral behavior. In other words, once again, the beloved tool of the KGB influence operations: the kompromat.

Karinauskas also pledged to mobilize all other agents and trusted contacts that the First Department had in the West in order to sabotage relations between between Lithuanian émigrés and Western policymakers. Interestingly, in this context, Karinauskas revealed another direction of the First Department’s activities abroad: the targeting of US-funded international radio stations headquartered in Germany, long considered by the KGB as the main instigators of “ideological diversions” against the Soviet Union. He remarked to Sotskov that the First Department would attempt to recruit an employee of the Radio Free Europe and/or Voice of America codenamed RADIST. The phrasing of his remark seemed to indicate that RADIST had not been indifferent to the ongoing KGB overtures.[16]

Regarding the covert interventions in the domestic and international media spheres, Karinauskas referred to Yakaitis’ book On the Path of Treason already mentioned in his report to the Lithuanian KGB head, Eismuntas. He stated that the book, which was originally published in Lithuanian, would now be translated into both Russian and English languages in order to facilitate its distribution in the West. In addition, he noted that the First Department was working on a series of newspaper articles with the attention-grabbing headline “It’s High Time to Know the Truth” emphasizing the links between the anti-Soviet Lithuanian partisans and the German intelligence agencies in Lithuania during WWII. On the other hand, to build up popular support for Soviet achievements, the First Department was preparing a set of hagiographical materials on the activities of the Lithuanian Communists in the 1920s and the 1930s meant to emphasize their self-sacrificing commitment to the issues of workers’ rights and social justice in the “bourgeois” Lithuania.

Moreover – and this is the most remarkable part of the telegram - Karinauskas wrote to Sotskov that the First Department planned to  publish the fake memoir of a non-existent diplomat. Titled Notes of a Czech Diplomat, the forgery was about the events surrounding the 1926 coup d’état by the Lithuanian politician Antanas Smetona and the establishment of his authoritarian rule.[17] The memoir was to depict Smetona as a pro-fascist leader who covertly courted the Nazis against the well-being of the majority of the Lithuanian people. While it remains unclear whether the memoir was ever published, the fact that it was in the works provides yet another documented example of KGB deception and disinformation operations in the waning days of the Cold War.

At the time of writing in late 2021, no archival documents have been unearthed indicating whether Sotskov replied to Karinauskas and if he did, what he said. Many questions, therefore, remain unanswered. The key question for me concerns what measures were undertaken by Service A’s vast and global network of agents and trusted contacts in the West and other parts of the world to stave off the prospect of Lithuania’s independence.

It also remains to be explored how Service A coordinated the “counterpropaganda” plan of the Lithuanian KGB with the KGBs of two other Baltic republics, Latvia and Estonia, which also clamored for independence. The Vilnius telegram was certainly not an isolated phenomenon. There must also have been the similar telegrams from Riga and Tallinn. Unfortunately, the files of Service A remain closed to researchers. The Lubyanka – or the FSB headquarters – continues jealously to guard its secrets.

As subsequent events have shown, the efforts of Karinauskas and the First Department of the Lithuanian KGB were all in vain. Lithuania declared independence in 1990 and its sovereignty was internationally recognized the following year. Karinauskas retired that same year, and the Lithuanian KGB was disbanded. And yet, his Service A counterparts in Moscow did not suffer the same fate. While the whereabouts of Derevenskov are unknown, Sotskov continued to climb up in the ranks of the newly established Russian intelligence service, the SVR. In fact, this veteran “counterpropagandist” never stopped working: the official SVR website hosts his most recent attempts to interpret the 20th century history of the Baltic republics in Russia’s favor.[18]

Who knows? The fake Notes of a Czech Diplomat might yet see the light of day sometime soon.

 


[1] “Секретно: СПРАВКА [Secret: Information Summary],” March 24, 1987, Lithuanian Special Archives, f. k-35, ap. 2, b. 341, l. 251, first published by The Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania, http://www.kgbveikla.lt/docs/show/2615/from:538The decree also spells out the important role that the Politburo assigned to the attempt to instrumentalize the Baltic Institute based in Stockholm, Sweden in order to position Soviet foreign and domestic policies in the favorable international light. This interesting topic is, however, beyond the scope of the present article.

[2] Kontrimas was promoted to the rank of colonel in 1988. In 1990, he became the head of the investigative division of the Lithuanian KGB. He retired in November 1991. For his full professional biography, see http://www.kgbveikla.lt/lt/vilius-kontrimas.

[3] Thomas Rid. Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020. See also Douglas Selvage, “From Helsinki to ‘Mars’: Soviet-Bloc Active Measures and the Struggle over Détente in Europe, 1975-1983,” Journal of Cold War Studies (2021) 23 (4): 34-94.

[4] Eismuntas was appointed the chairman of the Lithuanian KGB on April 17, 1987. He held this post until May 10, 1990, when he retired due to age. For his professional biography and his photograph, see http://www.kgbveikla.lt/lt/eduardas-eismuntas.

[5] Karinauskas was appointed to this position in 1971. For his professional biography and a photograph from his younger days, see  http://www.kgbveikla.lt/lt/vytautas-karinauskas. He stayed in the KGB until October 1991.

[6] “Секретно: ПЛАН контрапропагандистких мероприятия по разъяснению населению республики сущности политических процессов 30-х - 40-х годов в Литве [Secret: A PLAN of Counterpropaganda Measures to Explain to the Population of the Republic the Fundamentals of the Political Processes in Lithuania in the 1930s and the 1940s],” October 19, 1988, Lithuanian Special Archives, f. k-35, ap. 2, b. 333, l. 32-34, first published by The Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania, http://www.kgbveikla.lt/docs/show/2584/from:538. For another discussion of this and the previous document, see Zigmārs Turčinskis, “Тайные архивы КГБ. Шпионские игры в Латвии: методы, приемы и персоны [KGB Secret Archives. Spy Games in Latvia: Methods, Approaches, and People], Latvian Public Broadcasting, December 5, 2017, https://rus.lsm.lv/statja/kultura/istorija/taynie-arhivi-kgb.-shpionskie-igri-v-latvii-metodi-priemi-i-personi.a259743/.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Augustinas Voldemaras (1883-1942) was a Lithuanian politician who was the first prime minister of independent Lithuania in 1918, but later fell into political disfavor and was jailed and ultimately exiled from the country. He went back to Lithuania in 1940 right after the Soviet takeover only to be arrested by the NKVD. He was executed in 1942. There were rumors in the post-war Lithuania that Voldemaras returned because he was the Soviet agent, but the manner in which Karinauskas referred to his case in the “plan” does not indicate that this was the case. For Voldemaras’ biography, see Kristina Vaičikonis, “Augustinas Voldemaras,” Lituanus: Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 30, No. 3, 1984, https://www.lituanus.org/1984_3/84_3_06.htm. Augustinas Povilaitis (1900-1941) was the chief of the Lithuanian state security service. He was arrested and executed after the Soviet takeover. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustinas_Povilaitis

[9] The Soviet regime claimed that Boleslav Lizunas was one of the leaders of the anti-Soviet resistance movement “Forest Brothers” in Lithuania. For more than a three decades after WWII, Lizunas lived under an assumed name, but was arrested in 1979 and sentenced to 15 years of “freedom deprivation” with the first 10 years to be spent in prison. His case is described in A Chronicle of Current Events: Journal of the Human Rights Movement in the USSR, No. 57, London: Amnesty International Publications, 1981, p. 83. For a personal recollection of Lizunas by his one-time cell mate at the Chistopol prison, see Mikhail Rivkin, “Dva Goda na Kami [Two Years on the Kama],” Nevolya (Moscow), No. 41, 2014, pp. 119-120.

[10] “LSSR KGB 1-ojo skyriaus pažyma apie lietuvių išeivijos skaldymą ir kompromitavimą [The Report of the First Department of the KGB of the LSSR on Dividing and Compromising the Lithuanian Diaspora],” undated, Lithuanian Special Archives, f. k-35, ap. 2, b. 844, l. 177-187, first published by The Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania, http://www.kgbveikla.lt/docs/show/2548/from:538.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. I could find no digital traces of either book.

[13] Ibid. Considering that KOTIK exerted a lot of influence in the émigré circles of Baltic Germans in West Germany, it is plausible that he was a Baltic German himself.

[14] Another secret document indicates that the agent KARALIUS was a journalist who was occasionally sent on assignments to foreign countries as a member of the Lithuanian journalists’ delegations. See “LSSR KGB 1-ojo (žvalgybos) skyriaus pažyma apie susitikimą su agentu „Karalius" ir žurnalistų išvyką į Švediją [The Statement of the First Department of the KGB of the LSSR on the Meeting with the agent KARALIUS and the journalists’ trip to Sweden], November 20,1989, Lithuanian Special Archives, f. K-35, ap. 2, b. 75, l. 5-7, first published by The Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania, http://www.kgbveikla.lt/docs/show/7502/from:659.

[15] “Секретно: Исходящая шифртелеграмма No. 3441 [Secret: Outbound Ciphertelegram No. 3441],”  

March 1, 1989, Lithuanian Special Archives, f. K-35, ap. 2, b. 300, l. 55-57, first published by The Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania, http://www.kgbveikla.lt/docs/show/242/from:665.

[16] It is unclear from the telegram whether RADIST was employed in the Radio Free Europe or in the Voice of America radio station, but it is likely that he or she was originally from Lithuania. There is archival evidence that the Lithuanian KGB was able to place its agent codenamed DAINA in the Radio Liberty in Munich in the mid-1960s. See Filip Kovacevic, “Operation HORIZON: KGB Counterintelligence Operation Against the West,” Sources & Methods: A Blog of the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/operation-horizon-kgb-counterintelligence-operation-against-west, June 30, 2021. At the time of this writing, I could not locate any information concerning the real identities of KLUGER and RADIST.

[17] Antanas Smetona (1874-1944) was one of the most important political figures in the post-WWI Lithuania. For his biography, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antanas_Smetona. Smetona emigrated to the U.S. and died during a house fire in Cleveland, Ohio in January 1944. Some commentators have suspected the involvement of Soviet intelligence operatives, but no evidence of that has been found.

[18] See Lev Sotskov’s Сборник документов. Прибалтика и геополитика. 1935-1945. [CollectionofDocuments: TheBalticsandGeopolitics, 1935-1945],http://www.svr.gov.ru/material/sbornik-dokumentov/pribaltika-i-geopolitika-1935-1945.htm and “Лев Соцков: Ввод советских войск в Прибалтику воспринимался в 1940-м году Лондоном и Вашингтоном как единственно верный шаг [Lev Sotskov: The Entry of Soviet Military into the Baltics in 1940 Was Perceived by London and Washington as the Only Right Step], Interfax, November 24, 2006, http://www.svr.gov.ru/material/sbornik-dokumentov/otzyvy-na-publikatsiyu-sbornika-dokumentov-pribaltika-i-geopolitika-1935-1945-/lev-sotskov-vvod-sovetskikh-voysk-v-pribaltiku-vosprinimalsya-v-1940-m-godu-londonom-i-vashingtonom-.htm

About the Author

Filip Kovacevic

Filip Kovacevic

Filip Kovacevic is a researcher of Russian and East European state security and intelligence organizations. He teaches at the University of San Francisco, and runs "The Chekist Monitor," a blog on the operations and personalities of the Soviet and Russian state security and intelligence organizations.

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