MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Moscow court on Wednesday arrested a suspected Lithuanian spy, a spokeswoman said, highlighting growing tension between Moscow and the former Soviet state now a member of the European Union and NATO.
Lithuania, a Baltic state with a significant Russian minority population, has expressed concerns over increased Russian military activity in the region following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea last year.
The spokeswoman, Yulia Skotnikova, named the suspected spy as Arstidas Tamosaitis and said he would be held until July 20. Espionage charges carry a prison term of 10 to 20 years under Russian law.
Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying earlier on Wednesday it had caught a Lithuanian national in Moscow on Tuesday as he received classified documents from a Russian national.
“Our embassy received official information from the Russian Federal Security Service that, according to them, a Lithuanian citizen was detained,” Lithuania’s Foreign Affairs Minister Linas Linkevicius said in Vilnius, the BNS news wire said.
“We will ask to meet with the detained person. We are now checking all the other details.”
Interfax said the man admitted to being an officer of the Lithuanian military intelligence. He is being held in a Moscow detention center as the investigation into his case continues.
Lithuania has said it caught a total of four spies working directly or indirectly for Russia in 2014 and so far this year.
In the last such case, Lithuania said earlier in May it had detained a staff employee of the FSB who had been trying to infiltrate the country’s leadership, law enforcement and security institutions.
Ties between Moscow and Vilnius are badly strained over Ukraine, where the West accuses the Kremlin of driving a rebellion in the Russian-speaking east after having annexed Crimea from Kiev in March 2014. Russia denies accusations of direct military involvement in east Ukraine.
Lithuania recently staged war games to fend off an attack modeled around the Russian capture of Crimea.
Along with the other two Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, Vilnius also wants to seek permanent presence of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops on its soil to counter what it sees as an increasing threat from Russia, once dubbed by Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite “a terrorist state”.
The announcement comes a day before Lithuania’s neighbor Latvia hosts the Eastern Partnership summit, an EU program aimed at bringing former Soviet republics closer to the West that faces vehement criticism from Moscow.
Additional reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Tom Heneghan