Viewing cable 05VILNIUS993

05VILNIUS9932005-09-21 13:08:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 SECRET Embassy Vilnius
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
S E C R E T  VILNIUS 000993 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/20/2015 
     ¶B. NOLL-MULL/KELLY EMAIL 9/20/05 
Classified By: Ambassador Stephen D. Mull for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
¶1.  (U) This is an action request for Washington agencies -- 
see paras 6, 8 and 12 -- and USNATO -- see para 12. 
¶2.  (S/NF) Summary:  Several loose ends remain from last 
Friday's crash of a Russian Su-27 (ref a) in Lithuania. 
Senior Lithuanian officials believe that inconsistencies in 
Russian accounts of the incident could indicate the plane 
purposely violated Lithuanian airspace as part of a 
provocation to undermine public confidence in NATO - and 
attacks on NATO have already started, especially from one 
political party with suspected links to Russian interests. 
We request guidance on responding to the GOL's request for 
USG assistance in decoding the plane's black box and its 
offer to allow USG personnel to exploit wreckage from the 
Su-27.  Additionally, we are concerned that a reported 
admonition from NATO Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer to 
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Valionis to "keep NATO out of 
this" will fuel growing public concerns about NATO 
reliability at a critical time in Lithuania's budget debate 
on defense expenditures.  On the eve of U.S. assumption of 
Baltic air policing duties, we urge U.S. support for NATO 
engagement with the Lithuanians on the issue both in Brussels 
and in our public line here.   End Summary. 
Lithuanians: This is No Accident 
¶3.  (S) The Ambassador discussed the implications of the 
Su-27 crash with DefMin Kirkilas and Commander of the Armed 
Forces Tutkus September 20 and MFA Americas Department 
Director Jonas Paslauskas September 21.  All three expressed 
the GOL's conviction that the incursion into Lithuanian 
airspace (if not the crash itself) was a premeditated 
provocation by Russia.  Summarizing the Lithuanian case, they 
all noted that the pilot had disengaged his transponder, 
allowing the plane to evade detection; that Russians 
initially claimed that the plane was unarmed; that it 
contained no dangerous material; and that they would share 
their radar records of the Su-27's movements with the 
Lithuanians.  Subsequently, the Lithuanians discovered that 
the plane was armed with four air-to-air missiles, and that 
it contained two kilograms of a radioactive material. 
Paslauskas noted that the Russians withdrew their offer to 
share the radar data and that the plane's pilot "changes his 
story every day."  All three officials also expressed concern 
about what they described as provocative statements by senior 
Russian officials, including a purported quote by Defense 
Minister Ivanov that the pilot would receive a medal upon his 
return to Russia.  (At COB September 21 Mission received a 
nonpaper from the GOL providing Lithuania's version of the 
events.  We will transmit full text septel.) 
Black Boxes 
¶4.  (S) The GOL has requested USG assistance in reading the 
voice recordings and flight data on the black boxes they have 
recovered from the wreckage.  The GOL does not have the 
technical capacity to read these devices.  The Ambassador 
conveyed to GOL officials several USG concerns and questions 
that might circumscribe our involvement in this process, 
including assurances about the device's legal ownership and 
confirmation that Russia concur with U.S. review of the 
device (ref b).  Additionally, we pointed out that France may 
have the necessary technical capabilities to assist in this 
¶5.  (S) Paslauskas told the Ambassador that Lithuania 
continues to prefer that the USG decode the devices.  If that 
is not possible, the GOL would like USG assistance in 
recruiting another NATO country to perform that task. 
Paslauskas said that he could not opine definitively on the 
legal status of the black box, but that the GOL believed 
that, because the crash took place on Lithuanian soil, it has 
the right to include it in its investigation of the crash. 
Paslauskas also said that the GOL had no objection to Russian 
observation of the device's decoding; in fact, it would 
strongly welcome Russian participation. 
¶6.  (S) Action Request:  We request Washington's guidance on 
what advice, if any, we can provide to the GOL about how to 
decode the black box. 
Exploitation of the Plane 
¶7.  (S/NF) GOL Commander of the Armed Forces Tutkus, Minister 
Kirkilas, and Paslauskas have all told us in the past two 
days that the USG can exploit items of technical interest 
from the wreckage.  This offer is separate and distinct from 
the request for assistance with the black box.  The GOL is 
holding these items, including debris from the SU-27's four 
air-to-air missiles, at a secure location distant from the 
crash site.  We have heard conflicting information from USG 
agencies about the usefulness of this material.  This Mission 
stands ready to support USG entities that ma have interest in 
this offer. 
¶8.  (S/NF) Action Request: Please provide us with 
instructions on whether to tell the Lithuanians that the USG 
intends to examine this material. If the answer is 
affirmative, it would be useful for us to know information on 
when and how this examination will occur. 
NATO Dimension and Our Public Line 
¶9.  (U) The story continues to dominate Lithuanian headlines. 
 The GOL, and to a slightly lesser extent this Mission, is 
besieged with press inquiries.  So far, we have limited out 
public statements to the following: "This is a very serious 
incident.  We are very glad there was no loss of life.  It is 
too early to comment on this matter.  We await the results of 
the investigation."  The British Embassy has taken the same 
¶10.  (SBU) The incident also comes at a sensitive juncture in 
Lithuanian budget deliberations for next year, in which some 
parliamentarians argue that Lithuania's relatively large 
support for overseas operations with NATO and the U.S. in 
Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is going unrewarded.  Local 
political opponents of Lithuania's NATO membership (generally 
opposed to Lithuania's involvement in NATO and Coalition 
operations) have already seized upon this incident as an 
opportunity to undermine public confidence in the Alliance's 
ability to ensure Lithuania's security.  The incident has 
also brought to the fore Lithuanian neuroses about Russian 
motives and the West's commitment to its security. 
Lithuania's leading daily Lietovos Rtyas concluded its lead 
editorial this morning with the remark that "it might be now 
that we see if our NATO partners are really prepared to 
defend us." 
¶11.  (S) These concerns were compounded within the Lithuanian 
national security establishment by Foreign Minister 
Valionis's two conversations September 20 with NATO SYG De 
Hoop Scheffer.  According to Paslauskas, the SYG told 
Valionis that Lithuania should "keep NATO out of this."  De 
Hoop Scheffer's remark has caused deep consternation within 
the Lithuanian government, and seems at odds with reports we 
have received from U.S. military sources that NATO has tasked 
SHAPE to prepare a report analyzing NATO response to the 
¶12.  (SBU) Action Request:  Given the timing of this incident 
on the eve of U.S. assumption of Baltic air policing duties 
on October 1 and during the current sensitive discussion of 
Lithuania's budget commitments to NATO and U.S. operations, 
we strongly encourage U.S. support for NATO engagement with 
Lithuania on the issue.  A press line from NATO that it is 
working with Lithuania in analyzing NATO air policing 
response to the incident (as evidenced in the tasking to 
SHAPE), and will take any necessary follow-up measures in 
assuring continued effective air policing coverage, would go 
far in quelling the growing public controversy that, left 
unchecked, could begin to negatively affect U.S. interests 
¶13.  (C) Lithuania has been unflinchingly supportive of U.S. 
interests, agreeing to almost any mission we ask of it. 
Confronted with what it believes is a brazen violation of its 
airspace by the country it considers its principal national 
security threat, this stalwart ally now looks to us and NATO 
for help.  A reluctance from us or NATO to stand with them in 
investigating the incident could boomerang against our 
current efforts to convince Lithuanian lawmakers to increase 
budgetary support for U.S. and NATO operations.  It could 
also heighten a Baltic sense of insecurity which could fuel 
destabilizing extremist sentiments in their relationship with