Russia threatens Lithuania over 1991 massacre convictions

Russia threatens Lithuania over 1991 massacre convictions

Russia has denounced a Lithuanian court’s conviction of 67 former Soviet security personnel for offences including war crimes for their role in a crackdown on pro-independence protesters in 1991.

The Soviet Union’s last defence minister, Dmitry Yazov, 94, was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in jail for war crimes, and 66 other former military and KGB personnel, all citizens of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, were given sentences of between four and 14 years.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader at the time, refused a Lithuanian request to testify at the trial.

Later in 1991, hardliner Yazov was arrested after taking part in the failed coup against Gorbachev, but he was pardoned and released in 1994 without facing trial.

Russia refused to extradite the suspects to the Nato member and only two defendants were in court this week for the verdict in the three-year trial. In January 1991 Soviet paratroopers stormed television headquarters in the capital, Vilnius, killing 14 people and injuring around 700 others.

In March 1990 Lithuania became the first of the 15 Soviet republics to declare independence.

Lithuania joined the European Union and Nato in 2004, along with Latvia and Estonia.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite praised the verdict, saying: “The guilty have been named for killings of people who peacefully protected freedom.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Lithuania had flouted legal norms and abused the rights of the former security personnel.

Meanwhile, Russia’s investigative committee said it might now prosecute the Lithuanian judges for “delivering an obviously unjust sentence”.

“Attempts by the authorities to falsify obvious facts with the help of judicial manipulation, only reflect the destructive course of Lithuania’s current leadership towards Russia,” Zakharova told the media.

Moscow’s foreign ministry announced: “We characterise these actions as extremely unfriendly and fundamentally provocative, and they show the bias and political motivation of this shameful judgment.”

On Yazov’s 90th birthday, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded the former minister a state honour “for his contribution to strengthening the nation’s defence capability and promoting patriotic values among the younger generation”.

The three Baltic states were independent until 1940 when they were annexed by the Red Army, which was never officially recognised by Washington.

Grybauskaite has been a vocal critic of Russian aggression in Georgia and Ukraine.

“It can be stated that Lithuania has never been so safe and secure as it is now,” she said yesterday (Thursday) while marking 15 years of Nato membership.

“Nato membership enables us to live in peace and to build our state the way we want it to be built,” and to ensure “the occupation, deportation and persecution of our people will never happen again,” she said.

 

Vilnius in 1991. Picture credit: Wikimedia

 

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