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Sunday 22.09.2019 | Name days: Maigurs, Mārica, Māris

Russia irked by Lithuania's January 13 massacre ruling, seeks retaliation

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Memorial of the victims of the Soviet attack on Vilnius of January 13, 1991

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Russia’s grudge against four Lithuanian judges who issued the ruling in the high-profile January 13 case has translated this week in a criminal investigation by Russia’s Investigative Committee (RIC) on the grounds of what Russia deems is unlawful criminal prosecution.

At the cusp are Aiva Survilienė, Virginija Pakalnytė-Tamošiūnaitė and Artūras Šumskas, the judges of Vilnius Regional Court, and also Ainora Kornelija Macevičienė, the retired chair of the judicial panel, all of whom handed down the sentence in late March.

Foreign minister: Russia is vengeful

Following the RIC decision, Lithuania’s Foreign minister Linas Linkevičius called it «some sort of revenge.»«It’s difficult to evaluate it in some way as this is a deplorable situation…Russia should realize that although many years have passed, justice must prevail and that there’s no statute of limitations for such cases,» he said.

He suggests that the judges implicated in the case refrain from making trips to Russia or Russia-friendly countries as they, according to him, can expect provocations or various other actions there.

A source in Lithuania’s Judge Council also pointed out to Baltic News Network (BNN) that the judges could possibly face apprehension in the countries. An exhortation not to go to Russia and its close allies has been given to them. None of the judges could be reached by BNN for comment.

Minister pledges to appeal to foreign organizations

Linkevičius also pledged to turn to international organizations, following the Russian backlash.

«We will take care of that protection as much as possible…Those people related to the case, not only the judges, all of them should act carefully,» he said.

RIC has also charged former Lithuanian prosecutor Simonas Slapšinskas, who used to work on the January 13 massacre case, in absentia of «unlawful prosecution of Russian citizens».

Meanwhile, Russia’s representatives say the Lithuanian judges ruled that «there is no possibility to precisely identify the actions of which of the defendants led to the most serious consequences», i.e., whose actions led to the death or injury of people.

Russia defends its stance

Svetlana Petrenko, spokeswoman for RIC is quoted as saying that the Lithuanian judges grossly violated principles of criminal law, stating that all doubts should be viewed in defendants’ favour.

In total, 14 civilians were killed and hundreds more were wounded when Soviet troops stormed the TV Tower and the Radio and Television Committee building in Vilnius in the early hours of January 13, 1991.The Soviet government used military force in its attempt to remove the legitimate government in Lithuania after it declared Lithuania’s independence from the Soviet Union on March 11, 1990.

A message to today’s war criminals too

As a result of the years-long trial, a total of 67 Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian citizens were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and were issued prison sentenced ranging from four to 14 years. The majority of them were sentenced in absentia as Russia and Belarus refused to extradite them.

A four-judge panel found Dmitry Yazov, 94, former Defence minister of the Soviet Union, guilty in absentia and sentenced him to ten years in prison. Vladimir Uskhopchik, the Soviet Army’s former Vilnius garrison commander, was sentenced to 14 years in prison, and Mikhail Golovatov, a former KGB officer, received 12 years.

The latter in 2011 was arrested by the Austrian police at Vienna’s Schwechat airport, but despite being on the most-wanted list of Lithuania’s law enforcement, he was released the next day. The then Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the information supplied by Lithuania in the Golovatov case was «too vague». He however was detained and handed over to Lithuanian police later.

A voluminous criminal case

Almost 700 individuals were named victims and around 1,000 people testified as witnesses in what is one of the largest court cases in Lithuania’s history.

The ruling sends a message not only to the convicted former Soviet officials, but also to present-day war criminals, Linkevičius said.

«The judgment will probably be appealed, but this a milestone…This is a message not only to those who allegedly committed war crimes that year, but also to those who commit these crimes against peaceful people today, violating human rights and the rights of sovereign states,» he said in a statement without mentioning concrete names.

Georgia and Ukraine should follow Lithuania’s example

Gasparas Genzbigelis, chairman of Lithuania’s January 13 Brotherhood, a public organisation uniting January 13 victims, said the sentences could have been harsher, but the bottom line is that justice has been served finally.

«I wish that the indicted Soviet officers had stood trial not in absentia, however this is better than nothing. I also see the verdict as an example to be followed by other former Soviet republics, like, for example, Georgia, where an anti-Soviet demonstration on April 9, 1989was dispersed by the Soviet Army, resulting in 21 deaths and hundreds of injuries,» Genzbigelis told BNN.

According to him, Ukraine should also attempt to bring Russian military heads to justice for the downing of a Malaysian Airlines over conflict-hit Ukraine on 17 July 2014. A total of 283 passengers, including 80 children, and 15 crew members perished.

The plane crashed after being hit by a Russian-made Buk missile, a 15-month investigation by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) found in late 2015.

Landsbergis cast suspicion on the trial

Meanwhile, Vytautas Landsbergis, former speaker of Lithuania’s Supreme Council-Reconstitutent Seimas, hinted ahead of the January 13 ruling that Lithuania’s law enforcement institutions are not «free» in their investigation of the January 13 case as «some force» is restricting them.

He pointed out to the fact that Lithuanian law enforcement avoids for some reason raising the issue of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s responsibility for the 1991 massacre in Vilnius. Gorbachev has not even been questioned as part of the investigation, let alone charged or put on trial.

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