Alpha veterans recall the events of January 13, 1991 in Vilnius

The first truly “color revolution” on the territory of the USSR and the first unknown snipers on the roofs, shooting at the crowd. And also the first loss after Afghanistan in the ranks of the famous special forces of the KGB of the USSR “Alpha”. All these are events on January 13, 1991 in Vilnius.

On January 13, 1991, Alpha fighters stormed the TV center in Vilnius, losing Viktor Shatskikh. Photo: RIA Novosti

The active development of events began on January 12, 1991. The Lithuanian National Salvation Committee appealed to the workers of the republican television and radio broadcasting with a proposal to stop programs “provoking a fratricidal clash”, but the appeal was not accepted. Then the Lithuanian National Salvation Committee called on the workers’ squads of Vilnius to take control of the building of the TV and radio committee and the television center in order to stop inciting the population to mass civil clashes and bloodshed, and at the same time appealed to the command of the USSR Interior Ministry troops and the head of the Vilnius garrison with a request to assist the combatants in establishing control over the work of the republican television and radio broadcasting.

With the aim of ensuring public safety and law and order, preventing the outbreak of riots, disarming militants and protecting unarmed members of workers’ squads from military units, two groups were staffed. Each of them consisted of 190 military personnel, 14 armored personnel carriers and about 50 vigilantes. To overcome the obstacles erected around the buildings of the television and radio committee and the television center, four tanks were transferred to one group, and three tanks to the other.

On the night of January 13, a column of Soviet armored vehicles was sent to the center of Vilnius. At that time, from 5 to 8 thousand people gathered at the TV tower. Dozens of cameramen took their places in advance, including those from Western countries. Until two in the morning, the journalists were broadcasting live, until military equipment surrounded the building and the TV tower, and the Alpha group, by order, occupied the facility and stopped the republican broadcasting.

For 31 years in a row, on this day at the Volkovskoye cemetery in Mytishchi veterans of “Alpha” and current employees of the “A” department of the Central Security Service of the FSB of Russia have been gathering to honor the memory of the deceased lieutenant Viktor Shatskikh. Then, during the assault on the Vilnius TV tower, the Shatskikh was the penultimate in the special forces group. Suddenly he was shot in the back. The bullet passed between the plates of the body armor and pierced the lung. The officer was alive, but for 40 minutes he could not be evacuated – the crowd near the TV center did not allow him to do this.

In addition to the Shatskys, 13 more civilians were killed that night. Some also had characteristic wounds – from top to bottom or, conversely, from bottom to top, others died in a crush. Lithuanian nationalists immediately rushed to blame Alpha, the paratroopers and Soviet troops, who allegedly crushed the protesters with tanks. However, it was proved that not a single injury, characteristic of a collision with tracked vehicles, was not among the dead or injured.

Some of the dead citizens were mortally wounded from bullets of small-caliber rifles, which neither Alpha nor the military could have.

Moreover, “Alpha” during the assault used only flash grenades and did not use live ammunition. The paratroopers’ machine guns were also loaded with blanks. Also, three blank shots were fired by Yuri Mel’s tank, which in 2014 received a long term in Lithuania for these events. But some of the victims were mortally wounded from bullets of small-caliber rifles, which could not be found either by “Alpha”, much less by the military. The Shatskikh murderers were never found, the murder of the rest of the victims was officially shifted by the Lithuanian authorities to the employees of the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the soldiers of the Soviet army.

Every year on January 13, veterans and current employees of “Alpha” gather at the Volkovskoye cemetery in Mytishchi at the grave of a comrade in arms. Photo: Ivan Egorov

– Can’t you figure out who was shooting and what were those unknown snipers? – I ask retired colonel Mikhail Golovatov – in 1991-1992, the commander of “Alpha”.

“We figured out and know everyone by name who shot,” Golovatov replied.

Moreover, according to him, these data were submitted to the appropriate authorities, but they all “went into the sand.” But later, the Lithuanian authorities put on the international wanted list the commander of “Alpha” and another 80 people – Russian officers and generals, in their opinion, involved in the events of January 13 and the suppression of the “peaceful” protest. Almost all of the accused were tried in absentia; they were put on the international wanted list.

For example, ex-Minister of Defense of the USSR Dmitry Yazov was sentenced to 10 years in absentia. Now there are 56 people on the wanted list from Lithuania. All this time Vilnius has not abandoned its attempts to find and punish the “guilty”.

In 2010, Lithuania passed laws according to which for “denial of the Soviet occupation” in 1940-1990 and “denial of Soviet aggression in 1991” face punishment in the form of a fine or imprisonment for up to two years. In the same year, the acts incriminated by the accused were reclassified as crimes against humanity and war crimes, in respect of which the statute of limitations does not apply.

Several years ago, Mikhail Golovatov was even detained in Vienna on a Lithuanian warrant, but the Austrian authorities considered the warrant illegal, politically motivated and immediately released the colonel. But Army Colonel Yuri Mel was less fortunate – having entered Lithuania from Kaliningrad in 2014, he was detained, convicted and has been in a Lithuanian prison for the eighth year.

According to Mikhail Golovatov, literally a month ago there were hearings on his parole. After them, the Russian veteran of military operations was not only not released, but transferred to a new prison, where instead of 4 people in the cell are already 20.

As for the retaliatory steps of Russia, in July 2018, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation opened a criminal case against Lithuanian officials, whose actions were “seen as signs of a crime” provided for in Part 2 of Article 299 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Bringing a knowingly innocent person to criminal responsibility”). The UK indicated that the events in Vilnius took place during the period of Lithuania’s joining the USSR, and the military units were performing their official duties, acting in accordance with the legislation of the USSR. After this decision, Lithuanian judges and prosecutors complained to European instances about the “illegal” persecution by Russia in their opinion.

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