Mikhail Gorbachev

Six Lithuanians filed a lawsuit against former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Thursday for war crimes against the independence of that Baltic state, in the Soviet attack on January 13, 1991.

The action, brought by relatives of victims of that attack, was announced on the occasion of tributes to the 31st anniversary of the attack, in which 14 unarmed civilians died and more than 700 people were injured as thousands of pro-independence activists gathered around the radio and television tower and other important buildings in the capital, Vilnius, to prevent the Russian seizure of power.

In 2019, a Lithuanian court convicted dozens of Soviet-era officers of war crimes, but the Lithuanian Prosecutor’s Office refused to investigate Gorbachev, in power at the time of the attack and now 90, a refusal that outraged the plaintiffs.

According to them, the former leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) controlled the Soviet army and did not stop this “international crime” against Lithuanians, who were fighting for freedom after 50 years of Soviet occupation.

“It is evident that the actions of the military forces would not have been possible without coordination with Gorbachev,” said Robertas Povilaitis, who lost her father.

The trial is “very important”, he considered, but if it does not assess the commander-in-chief’s responsibility, “justice is not complete”.

Most of the 67 people convicted of war crimes in Lithuania were tried in absentia, including former Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov, who died in 2020.

While several Soviet-era Lithuanian officials have been arrested for their actions, other suspects remain beyond the reach of Lithuanian justice, either in Russia or Belarus.

The independence of Lithuania and the other Baltic States, Latvia and Estonia, was recognized in 1991, after five decades of Soviet occupation, and the three countries joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

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