VILNIUS - Air Force commander Jonas Marcinkus was sacked on Sept. 22, amid international attention and domestic commotion over the investigation into the Russian fighter Su-27 crash. Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas sacked Colonel Marcinkus after special investigation services, including the State Security Department, suggested that Marcinkus be denied the right to work with classified information.
Both the defense minister and Armed Forces Commander Major General Valdas Tutkus confirmed that the decision was related to Lithuania's pending investigation (see story on Page 1).
Neither of the two agreed to comment in greater detail as to why Marcinkus was stripped of his job.
According to unofficial information, after the warplane crashed in Lithuanian territory on Sep. 15, Marcinkus cultivated a friendship with Russian military officers and also with some representatives of the Russian Embassy in Vilnius. The State Security Department revealed taped telephone conversations with Marcinkus on one end and Russian officials on the other.
The air-force commander, some have speculated, might have been unnecessarily open in such conversations.
Specifically, Marcinkus might have revealed information about the investigation and commented on command actions in connection to the findings. Other speculation suggested that alcohol might have played a role in the colonel's frankness.
Tutkus explained that special investigation services had conducted an examination into Marcinkus, and presented the findings to the defense minister and the armed forces commander. Upon hearing the conclusion, they did not doubt whether Marcinkus could remain in his position.
"There wasn't a millionth of a doubt. Having read such information, I couldn't take other actions. The material provided strong reasons as to why there were no chances to tolerate the air-force commander," Tutkus was quoted as saying.
After hearing that the defense minister planned to fire him, Marcinkus, 41, suddenly felt sick and had to contact doctors.
"I feel humiliated, I was accused of treason," said Marcinkus to LNK television journalists while in a Kaunas hospital. "But I haven't betrayed anyone, I haven't sold anything."
Marcinkus added that it was difficult for him to understand why he had lost the confidence of the country's military command. He had not revealed any classified information and had not harmed national security interests during the conversations with Russian representatives, he said.
The colonel also admitted that he had problems with alcohol; however, he claimed he had not drunk while in service.
Marcinkus also said that since he hadn't been shown the investigation's conclusion, he could only speculate on the reasons of his dismissal. In his opinion, telephone conversations with Russia's Sixth Air Force, the air base where the crashed Su-27 originally belonged to, might have inspired the controversial reactions.
He claimed, however, that the Armed Forces commander had ordered him to maintain such contacts in order to obtain useful information for the investigation.
"He gave me permission to speak to them if the information could help in revealing the circumstances of the catastrophe," Marcinkus said.
Elaborating on his involvement in the plane-crash investigation, Marcinkus explained that he visited the crash site a number of times, and even identified some pieces of the plane, such as air-to-air missiles. He was the first to conclude that the aircraft carried missiles, despite the fact that Russia previously denied this. Passing his conclusion to the Armed Forces commander, Marcinkus later asked Russian representatives a number of questions related to evidence found at the crash.
Armed Forces commander Tutkus, however, denied this, saying that Marcinkus was allowed only one-time permission to speak to Russian representatives.