Life imprisonment for Soviet commando, Gorbachev wanted

  • 2011-05-18
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - On May 11, the Vilnius court sentenced 43-year old Latvian citizen Konstantins Mihailovs (in 1991, his surname was Nikulin) to life imprisonment. On July 31, 1991, this former member of Riga’s OMON (Russian abbreviation for the “Special Purpose Militia Squad”) participated in the massacre at the Medininkai customs post, which was situated on the border between Lithuania and the USSR (now the Lithuanian-Belarusian border). On the same day of May 11, the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s Office asked Russia to make available for questioning former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (in the status of witness at the moment) in the case of the Soviet aggression of January 1991, when unarmed crowds of Lithuanians stood up in front of Soviet tanks and paratroopers, stopping them from occupying the Lithuanian parliament, although 14 civilians were killed and some 1,000 injured when, on Jan. 13, 1991, the Soviets stormed the TV tower, the TV center and other buildings in Vilnius.

The Vilnius court also decided that Mihailovs is obliged to pay 2.2 million litas (655,000 euros) to the Lithuanian state because the latter had paid compensation to families of the victims – this part of the court’s sentence is pure symbolism because Mihailovs has no money and no real estate. After the court’s decision, the relatives of the victims stated that the process itself is just symbolism. On July 31, 1991, policemen Mindaugas Balavakas, Algimantas Juozakas, Juozas Janonis and Algirdas Kazlauskas and customs officials Ricardas Rabavicius, Antanas Musteikis and Stanislovas Orlavicius were killed by Soviet commandos at the Medininkai customs post.

The daughter and son of Orlavicius, who are now in their 20s and who observed the trial in the courtroom, had mixed feelings. Russia refuses to give up to Lithuania three other OMON commandos – Cheslav Mlynik, Andrey Laktionov and Alexander Ryzhov – and Prosecutor Saulius Verseckas said that they probably will be tried in absentia. It is widely understood that constant attacks on Lithuanian border posts in 1991 (then the Lithuanian customs officials and policemen were ordered by Vilnius to behave according to Mahatma Gandhi’s principles and not to respond with fire to avoid provoking wide-scale intervention by the Soviet army) were organized by the Kremlin’s leaders and that they are most responsible for the killings. “Not only perpetrators, but also organizers should be put on trial,” Justinas Orlavicius said. “Russia is not a country which gives up its citizens easily,” Jolanta Orlaviciute stated sadly. Mihailovs made a mistake staying in Latvia which, on the request of Vilnius, extradited him to Lithuania.

An opinion, identical to the statements by the children of the late Orlavicius, was expressed by Tomas Sernas, a customs official in 1991, who survived the massacre and who was the main witness in the case. Sernas, now a Calvinist priest in a wheelchair, had perforating wounds from Soviet bullets in the brain, but he survived. Vytautas Landsbergis, head of the Lithuanian state in 1991 and now MEP, expressed his disappointment that the case was investigated as a case of murder, not a case of a war crime committed by foreign troops on Lithuanian soil. President Dalia Grybauskaite expressed her moderate satisfaction with the court’s sentence.

On the same day, the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s Office officially asked Russia to make available for questioning former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in the case of the USSR’s military aggression on Lithuania in January 1991. Gorbachev’s press secretary expressed his doubts that Gorbachev will agree to be a witness, while MPs of the Vladimir Zhirinovsky-led Liberal Democrats in the Russian parliament protested loudly against Lithuanian prosecutors, though liberal intellectuals in Moscow support Lithuania’s request.

“The action of Lithuania is absolutely right. Gorbachev must give his testimony because, otherwise, he risks losing his reputation. If he does not testify, the worst version would be confirmed,” Viktor Shenderovich, active fighter against Putin’s regime and Russia’s popular satirist, told the Moscow-based radio Ekho Moskvy on May 12. However, the chances to interrogate Gorbachev are slim. It will happen, according to Moscow-based political analyst Leonid Radzikhovsky, only in the case “Lithuania will conquer Russia.”

In January 1991, the USSR, led by Gorbachev, decided to start its military aggression on Lithuania when the world’s attention was supposed to be occupied by George Bush senior’s U.S.-led international forces operation in Kuwait. In 1940, the Soviet invasion into the Baltics was perpetrated when the world’s attention was also focused on another part of the world: Nazi Germany was then entering Paris.