WHAT TO DO WITH AUSTRIA?: On July 19, the newly elected Latvian President Andris Berzins received a warm welcome as he arrived in Vilnius on his second official foreign visit (the first one was to Estonia on July 12) to meet Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. The issue of Russian citizen Mikhail Golovatov, a suspect in the Soviet aggression against Lithuania case of 1991, who was allowed by Austrian authorities to escape back from Vienna to Moscow on July 16, was also discussed.
VILNIUS - When Lithuania defended Vienna from the Turks in 1683 in the cause of European solidarity, it was wasting its blood in vain, because European values seem foreign to Austria. On July 15, the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s Office received a report from Austrian authorities that Mikhail Golovatov, a 62-year old Russian citizen, was detained on July 14 on a European arrest warrant issued by the Lithuanian authorities. He is a KGB reserve colonel, former advisor of the FSB in 1997-2002, owner of the Russian security firm Alpha B, and was commander of the elite KGB group Alpha back in January 1991. Alpha was the main storming force of the Soviet army during the Soviet aggression on independent Lithuania in January of 1991, when 14 unarmed civilians were killed and some 1,000 injured during the Soviet attack on the TV center and TV tower in Vilnius, although unarmed crowds of Lithuanians, who stood up to stop the Soviet tanks and paratroopers, prevented the Soviets from occupying the Lithuanian parliament.
Golovatov was planning to do some skiing in Austria. On the evening of July 15, he was freed by Austria and immediately left for Moscow.
On July 18, President Dalia Grybauskaite met with Prosecutor General Darius Valys and representatives of the Lithuanian Foreign and Justice Ministries to discuss the situation brought on by Austria’s move to release Mikhail Golovatov, a suspect in the USSR’s aggression case of 1991. She instructed to inform the EU’s General Affairs Council and the Justice Council about Austria’s unprecedented move. The Lithuanian ambassador in Vienna was summoned back to Vilnius.
On July 18, Lithuanian Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Asta Skaisgiryte-Liauskiene presented a note to Austria’s Charge d’Affaires Josef Sigmund, requesting Austria explain on what basis and why so hastily the decision was taken to release the suspect in the crimes against humanity case. “Lithuania assesses Austria’s actions with regard to the implementation of the European arrest warrant, that has been issued for Mikhail Golovatov, as a particularly brutal violation of EU law. We are concerned that Austria’s practice of trampling the EU law and principles of cooperation between EU member states can have a negative impact on international communication in criminal cases between the EU member states in the future,” the document reads. Skaisgiryte-Liauskiene also presented to Sigmund a book of documents about the Soviet aggression on Lithuania in January 1991.
“It was not a political decision. When it happened in 1991, it was only Austrian legislation. There was no international law,” Sigmund said, coming out from the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry with the note and the book in his hands. His words did not convince Lithuanians.
On the same day, some 100 Lithuanians protested in front of the Austrian embassy in Vilnius. They held photos of Golovatov, with inscription “Wanted” in English, a poster presenting the Austrian flag with the hammer and sickle, a poster asking in German “Warum?” (“Why?”), and red balloons with inscriptions “KGB.” Aldona Ziupsniene, whose daughter Regina Ziupsnyte was injured during the Soviet armed aggression in 1991 and died several years later due to her injuries (such deaths are not included into the official statistics of the aggression victims), and people who received injuries due to the Soviet attack back in 1991 were present at the protest.
On July 19, Latvian President Andris Berzins visited Vilnius and told President Grybauskaite that on July 19, the Latvian foreign minister also handed a note to the Austrian ambassador in Riga regarding the Golovatov case. On July 19, foreign ministers of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia wrote a joint letter to the European Commission protesting against Austria’s scandalous action.
“The tempo of events shows that the Republic of Austria wanted to get rid off of this problem as soon as possible. […] The Prosecutor General’s Office understands the action of the law enforcement institutions of the Republic of Austria as a harsh violation of EU legislation,” Andrius Nevera, Lithuanian deputy prosecutor general, said during his press conference on July 16. He also said that the Austrian decision was possibly made due to political pressure.
Austria’s Justice Ministry clumsily stated that Golovatov was freed because the European warrant for his arrest was too vague. According to Austrian laws, Golovatov could be kept detained for 48 hours, which was not done in this case.
“If the person agrees to be handed over, then it is possible to do so within 10 days. In the other case, the Austrian court has 90 days to hand him over,” Lithuanian prosecutor Tomas Krusna said on July 15 when Lithuania was still expecting that Austria would extradite Golovatov to Lithuania.
The highest Austrian political leadership did know about the arrest. In the evening of July 15, Azubalis had a telephone conversation with his Austrian counterpart, Michael Spindelegger. During the conversation Azubalis expressed his trust that Austria would act according to the principles of international law and the usual practice when making a decision regarding the extradition of a suspect to Lithuania. Golovatov was released soon after this phone conversation.
Austrian Foreign Minister Spindelegger told the Austrian media that the Lithuanian side failed to present additional information in time. His statement seems to be untrue. The time schedule of the events was as follows: Golovatov was detained in the Vienna airport at 16:45 on July 14; the Austrian request for more information on Golovatov was received in Vilnius at 10:00 on July 15; Lithuanian prosecutors sent the requested information to Austria at 15:37 on July 15 and the translation of the European arrest warrant into the German language at 16:41 on July 15; the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s Office received Austrian information that Golovatov was released at 5:39 on July 16 (Saturday morning). Spindelegger said that no political pressure was made on the Austrian law institutions. However, the Russian newspaper Kommersant quoted unnamed source in the Russian Foreign Ministry who told the newspaper that this ministry did put pressure on Austria. The Austrian opposition MPs from the Green Party promised an investigation of the Golovatov incident when the Austrian parliament resumes its work in September after its summer vacations.
Azubalis stated that the Golovatov case is as important in the Baltics as the case of Ratko Mladic in the Balkans. Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania’s Christian Democrat member of the European Parliament and head of the Lithuanian state in 1990-1991, stated that Austria, by releasing Golovatov, behaved as a “satellite state” of Russia, not as an EU member state. Radvile Morkunaite-Mikuleniene, another Lithuanian Christian Democrat member of the European Parliament, accused Austria of double standards, pointing out that Austria rightfully demanded the extradition of Serbian war criminals. She stated in her blog that the release of Golovatov was made because “Austria has ambitions to become the center of Russian gas distribution in the European Union.”
The Lithuanian opinion about Austria was obvious on Lithuania’s most popular Internet site, delfi.lt: the fact that Adolf Hitler was born in Austria and his native town only recently deprived him of honorary citizenship is mentioned by Vladimiras Laucius, the site’s observer. He described Austria with words which a French ambassador used to describe Israel, i.e. a “shitty little country.” Laucius wrote that the Frenchman was wrong, but this description is suitable for Austria. Laucius also goes explicitly on to the hypocrisy of the EU which, according to him, is loud about non-traditional sexual orientation and animal rights but is silent about those Russian citizens who committed mass homicides.
It is interesting that, contrary to neighboring Slovakia, Austrian media reported nothing on the arrest on July 15. Only on July 17 did the Austrian media wake up, due to the Lithuanian protests. The Austrian daily Kurier wrote that handcuffs were not used during Golovatov’s detention. The newspaper justifies the Austrian action, stating that the Austrians informed Golovatov about his problems in a transit zone of the Vienna airport, i.e. formally not on Austrian soil. “We received information that Golovatov was transported to a prison in Austria,” Lithuanian Prosecutor General Valys said on July 18.
Emanuelis Zingeris, head of the Lithuanian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs committee, commented on the Austrian behavior while taking part in the opening of the Holocaust memorial, to 1,800 Jews, his co-believers, near the town of Plunge on July 17. Zingeris said that Austria undermines the very idea of the European Union. On July 18, Zingeris proposed for his committee to discuss the freeze of diplomatic relations with Austria with a possible complete break-up of diplomatic relations. The opposition MPs did soften his position during the committee’s sitting. The majority of Lithuanians, according to an Internet survey on delfi.lt, would be rather in favor of EU sanctions against Austria instead of a break-up of diplomatic relations. Lithuania already appealed to Eurojust, the EU’s institution in The Hague fighting crimes. Lithuania can also appeal to the Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
The radical Islamism-promoting kavkazcenter.com of the rebels of Russia’s North Caucasus commented on the release of Golovatov in its straightforward manner with the headline “Austria promotes Russian terrorism.”
The official Russian media also reported about the scandal in a very specific way. “The Vienna authorities refused to recognize as legitimate Lithuania’s arrest warrant for the Soviet Colonel’s subsequent extradition to Vilnius. Mikhail Golovatov commanded the Alpha unit that was sent to the Vilnius TV tower on January 13, 1991. Fourteen people died in unrest around the tower, while more than 600 others were injured. One of those who died was an Alpha officer who was shot in the back. The then-Lithuania Security Chief Audrius Butkiavicius admitted later that it was on his orders that Sajudis movement snipers fired on people from the roofs of neighboring houses,” reads the comment of the Web site of the radio Voice of Russia. Actually, it was Butkevicius, not “Butkiavicius,” who was defense minister, not “security chief,” though the main thing is that he never stated anything like that. The Alpha officer was shot by his colleagues during the storming of the TV center. The KGB stories about Lithuanian snipers were a common thing on Mikhail Gorbachev-era Soviet TV, but after the victory of democracy in Russia in August 1991, such KGB-produced tales were forgotten for a decade – this Soviet KGB propaganda was resurrected with the era of Vladimir Putin. It is worth mentioning that the Soviets used tracer bullets, banned by international conventions, during their attack in 1991.
The entire incident can be explained by the traditional Western fear of Russia, though all Russian independent analysts, from billionaire businessman Alexander Lebedev to Russia’s most famous journalist, Yulia Latynina, unanimously describe Russia as a failed state with no future and compare Russia to Zimbabwe, which is the result of the decade of rule of the corrupt Putin clan. Another explanation – Austria is one of the most favorite destinations for the Russian elite. Indeed, Russia’s elite keeps its money, wives, children, and villas in the West and all the Kremlin’s anti-Western propaganda is a smoke screen for Russian people, although such propaganda can result in some dangerous developments later.