Russia refuses Lithuanian request to interrogate Gorbachev…

Russia has refused a Lithuanian request to put former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on the stand concerning the bloody events in Vilnius on January 13, 1991, Rosbalt agency reported, citing the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s office.

Moscow said its refusal is in accordance with the 1959 European Union Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, under which assistance cannot be rendered if “it is likely to prejudice the sovereignty, security, public order or other essential interests of its country.”

The case, initiated by Lithuanian prosecutors 20 years ago, concerns the events of January 1991, when Soviet troops stormed the TV center in Vilnius, leaving 15 people dead and about 600 injured. In 2010 Lithuanian prosecutors suspended a statute of limitations in regard to 23 suspects in the violence (two Belarusians and the rest mainly Russians). The suspects were put on an EU wanted list.

Officially, Gorbachev has not been implicated in the deaths. The Lithuanian authorities wanted him to testify as a witness. The defendants include Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov and late KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov.

The former commander of the elite Soviet Alpha unit that took the Vilnius television tower, Mikhail Golovatov, said he received the go-ahead from Kryuchkov. But Golovatov also said Gorbachev could not but know about this order. “He did not call it off. It was reported to him and agreed by him,” the former commander said. Golovatov added that Alpha fighters did not use live ammunition during the operation and people who were defending the TV center were shot at “from the nearest buildings, from roofs and balconies.”

“Who did the shooting? Whatever the case, I did not put my fighters there,” the former Alpha commander said.

In March 2011 dissident Vladimir Bukovsky blamed Gorbachev for the deaths in Vilnius and other former Soviet republic. Bukovsky applied to Westminster Magistrates Court to arrest Gorbachev. The request was denied.

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