On August 26, the Vilnius regional court sentenced six leaders of the former Communist Party of Lithuania-CPSU Platform [CPL-CPSU] to prison terms ranging from three to twelve years for their role in the January 1991 Soviet putsch in Lithuania. In that putsch, the diehard communists attempted to take over power, with the support of Soviet troops which killed fourteen Lithuanians and wounded several hundred during the operation. The court found the defendants guilty of having set up an anti-state organization, conspired to overthrow the legal government by force, participated in the commission of murders and the infliction of serious bodily harm, publicly incited to violence and propagandized in favor of the putsch.
The six who were sentenced are: Mykolas Burokevicius, former first secretary of the CPL-CPSU Central Committee; Juozas Jermalavicius and Juozas Kuolelis, former Central Committee secretaries; Jaroslavas Prokopovicius, former head of the Internal Order Division of the Internal Affairs Ministry; Stanislovas Mickevicius, ex-chief of the Soviet Lithuania Radio; and Leonas Bartosevicius, ex-chief of the party’s publishing house. Several of them insisted during the trial that they continue to be Soviet citizens, and one–Mickevicius–has obtained Russian citizenship and absconded just before the end of the trial. The CPL-CPSU was made up of irreconcilable communists who seceded from the official CPL because of the latter’s break with Moscow.
Russian embassy officials in Vilnius at least twice warned, shortly before the sentencing, that any “severe punishment” would damage Lithuania’s relations with Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry has evidently decided to deem the sentences unduly severe. On August 27, the ministry issued a statement warning that Russia took a “highly negative view” of the Vilnius trial. It claimed that “Russian public opinion has met [the sentences] with concern and regards them as judicial repression.” It described the Vilnius court proceedings as a “political trial.” It also charged in a familiar Soviet phrase that “certain forces” in Lithuania are using the trial in order to harm Lithuanian-Russian relations (BNS, August 24-28; Itar-Tass, August 28).
Russian public opinion has in fact shown no interest in the Vilnius trial. Only a handful of communists and Zhirinovsky supporters have picketed the Lithuanian embassy in Moscow in support of the Vilnius communists, and Duma communists have complained at the Council of Europe against what they, too, termed the “political trial” in Lithuania. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement unnecessarily caters to the view of these groups.
A total of fifty-one communist putschists were accused in the Vilnius trial, but only those six were in the dock. Most of the others are in Russia and Belarus under the protection of state authorities. Russia is similarly harboring the OMON troopers who were involved in the bloody January 1991 Soviet crackdown in Latvia and are wanted on criminal charges in that country.
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