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Relatives of victims of Soviet crackdown file a lawsuit against Mikhail Gorbachev

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev arrives for the Victory Day parade, which marks the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Victims’ relatives have launched a legal action in Vilnius against former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, 90, alleging that he failed to stop the military operation against Lithuania’s pro-independence government in 1991.

The news: In March 1990, Lithuania became the first Soviet country to proclaim independence from Moscow. In December 1991, the Soviet Union was formally disbanded.

  • According to prosecutors, Soviet troops killed 14 civilians during the crackdown in January 1991, all but one of them during the storming of the state television headquarters and TV tower.
  • For his role in the crackdown, a Lithuanian court found former Soviet defence minister Dmitry Yazov guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2019. In his absence, he was condemned to ten years in prison.
  • After a three-year trial, he was the highest-ranking of 67 former military officials and army commanders who were condemned.

What they’re saying: Russia has refused to participate in the trial, claiming that it is illegitimate and violates basic justice norms. Gorbachev was not charged with anything and refused to testify.

  • “The case aims to hold Gorbachev, the highest-ranking USSR official, accountable for the January 13 massacre,” stated the six relatives of the victims.
  • The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the family on the night of Wednesday and Thursday, the precise 31st anniversary of the TV tower deaths, they stated.
  • “We have produced proof showing the then-president had command of the army but did nothing to prevent planned criminal conduct and did nothing to stop the international crime while it was being carried out,” the statement read.
  • According to a court spokesperson, the court will now consider if the claim is admissible.

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