(VILNIUS) – Russia has refused a Lithuanian bid to question ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev over Moscow’s deadly 1991 crackdown on independence protesters in the Baltic state, justice authorities in Vilnius said Tuesday.
“Russia rejected a legal assistance request over Gorbachev,” the Vilnius county court said in a statement.
A Lithuanian judge wanted to summon Gorbachev, 86, to testify in a criminal case in which dozens of former Soviet officials are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes over the bloody repression of protesters.
Moscow has refused to cooperate and only two suspects, both Russian citizens, attend the trial which opened last year, a quarter century after Soviet forces killed 14 civilians and injured hundreds as Lithuania broke free from the USSR.
Lithuanian prosecutors have refused to formally charge Gorbachev, who was in power from 1985 to 1991. But the former Soviet leader has always been viewed with suspicion in the Baltic nation of three million occupied by Moscow after World War II.
“Russia is shielding a person suspected of a crime. The one who shields a suspect is an accomplice,” Lithuania’s independence icon Vytautas Landsbergis told AFP on Tuesday.
Soviet troops entered the capital Vilnius after Lithuania declared independence from Moscow in 1990 and stormed the city’s television tower. Tens of thousands formed human shields against the troops.
Lithuania, now a member of eurozone and NATO, has strongly criticised Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, and recently welcomed troops on its soil from the US-led alliance to deter Moscow.
Agence France-Press (AFP)