VILNIUS (Reuters) – Relatives of victims of a 1991 Soviet crackdown against Lithuania’s pro-independence government filed a civil lawsuit in Vilnius against former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, 90, claiming he failed to stop the military operation.
Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence from Moscow, in March 1990. The Soviet Union was formally dissolved in December 1991.
In the crackdown in January 1991, Soviet troops killed 14 civilians, all but one of them during the storming of the state television headquarters and TV tower, prosecutors say.
A Lithuanian court in 2019 found former Soviet defence minister Dmitry Yazov guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the crackdown. It sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in prison.
He was the highest-ranking person on a list of 67 former military officials and army officers being sentenced after the three-year trial.
Russia has refused to cooperate with the trial, calling it illegal and in violation of the fundamental principles of justice. Gorbachev was not charged and declined to testify.
“The lawsuit is aimed to hold Gorbachev, the highest-ranking USSR official, accountable for the January 13 massacre”, the six relatives of dead civilians said in a statement.
The lawsuit, which seeks undisclosed damages, was filed on behalf of the relatives on the night between Wednesday and Thursday, the exact 31st anniversary of the killings at the TV tower, they said.
“We have presented evidence that the then-president was in control of the army but did not act to prevent the planned criminal actions and did not stop the international crime while it was being executed”, the statement said.
The court will now decide on the admissibility of the claim, its spokesperson said.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Angus MacSwan)