Prosecutors ask for life sentence for former Soviet Defense Minister Yazov (Updated)

Dmitry Yazov (middle)
AFP / Scanpix

Updates throughout.

Prosecutor Daiva Skorupskaitė-Lisauskienė asked for the punishment during Tuesday’s hearing at the Vilnius Regional Court.

Life sentences were also proposed for another five defendants charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, including Mikhail Golovatov, a former KGB officer who was detained at Vienna Airport in July 2011 under a European arrest warrant issued by Lithuania, but was released in less than 24 hours.

Lithuania and European Commission officials then strongly criticized Austria, which said it did not have sufficient information to hand Golovatov over to Lithuania.

The other four are Vladimir Uskhopchik, a former commander of the Soviet Army’s Vilnius garrison, Vasily Kustrio, a Soviet paratrooper who shot and severely injured a Lithuanian volunteer soldier, former Soviet Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Demidov, and Vasily Savin, commander of the military district.

Yazov was charged with establishing in late 1990 an organized group of 160 military servicemen and political figures with the aim of re-incorporating Lithuania into the USSR, according to the indictment issued by the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The 93-year-old former Soviet defense minister, who lives in Moscow, is being tried in absentia for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges include treatment of persons prohibited under international law, killing, causing bodily harm to, torture or other inhuman treatment of persons protected under international humanitarian law, carrying out a prohibited military attack, and using prohibited means of warfare.

Yazov is represented in the trial by a defense lawyer appointed by the state.

According to the indictment, the then defense minister organized the group with together with the now deceased high-ranking Soviet officials, including the then Interior Minister Boris Pugo, the then Soviet State Security Committee Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov and Oleg Shenin, the then secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and a member of the Politburo.

The prosecutors on Tuesday also proposed punishments, mostly prison sentences of 12 to 16 years, for other defendants in the mass trial. The prosecutors did not ask to acquit any of the defendants.

A total of 67 people have been charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes in the January 13th case. Only two of the defendants — Russian citizens Gennady Ivanov and Yuri Mel — are present in court. All others are tried in absentia.

The prosecutors ask for a 16-year prison sentence for Mel, including the time he has spent in custody since March 2014 pending trial.

A 12-year jail sentence is sought for Ivanov, a Russian citizen residing in Lithuania.

An 18-year prison sentence is proposed for Vasily Kotlerov, a former paratrooper of the 76th Pskov Air Assault Division who avoided extradition to Lithuania in 2014 after Italian officials allowed him to leave the country.

The prosecutors also asked the court to award 11.3 million euros in damages to the state, 1 million euros to Vytautas Lukšys, the injured volunteer soldier, and 120,000 euros to Robertas Povilaitis, whose father died in the bloody crackdown on protesters.

Defense lawyers will now make their statements.

Fourteen civilians were killed and hundreds more were wounded when the Soviet troops stormed the TV Tower and the Radio and Television Committee building in Vilnius in the early hours of Jan. 13, 1991.

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