Soviet war crime trial in Lithuania reveals details of Bush-Gorbachev encounters

Mikhail Gorbachev
AFP/Scanpix

Česlovas Stankevičius, a former deputy chairman of the Lithuanian parliament and a member of Lithuania’s delegation for negotiations with the Soviet Union, testified in the trial on Tuesday and said Bush had demanded that the Soviet Union not use military force against Lithuania – and that Gorbachev agreed.

“I wrote in my book based on evidence from diplomats. They say that the US president’s meeting with (the then Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev on a naval ship in Malta in December 1989 was important in this connection. The issue of Lithuania was one of the issues on the agenda of that meeting. We did not know earlier, but we know now that the US president made a demand not to use military force against Lithuania,” Stankevicius told the Vilnius Regional Court.

The US president at the time was George H.W. Bush, who was president between 1989 and 1993.

“Concluding an economic agreement with the US was important for the Soviet Union, which was on the brink of collapse. Gorbachev gave a promise to the US president not to use force. The US president placed importance on the Perestroika policy. It was a security enhancement factor,” the witness said.

In his opinion, the political agreement not to use military force was important in that Lithuania was not subjected to military violence for some time, at least until the Jan. 13, 1991 events.

The trial is one of the biggest in Lithuania’s history in terms of its size and the number of suspects. It includes nearly 500 victims and about 1,000 witnesses. The case consists of 709 volumes, including 13 volumes of indictments.

Two defendants are present in court and more than 60 are being tried in absentia. They are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Fourteen people were killed when Soviet troops stormed the TV Tower and the Radio and Television Committee building in Vilnius on Jan. 13, 1991.

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