The Victims of the Second World War are honoured on 8th of May in Europe and Russia does it a day later. This is why it was surprising when the Russian ambassador to Lithuania Aleksandr Udaltsov came to the Vilnius Antakalnis cemetery on the 8th of May.
Also, this year the Ambassador unexpectedly paid tribute with flowers to the monument dedicated to all Lithuanian soldiers. Does this mean that Russia began to think of Lithuanian guerrilla not as nationalist group and bandits but as soldiers, who fought the Soviet Union? A few days later in a statement from the Russian Embassy, they explained that different views are still there, so there’s no point to look for changes.
A. Udaltsov stands with a bowed head at the monument dedicated to those, who died for Lithuanian freedom. It is for those, who died in exile, soldiers that died in guerrilla war, when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. Later the Ambassador heads to the graves of the victims of the 13th of January where he also placed flowers.
This sign of respect wouldn’t be surprising if didn’t come from the Russian Ambassador. This country has never recognized the occupation of Lithuania, the guerrilla soldiers were called bandits and their resistance was seen as illegal. A similar situation is for the events of the January 13. Russia constantly escalates their version, that “they fired at their own”, that the civilians that night were killed not by Soviet troops and they’re not giving up the suspects in Lithuania. At the beginning of May, the Russian Ministry of Justice refused to provide legal assistance to give documents to the former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, who is wanted for questioning on the case of January 13th. What does the act of the Ambassador mean?
“If he didn’t mix up the monuments, so far it means nothing. We have a lot of unsolved problems. If they began to be addressed then I would see this as some sort of a change but until that happens, then it’s just a diplomatic gesture that means nothing” commented Member of the Parliament and historian Arvydas Anušauskas.
LRT television program “Week” (Savaitė) tried to get a comment from A. Udaltsov. However, he made excuses of a full agenda and refused to speak on the topic. But on Friday an official position was released. It says that although the versions of 13th of January in Lithuania and the Russia are different it has no effect in honouring the victims. And the flowers at the monument to those, who died for Lithuania’s freedom in Lithuania were placed when honouring the soldiers, who fought Nazi Germany, because, according to the Embassy, they never fought the Soviet Union.
Žygimantas Pavilionis, the former Lithuanian Ambassador to the US, said that there is no doubt that A. Udalcov did this with the approval of Kremlin. Russian diplomacy has never been flexible, it’s centralized and things like these are never done without the approval of the highest office. According to the politician, a double game is being played in order to show that they are constructive and we’re not.
“The next day huge demonstrations in Klaipeda and everywhere else took place to honour the victims of the Great Homeland War, here it’s just the levelling of history, which has been done countless times. They aren’t trying to prove that they’re right, just to state that there’s not truth and everything falls on interests” said Z. Pavilionis.
“I think it is a hidden and well thought out game. We shouldn’t fall for that and if we see that there is reconciliation with history and recognition of our historical tragedy, specific steps have to be taken: an apology for the occupation, compensation and other things, which we can’t expect from Russia in my, a Putin’s Russia” MP Laurynas Kasčiūnas analysed the situation.
Lithuania evaluates the damage that was done during the Soviet occupation in billions of dollars but Russia always retorts that we’re in debt for all the wealth that it has created. It is also continuously denied that the Soviet Union occupied our country and committed crimes against humanity by exceling thousands to Siberia and killing guerrilla.
Experts emphasise that according to international law the occupation and annexation of Lithuania is classified as an international crime but the authors that analyse this period state that in 1944-1953 a war between the Soviet Union and the guerrilla happened, and the statements that there was a civil war and fight against bandits are absurd.
The events of that time the Russia of these days evaluates the same as the Soviet government at that time, when the NKVD and MGB fought against Lithuanian resistance: killed resistance fighters, tortured and slandered them. So the action of A. Udalcov “Weekly” respondents evaluate as tactical move. Maybe this is how Russia hopes for an answering move because this country has always looked for Lithuania people and politicians who have a different approach that is closer to Russia’s. Or it’s a diplomatic message not for us but our allies. Whether it’s a coincidence or not but after a couple of days the United States Secretary of Defence came for a visit to Lithuania.
“The arrival was seen as a sigh of favour to Lithuania while knowing that Kremlin will to lure D. Trump to their side with all of their means, he tries to show these politicians that “well, let’s maybe stop here, maybe agree nicely, we’ll have something to offer for you, look, we’re constructive, we visit all of the graves” Ž. Pavilionis assumed.
How far Russia is ready to go? For example, to reveal the burial sites of executed guerrilla fighters, allow to honour them properly? Russia should also deal with the threats that they have caused near the border with Lithuania: the militarization of Kaliningrad, ongoing military exercises that simulate the invasion of the Baltic States.
However, it appears that these are empty hopes. This was confirmed by the chairman of the Parliament who met with Mr Udalcov at the beginning of January and talked about the January 13th, its victims and the criminals.
“He said that we see this differently (Lithuania and Russia understands these issues in different ways), in other words he politely told that they’re not going to cooperate. But maybe?” said the chairman of the Parliament Viktoras Pranckietis.
All signs show that that the answer to the question of whether the visit of the Russian Ambassador to Lithuania graves was only a demonstrative action, whether the respect was actually shown, isn’t worth to think about for a long time.