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2020.02.25 17:13

Soviet Marshal Yazov sentenced by Lithuania dies in Russia

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BNS, RFE/RL2020.02.25 17:13

The last marshal of the Soviet Union Dmitry Yazov, who was sentenced by Lithuania for his role in the 1991 crackdown in Vilnius, died in Moscow on Tuesday aged 95.

Yazov was the highest ranking Soviet military official and played a key role in the 1991 coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev and the repressions in Vilnius that led to the death of 14 civilians on January 13, 1991.

Read more: Occupied but not silenced. January 13, 1991: the night when Soviets stormed LRT

In March last year, Lithuania found Yazov and 66 other Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian citizens guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yazov was sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia.

Yazov, along with former KGB officer Mikhail Golovatov, were the most prominent of 67 defendants in the trial over the momentous events that unfolded in Vilnius, when the Soviet government tried to halt the country's collapse by cracking down on the first republic to declare independence.

Russia, meanwhile, launched a criminal investigation into Lithuanian judges and prosecutors in the case.

The lawyers provided by Lithuania to Yazov will ask his relatives whether they would like to launch an appeal hearing. Under Lithuanian laws, litigation may continue if the deceased had lodged an appeal.

Lawyer Valentinas Giriunas said the Court of Appeal is scheduled to start hearing the case on March 26.

"There was no contact with the relatives” despite the defence trying to communicate with them, according to Lawyer Valentinas Giriunas, adding that the relatives still have one month to submit documents to launch an appeal.

If no answer is received, the case will be closed, the lawyer said.

The coup attempt in 1991

Yazov was the defence minister of the Soviet Union 1987 and 1991, and took part in the August 1991 coup attempt against Gorbachev. He supported a group that tried to take over the Soviet Union just four months before its collapse in 1991 and placed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev under house arrest, according to RFE/RL.

The group declared itself the provisional government, the State Committee for Emergency Situations, known by its Russian acronym GKChP.

One "Gang of Eight' member, Soviet Interior Minister Boris Pugo, committed suicide shortly after the coup collapsed.

The 10 other men named as coup plotters were all granted amnesty by the State Duma on February 23, 1994 – ending their 14-month trial on high treason charges by the military branch of the Supreme Court.

They went on individually to play various roles in politics and the private sector in post-communist Russia.

The leader of the group, Gennady Yanayev, who at the time declared himself acting president of the Soviet Union, died in Moscow at the age of 72 in September 2010.

With Yazov's death, only one member of the GKChP remains alive – 87-year-old Oleg Baklanov, who was then deputy chairman of the presidential Defense Council.

Yazov was released from prison in 1993 and granted amnesty in 1994.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty contributed to the reporting.