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European Parliament Condemns Russian Probe Targeting Lithuanian Judges Over War Crimes Convictions

A Lithuanian demonstrator stands in front of a Soviet Army tank during the assault on the Lithuanian Radio and Television station in Vilnius on January 13, 1991.

BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament has passed a resolution condemning Russia for launching a criminal investigation into judges at a Vilnius court that convicted dozens of former Soviet Army personnel, mostly in absentia, of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during Moscow's deadly 1991 crackdown on Lithuania's independence movement.

In the nonbinding resolution on November 28, the EU lawmakers called on Moscow to terminate the probe and instead comply with Lithuania's requests for mutual legal assistance in the case.

The resolution calls on EU member states "to cooperate closely with the Lithuanian authorities, and to refuse legal assistance to the this case."

It also urges EU members to "ignore all international arrest warrants against the accused Lithuanian officials."

Russia's Investigative Committee announced on April 10 that it had launched a probe targeting three judges at the Vilnius Regional Court on suspicion of "delivering a deliberately wrongful sentence."

The Russian investigation is unlikely to have any practical effect because the judges are in Lithuania, where it has no legal force.

But it serves as a display of derision over the Lithuanian trial that ended on March 27 with convictions of 67 defendants, including former Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov, who was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison.

The trial focused on the events that unfolded in Vilnius in January 1991, when the Soviet Union's government tried to halt the country's collapse by cracking down on the first of its 15 republics to declare independence.

Lithuanian prosecutors say Soviet paratroopers killed 14 demonstrators who were defending the state television headquarters and TV tower in Vilnius, which Soviet troops stormed.

Lithuania declared independence in March 1990 and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.