Release of KGB ‘war criminal’ angers Lithuania

Austria’s decision not to extradite a war crimes suspect has caused a severe diplomatic rift with Lithuania.

Juridical decision-makers opted to let Mikhail G. go after he was put in custody at Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE) last Thursday. The former officer of Soviet security agency KGB is accused of having masterminded the operations of a special unit which tried to take over a TV tower in Vilnius in January 1991. Fourteen people died and over 1,000 were injured in the incident in the attempted putsch in the city which is now the federal capital of the Baltic state of Lithuania.

The Lithuanian government criticised Austria of “lacking European solidarity” for releasing the alleged war criminal shortly after he was detained. The Austrian foreign ministry explained today (Mon) Viennese decision-makers considered some aspects of Lithuania’s European arrest warrant as “too vague.”

Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said: “We are a constitutional state with an independent judiciary which makes its own decisions.”

The minister said Lithuania did not provide further documents considering the case against Mikhail G. in time. “Therefore, the state prosecution decided not to call for an arrest of the person. This has to be accepted,” Spindelegger added.

The foreign minister revealed he already discussed the matter with his Lithuanian counterpart, Audronius Azubalis.

Lithuanian news agencies and radio stations report today the Lithuanian government issues a protest note to the Austrian embassy in Vilnius. Helmut Koller, the Austrian ambassador in the capital of Lithuania, is currently on holiday, according to the Austrian foreign minister’s office. A representative of the Lithuanian government also provided the Austrian embassy in the city with a book on the occurrences of January 1991.

The federal government of the Baltic state – which became a member of the European Union (EU) seven years ago – announced today it would ask the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg, France, to debate Austrian prosecutor’s decision to let the ex-KGB official walk free. The government also decided to summon its ambassador in Austria to Vilnius for talks.

Austrian Green Party official Albert Steinhauser called on the Austrian government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative ÖVP to clarify the matter. The member of the federal parliament in Vienna (MP), who focuses on juridical issues, warned Austria from “becoming a henchman of Russia.” The left-winger said it would be a “fatal signal” if Austria acted following intervention by Moscow.

Steinhauser said the issue highlighted the need to change regulations affecting the actions of the parliament. He pointed out that the parliament’s current summer break kept him from issuing a request to the SPÖ-ÖVP administration. Such an appeal will be looked into by the coalition not before September, he explained. Steinhauser said: “Examination must not take a vacation.”