Lithuania recalls Austria ambassador over ex-KGB general’s release

Mikhail Golovatov

Mikhail Golovatov

The government of Lithuania has recalled its ambassador to Vienna, in protest over the release by Austria of a former Soviet intelligence official, who is wanted in Vilnius for war crimes. Last Thursday, Austrian authorities arrested Russian citizen Mikhail Golovatov, a former general of the KGB, who was stationed in Lithuania during the final years of the Soviet Union. Golovatov’s detention was facilitated by a European arrest warrant issued by the office of the Lithuanian prosecutor. The latter accuses Golovatov of authorizing crimes of war as head of Alpha Group —also known as Spetsnaz Grupp Alfa— a special forces unit within the KGB’s First Chief Directorate. On January 13, 1991, Alpha Group forces spearheaded a counterinsurgency attack on the State Radio and Television Building and the Vilnius TV Tower in the Lithuanian capital, in an attempt to quash the Soviet Republic’s growing secessionist movement. The latter had unilaterally declared Lithuania’s independence on March 11, 1990. The attack resulted in the death of 14 and the injury of over 700 people. During the past two decades, the Lithuanian state has sponsored an international campaign for the arrest of numerous officials who represented the Soviet security apparatus in Lithuania during the final months of the USSR’s existence. But, to Vilnius’ shock, Austrian authorities released Golovatov 24 hours after arresting him, arguing that the European arrest warrant issued by the Lithuanian prosecutor’s office was “too vague” to justify the former KGB general’s continued detention. Speaking to reporters about Golovatov’s release, Austria’s Vice Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Spindelegger said that “two deadlines […] passed with no concrete details incriminating [Golovatov], that is why he was not arrested”. He also dismissed accusations that Austria was becoming a “protectorate of Moscow” by telling journalists that “no Russian minister or politician has contacted me about [Golovatov]”. Along with recalling its ambassador to Vienna, Lithuania raised the issue of Golovatov’s release at a meeting of European justice ministers in Poland on Tuesday. One day later, the European Union’s Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reading, sided with Austria’s decision to release Golovatov, saying that European arrest warrants do not cover crimes allegedly committed before 2002, when these warrants entered into force. Golovatov is now said to be in Russia.

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