Viktor Alksnis: Mikhail Gorbachev was afraid of his own shadow

Devoted to 10th anniversary of the USSR’s collapse

10 years ago, December 25 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev declared the Soviet Union disintegration. Though many analysts state the disintegration started much earlier, when the Baltic Republics became independent. The collapse was initiated by January events of 1991 in Lithuania. Could the tragic events in the Baltic republics be prevented? Today, Viktor Alksnis, Russian State Duma deputy, is the guest of PRAVDA.Ru. Viktor Alksnis lived for 35 years in Latvia, he graduated from the Riga Supreme Military and Engineering Aviation School called in honour of his grandfather Yan Alksnis. In 1988-1989 Viktor Alksnis was member of organization committee of International Front of Workers of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1990-1991 he organized Soyuz All-Union movement and was his co-chairman. Q. To you, who is responsible for the blood shed in the Baltic republics? The Special Police (OMON) groups who carried out an order, or the officials in Moscow who could not adequately react to the events and prevent the great country’s tragic end? A. The USSR disintegration really started in Baltic republics. Though, what happened there was only a consequence, as running nose accompanying cold, while namely cold should have been treated, but not the nose. The real illness was in Moscow, in the country’s leadership, in Gorbachev’s surrounding and in the structures of the Russian Soviet Federation Socialist Republic, that started to fight for Russia’s sovereignty. Namely in Moscow the reason of the USSR’s collapse lay. What was in the country’s outskirts – in the Baltic Republics, in Georgia, in Moldavia, in Ukraine – that was serious enough, though it did not have a catastrophic character. As for the people’s death in January of 1991, so unfortunately even today we do not know the truth about that events, and it looks like we will never get to know it. All evidence is annihilated or falsified. Even today, the Russian leadership is not interested in the truth about that events, all the more the Latvian and the Lithuanian leaderships. As for concrete facts, so I could say that on one hand, events in Riga and Vilnus really were a political provocation of separatist circles of Latvia and Lithuania, i.e. of Lithuanian Sayudis and People’s Front of Latvia. Namely they were interested in bloody compromising of the Soviet Army and of the Soviet Union’s law-enforcement bodies, while showing that the evil empire (as the West used to call the Soviet Union) was annihilating peaceful people. The Union structures were also interested in some blood to give trump cards to that anti-state nationalist forces.

Q. In 1991, a high officer of the State Security Service, while talking to me, said Vadim Bakatin (ex-internal minister of the USSR and last chairman of KGB) was guilty of the events. He gave up all the agents, and even ammunition depots were captured by the separatists not without his assistance.

A. Of course, he is guilty. Instead of having a principle position on preserving the Internal Ministry’s arm in the republics, he handed it to the separatist groups. The Public Prosecutor General’s office that carried out its own investigation possesses forensic commission’s conclusion that bullets were shot in already dead bodies. This fact confirms the version that corpses were supplied to Vilnus from all Lithuanian morgues to set up for the occupants’ victims.

Q. In your opinion, who did organize this provocation?

A. It was profitable for separatist forces in Latvia and in Lithuania. And, I want to repeat, we will not get to know the truth in the nearest future.

Q. And is Gorbachev guilty of these events?

A. At that time, I was member of the Committee for Rescuing Latvia, we carried out sitting in the building of the Latvian Communist Party's Central Committee. So, when some questions about situation in Latvia appeared, we called Gorbachev and received commands for these or that actions. And later, when I got to know that Gorbachev was not aware of it, it was a surprise. It is dishonourable.

Q. For all that, why did he state he was not aware of it? Did he want to remain such an honest democrat in the West’s view? A. No. This man is a milksop. He does not have any strong-willed qualities. He was afraid of his own shadow. When a trouble appeared, his main method was to wait for everything dispersing itself, the chief thing is not to touch and not to hinder. In politics, it is impossible. If one is a real leader, he must take responsibility for what happens, he must take decisions and realize these decisions. While Gorbachev’s main task was to remain sitting in two chairs and at the same time not to get into a jam. While really, he always got into a jam.

Q. To you, did Gorbachev act after prompting of his advisers from the presidential personnel? Or was he guided by his own position? A. Most of the people close to him were sorted out by Gorbachev’s supporters, so they approved of his acts and of his inactivity. Now, reading his former advisers’ memoirs, one could only be surprised that these people are still assured Gorbachev has made big good for our country and theyhave been so clever to advise him to do it. While I suppose they should publicly recant their awful actions and cloister themselves.

Q. Do you suppose that was a right decision to bring in troops in August of 1991, at the time of the putsch (when the State Committee on the State of Emergency was at power). Or some other actions were necessary to maintain the Union? A. This should be done much earlier. At the beginning, it could have been done without using forces, if Gorbachev had carried out a hard principle line and had stepped back under the separatists’ pressure. It is not broadly known and nobody speaks about it, though in the Baltic Republics, including Latvia, the State Committee on the State of Emergency has won a victory. Nobody carried out demonstrations there, nobody cried “Down with the occupants!”, because everybody thought it was serious. Everybody carried out OMON’s orders. If the same situation had been everywhere, we would have live now in another country. Though, at that time, there were not people that could act as resolutely as OMON in Riga.

Q. Do you remember, what happened next with Riga OMON’s leadership – the commander Cheslav Mlynnik and deputy commander Sergei Parfyonov? Do they really act as brutally, as the democratic press describes it? A. You know how today special sub-units act while detaining criminals? At that time, they acted much more softly. For example, while dispersing demonstrations in 1993 in Moscow, they acted much harder. At that time, OMON forces acted according to the instructions about detaining criminals and about dispersing of unauthorized meetings. Q. Did you hear that in 1991, the day before the events, USSR internal minister Boris Pugo had personally phoned to Riga and warned about avoiding any bloodshed. The Special Police is said to have been forbidden to use any arms. Could it be so?

A. It is a usual thing. It is possible that OMON was ordered not to use arms, because bloodshed was not profitable for the Union centre. So, the OMON did avoid bloodshed, if there was blood, it was caused by the other side’s actions.

Q. According to you, was it possible to prevent the USSR’s disintegration?

A. Last attempt to maintain the USSR was made in August of 1991 by the State Committee on the State of Emergency. If Mikhail Gorbachev and Anatoli Lukyanov (chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet) had shown necessary rigidity, if Lukyanov had convoked the Supreme Soviet, I suppose, the Soviet would have voted for declaring the state of emergency in the whole country and approved of the State Committee on the State of Emergency’s actions. Therefore, all the events would have had another character. Though, here, in Moscow, nobody wanted to be responsible for the decisions. As a result, we all have lost.

Q. At that days, was the Russian-speaking population protected in the Baltic republics? A. This question did not exist up to the 1980s. However, social nationalism always has existed in the three republics. It was quiet in the cities, while in the country, where there were more natives, there were some troubles. Riga was practically a Russian city, to be more precise, an international one, where people spoke both Russian and Lettish. Troubles appeared when separatists started to artificially exaggerate the issue, to assure people they had been “occupied” and the “occupants lived at their expense”. They exploited human feelings. As a result the genie of nationalism was let out from the bottle.

Q. When did it started? A. In 1988-1989.

Q. Were these events caused by Gorbachev’s policy – everything is allowed what is not forbidden? A. You are right. These actions were not repulsed. On the contrary, creation of the People’s Front of the Baltic Republics was welcomed. This was the order of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and of Central Committees of the Baltic Republics’ Communist Parties. Party organizations in some plants were even ordered to create primary organizations of the People’s Front. It is the first case in the history, when a party creates structures of its political rival and – as a result – of its grave digger.

Q. And why then KGB did not care for the state’s security? A. KGB was executing decisions of the party bodies. There was a directive that the reconstruction process of the society must be accelerated. For these aims, mass party organizations should be created, including national fronts. This was why, KGB was supporting them. The prsident’s adviser Alexandr Yakovlev, initiated the historical experiment in the Baltic republics, I mean creation of the national fronts. It was he, who proposed this idea and was approved by Gorbachev. Then this turned into a decision of the supreme party bodies and was sent to subordinate party bodies, where it was conscientiously executed. Therefore, they created the animal that devoured them.

Viktor Alksnis was interview by Ilya Tarasov PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Vera Solovieva

Read the original in Russian:

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