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Latvia and the 1991 August Coup Attempt

The removal of the monument of Lenin after the failed August coup

The removal of the monument of Lenin after the failed August coup

On May 4 1990 Latvian Supreme Soviet had accepted the Declaration of the Restoration of Independence. However, the declaration set an “interim period” until full restoration of the sovereign Republic of Latvia, after which the Saeima the Latvian parliament would be elected again. Until then the legitimate ruling body was the Supreme Soviet (Council) of the Republic of Latvia. After first free elections since 1934, it was controlled by the Popular Front of Latvia, Latvian National Independence Movement. However, in the opposition there were still many convinced communists who wanted Moscow to help them to stop the Latvian breakaway from USSR. Latvia was still full with Soviet troops and special forces like OMON. So the “interim period” was a dangerous game, since the President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev was against the Baltic independence. And there were many around Gorbachev who tried to convince him to use more radical methods to not let it happen.

The main plot to effectively halt the Baltic independence was to impose the Presidential Order in the Baltic States. That would remove the Supreme Soviet from the power and impose direct rule from Moscow. The culmination of this plot was the January 1991 Barricade movement. The enemies of the Latvian independence could not bear their defeat and blamed the “Betrayal of Moscow”. On February 4 1991 the members of the LSSR Prosecutor’s office publicly asked the president of USSR to issue a state of emergency in Latvia, restore the order of the USSR constitution and stop the work of the “illegal state structures”.   On April 9 political organization “The Union of the Baltic Soldiers” issued a statement that it will with the use of arms will ensure the Soviet power within Latvia.

The series of provocative acts started once again. An explosion took place near dormitory rooms of the Latvian Ministry of Interior where Soviet soldiers and their families lived. Also an explosion on the bridge over Gauja where the Soviet troops were heading to their base in Ādaži. As in previous occasions these explosions were too weak to actually hurt anyone, but were intended to blame “radical nationalists” for the attacks on the Soviet forces. From May 23 to August 12 the OMON special forces responsible for bloodshed in January, started a series of attacks on Latvian customs posts. 21 such attacks were carried out. The customs points were burned down, the custom officers were beaten and their arms removed. In Lithuania on July 31 seven officers were killed by OMON and one paralyzed. On May 25 1991 the Soviet Army carried out a drill where they learned how to block the way to the center of Riga. Apparently the Soviets wanted to prevent a situation in January when people managed to move large amount of tractors and other agricultural transport and made barricades from them.

However, the local Soviet radicals were not informed about the plot to overthrow Gorbachev. On 19 August 11:00 after learning the news about the coup the main leader of the Soviet radicals Alfrēds Rubiks in the press conference issued the support for the coup. Alfrēds Rubiks was a carrier communist whose highest point of success was the chairman of the Riga Executive committee it can be compared to the title of the Major of Riga. Before the Latvian independence movement many remembered Rubiks as progressive communists supportive of the Gorbachev ideas. However, his ambition to build the metro system in Riga was halted by massive protests. Since the protest movement against the metro project involved certain national character the fear of more Soviet immigrants, Rubiks now turned completely into Soviet hardliner. He was the First Secretary of the breaking Latvian Communist party, and now took the leading role of the local coup supporters.

Meanwhile the Latvian Republic Supreme Soviet lead by Anatolijs Gorbunovs on 10:00 issued a statement that the State Council of State of Emergency that took over power in Moscow is illegal and has no power within Latvia. Meanwhile the head of the Soviet Baltic War region general Fjodor Kuzmin informed them that he is charge of the realization of the state of emergency in Latvia. Latvian Popular front stated that the coup has taken place in the neighboring country and it should be treated that way. At 18:00 the Latvian National Independence Movement made a decision to ask the Supreme Soviet to fully establish the Latvian independence.

Even when the Latvian national leaders declared that coup in August is not in effect within Latvia, in reality it was much more complicated. Western countries only had expressed sympathy and support for Latvian independence, but had not fully recognized. They wanted to that only in the most certain moment and if Moscow herself allows it. In this situation the Soviet Army and OMON had everything to remove the Latvian government from power. On 19:15 OMON and Soviet paratroopers raided the first floor of the Latvian TV center. On 20:30 OMON invaded the Riga Interior affairs administration and in 20:45 OMON again took over the Latvian Ministry of Interior. On 22:30 OMON raided the Popular Front headquarters and vandalized it. On 22:15 OMON men murdered the driver of the Jūrmala Creative house Jānis Salmiņš near the Riga Interior affairs administration.

On 4:30 at August 20 OMON took over the Riga International telephone central and telegraph station. Then OMON took over the Latvian Radio building. Latvian Radio restored its work in the airwaves in illegal transmitter station in the city of Salaspils. On August 20 Estonia had fully declared its sovereignty. Meanwhile in Latvia the OMON was still on the run and raided the Latvian training camp at Kauguri and disarmed the security of the Latvian Council of Ministers.

OMON armored cars heading to center of Riga

OMON armored cars heading to the center of Riga

The fate of the Latvian independence was decided in the White House square in Moscow. The Soviet army and the Special forces refused to attack the RSFSR parliament defended by thousands of Russian citizens. On August 20 it was clear that the coup had failed. However, on August 20 four OMON armored cars entered the Dome Square in Riga. They were heading to Latvian Supreme Soviet where people finally gathered to vote for the full sovereign status of the state of Latvia. As the sound of helicopters roared above and tanks moved even closer, elected deputies stopped the discussions and voted to end the interim period and restore the Latvian Republic de facto. 111 voted for, 13 against. In 13:10 the Republic of Latvia had become a sovereign country once again.

OMON did not received any clear order to assault the Supreme Soviet building. At 14:10 they left the scene. At the end of the day Soviets left the TV and Radio house. All who officially supported the coup attempt was removed from their office. In August 23 the Republic of Island officially recognized the Latvian independence first one to do so. On the same day Alfreds Rubiks was arrested. On August 24 the president of Russia Boris Yelstin officially recognized the Baltic states independence. The Latvian Communist party and all the Soviet security structures including KGB was made illegal.  On the night of August 24-25 the Lenin monument was demolished.

Soviet power was fully removed in the following months. In 1994 all Soviet forces were removed from Latvia. However, the people who in the critical days of August wowed to “arrest and shoot all the nationalists” still plays role in the Latvian politics. Alfrēds Rubiks leads the Latvian Socialist party and works in the European Parliament despite his imprisonment in nighties. Many others of his allies are trying to revenge the defeat of the August 1991 under the guise of the human rights and social democracy. We must understand that August 1991 was a close call for Latvian independence and if it succeeded we won’t be reading this. So our duty is to guard our country in every way we can.

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The Kremlin Conspiracy August 1991

The leaders of the August Coup in 1991: Boris Pugo, the Minister of the Interior Affairs of the USSR (to the left); Gennady Yanayev, the Vice President of the Soviet Union (in the middle) and Oleg Baklanov, First Deputy Chairman of the Defense Council of the USSR (to the right).

The leaders of the August Coup in 1991: Boris Pugo, the Minister of the Interior Affairs of the USSR (to the left); Gennady Yanayev, the Vice President of the Soviet Union (in the middle) and Oleg Baklanov, First Deputy Chairman of the Defense Council of the USSR (to the right).

On August 18 1991 the conspiracy by the high rank officials of the Kremlin and the KGB took place. A group of Soviet hardliners tried to avert the fall of the Soviet Union. In the end because of their incompetence, cowardice in contrary to the bravery of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yelstsin and the defenders of the White House their plot failed. Soviet Union collapsed anyway and Latvia could once again regain its independence.

The KGB 9th division was responsible for guarding and escorting the Soviet leaders and high rank officials. In Foros, Crimea where the president of the USSR resided, his guard Vasili Kravets was in his usual duty. His everyday duty was fulfilling the needs of the officials who rested in this governmental resort. Like sending back to Moscow two jackets that the Minister of the Interior affairs Boris Pugo forgot. Or arranging a limo for one guest to visit another. Suddenly in his control system the red alarm signal of the radio station “Alternativa” (Alternative) begun to flash. This meant that there is a failure in the communication line with the mansion of the president of the USSR. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Kravets immediately made contact with KGB 21st division responsible for governmental communications. They said: “We will check!”. The red signal continued to flash even more. Kravets again made contact he received the answer: “The communications have been disrupted by hill landslide, the repair works have begun!”. It was Sunday August 18 1991.

At this same moment the gates of the presidential mansion opened. The KGB codenamed this mansion as the “object Zarya”. Five Volga limos entered the mansion without invitation or announcement. The security guards could not allow such trespassing, but from the first limo the head of the KGB Security Service Yuri Plehanov and the major Vyacheslav Generalov the chief of the technical authority and the Crimea KGB chief from 9th Division colonel Lev Tolstoy stepped out. From other cars many more important Soviet officials came out. The security guards where ordered to lay down their arms and not to forget Romania where the guards defended their dictator Ceausescu and how it ended. The guards were in complete incomprehension- what it had to with Romania? There the president was deposed and the guards defended him and perished with him altogether. But here everything was suppose to be alright?

The mansion was sealed with additional guards from Moscow. The telephone lines were disrupted. Unimaginable, but the presidential mansion guarded by 500 well armed men, three defense lines, 34 border guard posts, special task force Alfa and air fleet in the Black Sea. However, all this defense personal was not really subordinated to the president himself. They were the employees of the KGB. And it was the KGB that decided to turn the tables on the Mikhail Gorbachev who got him effectively trapped in the “Golden cage”.

The president was worried about this sudden visit. He either thought they going to put a pressure again, or try to depose him from power. The two men who trapped the Gorbachev were: Vyachelav Generalov the head of the KGB special maintenance and technical authority. His task was to take over the presidential mansion and keep the president imprisoned there. He knew everything about the mansion and was fiercely loyal. His chief was Yuri Plehanov general lieutenant the head of the KGB security service.

The Gorbachev mansion at Foros or the Object Zarya

The Gorbachev mansion at Foros or the Object Zarya

The main spokespersons of the conspirators were secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee Oleg Shenin and Oleg Baklanov the head of the Military Industrial complex. According to plan Shenin was to speak first, but Gorbachev seized the moment and started to talk with Baklanov who he thought was their leader. They wanted to convince Gorbachev to step down by his own will, implying on his bad state of health and fatigue. Gorbachev said that this was out of the question and reminded about the planned signing of the New Union Treaty on August 20. The Union Law was a last straw for Gorbachev to save the USSR, but everyone knew that the Baltic states will not going to sign it. They said to him that there will be no such treaty and the head of the Russian Federal Socialist Republic Boris Yeltsin is arrested. He then corrected himself: will be arrested! The conspirators shamefully asked “Dear Mikhail Sergeyevich! We don’t ask nothing from you. Remain here for some time. We will do all the dirty work for you!” Gorbachev insisted that he will not resign and go into any ventures. Then the chief of the USSR Land forces general Valentin Varenikov lost his patience and shouted “Resign!”. He shouted angry remarks about the bad shape of the army, the shameful retreat fro East Germany and the nationalists that do what they want. In the end Gorbachev stood firm against the plotters and asked to inform their masters in Moscow to call the Higher Council or the Party Congress. Plotters in shame left the mansion. Despite the enormous force they had, they could not force their president to resign.

The conspirators  in Moscow were anxious.  The Soviet defense minister Dmitri Yazov informed the army command and issued that the state of emergency is possible. Yazov announced that all resources had to be taken control of. All  state services and the civil security. The Moscow Guard 2th mobile riflemen division  and 4th guard tank division had to take over the city. The 106th Tula paratrooper division was called to Moscow. The conspirators who called themselves the State Committee on the State of Emergency (SCTE) (Государственный комитет по чрезвычайному положению, ГКЧП) with the Minister of the Interior an ethnic Latvian Boris Pugo and the chief of the KGB Vladimir Krychkov issued a state of emergency.

These people were the hardline communists or even neo-Stalinists. Dmitri Yazov a WW2 veteran and Soviet patriot could not bear with the changes made by Gorbachev and the direction the Soviet empire is heading to. Soviet army was forced to leave East Germany and other former Eastern European satellites. Soviet army was unable to stop separatism in the Caucasus and in the Baltic states. Both the KGB and the Soviet army were ready to suppress them with extreme force. But, no direct order from Gorbachev ever followed. Gorbachev himself was against the independence of the Baltic states or other republics. But, he was caught up with the promises to the western leaders, his own mistakes and in belief that things can be solved diplomatically. After the events in Riga and Vilnius in January 1991, he was no longer trusted both by the west and his aides. His principal mistake was to fire the liberal reformers with who begun his Perestroika policy and surrounded himself with hardliners from KGB and the army.

The chief of the KGB Valentin Krychkov was constantly afraid from the “influence agents” from abroad who wants to topple the Soviet Union. He blamed them for the rotten state economy. His most paranoid belief that the western countries are trying to artificially downsize the number of the Soviet citizens. According to his “information’ the CIA plans to lower the demographics of the USSR by 150-160 million people. The Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov considered his western counterparts a “saboteurs”. The Soviet Vice President Genady Yanayev was an ambitious man who felt himself endangered by the incoming changes. All these men feared the signing of the New Union Treaty that would make for some of them to lose their jobs.

The New Union Treaty would replace 1922 Treaty on the Creation of the USSR and replace the USSR with a new country Union of Sovereign States. It would be a less centralized state with more freedoms to participating republics. However, the Baltic States, Moldova, Armenia and Georgia were not going to sign therefore fully breaking away from Moscow. Also people such as Yanayev and Pavlov would lose their jobs. After Gorbachev had removed the Communist party monopoly of power, on March 1990 a plot was born to remove the liberal reformers and encircle Gorbachev with hardliners. They succeed by removing a Gorbachev long time ally Alexander Yakovlev. Other two enemies the Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Boris Yeltsin  Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR were far tougher enemies and was on the arrest list.

After the conspirators learned that Gorbachev had rejected a plea to resign by his own will, the conspirators wanted to remove his power because of his illness. After long hesitation Gennady Yanayev wrote the directive of taking the presidential office. They had lost the legitimacy they hoped to get from Gorbachev now they were playing a dangerous game. The speaker of the Soviet parliament Anatoly Lukyanov also was dissatisfied with the New Union Treaty, however when the conspirators informed about their actions and asked to join, he denounced their actions. However, he merely just asked them to remove him from their plotter list.

First arrests begun on the morning of August 19. The head of the Human rights “Schit” Nikolay Pavlenko met the SCTE men with a tear gas canister and an ax and managed to hurt them before his arrest. However, they could not arrest Yeltsin. He was able to leave his house and with his collage Ruslan Hasbulatov open the extraordinary meeting of the RSFSR Supreme Council. Soviet tanks were present at RSFSR building also called White House, but were not willing to shoot at anyone. Yelstin used this and stepped on one their tanks and declared that the coup has taken place and the legally elected president has been deposed. He asked for all Soviet citizens not to listen to the SCTE. It was a definite movement, the conspirators now encountered a serious enemy. Meanwhile Gorbachev was sealed off from all radio and TV sources and heavily guarded. The head of the Ukrainian SSR   Leonid Kravchuk accepted the coup and did nothing for the president who was imprisoned on his territory.

Boris Yeltsin leading the Russian government

Boris Yeltsin leading the Russian government

However, on August 19 things were still looking bright for conspirators. Except the Baltic States no serious protests took place. Radio stations and newspapers considered rouge were closed. In theory they had enough force to suppress any kind of resistance. But, then on 15:00 first reports of protests and strikes within mainland Russia begun. Yanayev with a shaking hands took a press conference in front of Soviet and foreign journalists. He lied about Gorbachev health state. Meanwhile in the Crimea the major of Yalta where the Gorbachov lived warned Generalov who was responsible for the mansion, that since Gorbachev is no longer in office, the mansion will no longer receive food supplies. To solve this issue, Generalov summoned his employee to Yalta. There Gorbachev ordered to send a letter of two demands – 1) give an airplane to return to Moscow 2) restore communications. This packet was sent and reached Yanayev.

Meanwhile Yelstin had issued that all Interior forces, army and KGB units should subordinate to the president of RSRSR that was Yelstin himself. On the night of 19-20 August the commander of the Taman tank division major Sergei Yevdokimov was not informed why his tanks are in the city center. He only learned the true reason from the crowds that started to gather in thousands. People asked him and his men to join the Yelstin side. They placed metal bars in the tank tracks to make them immobile. He then soon met the RSFSR parliament members who convinced him that this is a conspiracy and Gorbachev is trapped in Crimea. They asked to help him to defend the White House against the possible assault. Major Yevdokimov agreed and when he went back to his men he heard the news on the radio about him joining the Yeltsin forces. He only managed to move six tanks out of 10 because first barricades were built and to escape accidents he left the remaining tanks on the bridge. He himself never acknowledged that he actually joined the Yeltsin ranks, but just agreed to move tanks closer to the White house to escape the civilian causalities.

After watching the infamous press conference on TV Gorbachev asked if Yanayev has received his demands. After not getting any affirmative answer he decided to make an unusual and a desperate step. Since all communication equipment was confiscated he used an amateur TV  camera to record his message to the world. He stated that the reason for his removal was false and its an unconstitutional coup. The message was recorded perfectly, his wife and son in law then dismounted the VHS cassette and planned the way on how to send it to Moscow.

On the morning of 20 August the SCTE was aware of their worse situation. They were unable to impose order in the streets of Moscow and the main rivals were free to whatever they want. Yeltsin who was still free because of the incompetence of the capturing team, was now set to be arrested. Also the parliament building of the RSFRS had to be attacked. The plans were thought out how to do it. The operation was called “Thunder” coincidentally a same name was given to unrealized Stalin’s plan to attack Germany in 1941… However the Generals were worried about the large crowds and barricades and the armed defenders of the White House. The attack was set to start on August 21 at 3:00. The attack would involve regular soldiers, tanks, special forces and snipers.

Yeltsin had called a large rally at 12:00 despite the ban on public gathering thousands came. The Whole Soviet Union was alarmed by the never seen before manifestation. At 20:00 the SCTE held a meeting and realized they are standing on very thin base. Many soldiers joined the protesters. The Eho Moskvi Radio station was not closed because one colonel defended it and now it became the main voice of opposition. The whole square of the White House was filled with large crowds, many were armed with Molotov cocktails.   Then at 21:00 a woman entered the barricades and claimed she has very important information. She was taken to the headquarters of the defenders of the White House.  She claimed her husband a KGB officer has received orders to take part in the attack that would begin at 3:00. Later he masked in hood appeared himself and warned about the special task force Alpha attack. Radio issued all women to leave the square. Defenders gathered in companies and squads made a living defense line. The element of surprise was lost.

Soviet tanks near the White House

Soviet tanks near the White House

Meanwhile the Alpha team was uneasy about their given task. Many did not want to kill their own government and the people. Such an attack would cause enormous losses of life’s on both sides. And the mass media attention from the whole world was more than ever. The SCTE order was insane, and even the Alpha team understood this and in the end asked to cancel the order. At 24:20 a brief battle erupted between the Taman tank division and the protesters in the Sadovoje koļco tunnel on the way to the White house. The curfew was issued to prevent the people from entering the White House square. The Taman tank division was tasked to ensure the curfew. As they moved towards the Smolensk square, they were attacked with stones. Armored vehicles broke through the trolleybus barricades. But, a war journalist first rank captain Mihail Glovlko was standing in the way with the raised hands, he was hit by the fast moving vehicle.  At that moment a 23 year old Afghan war veteran jumped Dmitri Kromar on the BMP 536 vehicle and tried to cover its sightseeing hatch to make it “blind.” The BMP tried to steer its turret to get him off and succeed. But by the hitting the  pole the hatch  opened. Kromar chased the BMP and jumped in it trough the open hatch. BMP made a swift move and threw him out, but his clothes get stuck in the open hatch dragging Kromar on the ground as the BMP moved backwards. 37 year old Vladimir Usov rushed to help and was shot dead by the warning shots from BMP crew.  Another protester throwing rocks Krichevsky was also killed.

All this made the General Yazov to finally cancel the order to attack the White House. It was a suicide for him and the whole coup, but it was the only possible solution. Two KGB mobile brigades was just an hour from the main target. Meanwhile, a special task force landed in the Crimea and was ready to storm the Gorbachev mansion. On August 21 Yazov decided to miss the SCTE morning meeting, making things worse. Now the last chance to save something was flying back to Crimea. On 14:15 Yazov, Baklanov, Lukyanov and others took the plane to Crimea.

However, Yeltsin also wanted to visit Gorbachev. Krysckhov chief of KGB did everything to prepare the SCTE visit in time. He received a message that the SCTE time for the Gorbachev visit was over and at 16:00 the Yeltsin delegation will fly to Foros. Krychkow said that he would join the delegation and asked to postpone the flight until the evening. It was a lie and it was only discovered once the SCTE plane was already in the air. Yeltsin was unable to get there before them and only could bring the plane down which he refused. Conspirators landed at the airfield filled with marines ready to strike the presidential mansion. However, they were convinced that they will be greeted peacefully for a cup of tea.

Instead they were greeted with AK-47′s and Gorbachev refused to talk to them before the arrival of the Yeltsin delegation. Meanwhile the Yeltsin TU-154 airplane made circles around the Belbeck airfield. They were refused to land. After Gorbachev’s communications were restored, the plane landed. KGB special forces silently left the airfield. The Russian government were the ones who brought back Gorbachev home to Moscow. But this was no longer the country he once ruled.

The Baltic States declared full independence and were officially supported by the majority of the world countries. All other Soviet republics followed suit. On August 29 the Communist Party was officially shut down and made illegal. On December 8 the USSR was officially dissolved.

Protesters managed to tear down the statue of the KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. However, the main force behind the August plot the KGB in disguise of FSB still lives on

Protesters managed to tear down the statue of the KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky. However, the main force behind the August plot the KGB in disguise of FSB still lives on

The August Coup attempt was a heavy defeat for the KGB and the ultra patriotic army officials. However, the  KGB survived   and transformed into FSB the Federal Security Service. For many years these people sought to revenge on those who managed to break down the Soviet empire. In the end they succeeded – an ex KGB officer and the director of the FSB Vladimir Putin took over the modern Russia. Since then the Russian policy is based on revenge and revision. It’s a question if a similar situation  where the army and security forces will choose to support the people or to attack the White House like in 1995 by the Yeltsin orders. The Putin’s Russia has not yet reached this critical point and lets hope it will not reach it the same way.

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OMON against Latvian independence 1990-1991

omon

One of the most strongest and dangerous weapons used by breaking Soviet regime was OMON – Отряд Милиции Особого Назначения (Militsiya Special Purpose Unit). The so called “black berets” were heavily equipped and fanatical protector or the Soviet order. It was under command of Soviet Ministry of Interior, made to combat organized crime and support Soviet Police or Militsiya raids, however from 1990 its tasks became more political and toward against the restoration of the Latvian independence. The actions of this unit became violent and criminal and their actions took life’s both in Latvia and Lithuania. It was OMON who was responsible for attack against Latvian Ministry of Interior on January 20 1991 during the time of the Barricades in Riga. The attack on the night of 20 January still sheds in mystery because of the involvement in so-called “third force” and many details of the history of OMON in Latvia still is quite unclear. Here all the known aspects of this unit and the 20 January event is gathered, knowing that many questions still will be unanswered for some time.

The OMON Riga unit was made in 2 December 1988 under the orders of the Soviet Minister of Interior Vadim Bakatin. It was one first of 5 such units in the Soviet Union. The original unit consisted 148 men 20 of them were officers. The commander was Edgars Limmars while the real leadership was held by militsiya officer Česlvav Miljnik and his deputy Sergej  Parfijonov. The working style of the OMON was often brutal; the destruction of the illegal trade places, direct takeover of  the proceeds from crime without documentation and the torture of the suspects. However, in the unstable economic situation when crime level was critical the OMON was praised as a brave fighter of the organized crime.

OMON became involved in politics in May 15 1990 when after protest held by the Interfronte – movement against independent Latvia a large crowd of the Soviet Army officers and military cadets attempted to break in the Latvian Supreme Council building. The OMON used brutal force to disperse the crowd and saved the Latvian national government from trouble. Many saw them as heroes and good allies for independence movement.

However, after the 4 May 1990 when Latvian Soviet Supreme Council voted for Declaration of the Restoration of Latvian Independence the relations between new national Latvian Ministry of the Interior and the OMON begun to deteriorate. The members of OMON were mostly Russian, Ukrainian and Caucasian nationals from Soviet Union who had no sympathy for Latvian fight for independence as they viewed Moscow as their main command in charge.

The conflict begun in June 1990 when new Latvian Minister of Interior Aliozs Vaznis issued many orders that affected OMON. The members of OMON were forbidden to have a part-time job in private security company “Vikings” that caused resentment as it was good way to gain extra funds. Next order was the depolitization of the interior structure workers that OMON resisted. OMON raised a red Soviet flag at their base at Vecmīlgrvāvis in Riga and refused to follow the orders of the Latvian government. Many similarly minded members of the interior ministry joined OMON and its size raised up to 200 members. The Latvian government had no proper units to stand against such well-trained and heavily armed force and now the Latvian independence got itself a dangerous enemy.  And the rulers from Moscow knew about this and looked to use OMON for their efforts.

The situation got worsen when in November 14 OMON was officially disbanded. Minister Aliozs Vaznis ordered to halt payments and food delivery to OMON. The OMON now became stateless paramilitary unit that only subordinated to Soviet Ministry of Interior in Moscow formed of angry and heavily armed men.

OMON now switched to terrorism, attacks and provocations. OMON were responsible for many detonated explosions around Latvia to provoke the national violence so the Moscow can issue a state of emergency in Latvia. OMON attacked the memorial monuments to Latvian soldiers fighting in the German ranks. After that the OMON switched to political buildings in Riga.

In 27 September 1990 OMON invaded the Press House a mid size high-rise building. Press House was home to Latvian Communist Party Central Committee publishing and editorial stuff and printing equipment. Under the pretext of defending the property of the communist party, OMON made difficult for other national newspapers to publish. OMON attacked the Press House again in 2 November 1990 in 7 November during the official Soviet celebrations OMON raised the red banner on the Press House roof.

In 12 December 1990 at 3:10 an explosion took place near the Latvian Communist Party Central Committee society political center at Kr. Valdemara street 5. Then at the night of 18 December someone threw an explosive above the fence and hit the yard of the War prosecutors office of Riga war garrison. Few minutes after that an explosion took place near Latvian communist party Riga regional committee building. A third explosion took place near the Latvian Council of Ministers just 13 meters away from then standing monument of Lenin. In 21 December explosion hit the political war school building territory.   More explosions followed in 26 and 27 December. All of them were specially intended not to make any causalities and to look like a work of Latvian national radicals. The terrorist acts were made to make way for further actions by Moscow to install presidential order in Latvia.

In January 2 1991 OMON took complete control over the Press House. Latvian Minister of Interior Aliozs Vaznis arrived at the site along with deputies of the chairman of the Latvian Council of Ministers Ilmārs Bišers and Dainis Īvāns, but were ignored by OMON. Later at that day the members from criminal militsiya came to document the criminal act and were attacked by OMON, their certificates destroyed and car damaged by bullets.  In January 8 Aloizs Vaznis wrote a letter to the Soviet Minister of Interior Boris Pugo where he informed him about the crimes done by OMON and advised full disbandment of it to escape further crisis caused by them.

In 13 January the Barricade movement begun as the answer to violent events in Vilnius, Lithuania and the actions of the OMON became more extreme. At 14 January OMON opened fire at the Barricade defenders driving by on the Vecmīlgrvāvis bridge. Later at that day OMON assaulted the barricades at Brasas bridge shooting cars and throwing the Molotov cocktails.  At the night of 15 January OMON invaded the Riga police school, abusing the students and vandalizing the school rooms and stealing the weapons.

In January 16 OMON took their first victim. Again attacking the barricades at Vecmīlgrāvja bridge the OMON shot a driver Roberts Mūrnieks who later died in hospital. Now murder was added to the list of the OMON’s crimes and they did not dare the enter the city center filled with crowds of Barricade defenders.

The shot and burned bus by OMON on Vecmīlgrāvja bridge January 1991

The shot and burned bus by OMON on Vecmīlgrāvja bridge January 1991

At the night of the 20 January OMON stopped a bus with five Latvian policeman, attacked them, abused them and took them to their base were they continued to abuse them.

On January 20 21:09 OMON arrived at the city center and assaulted the Latvian Ministry of Interior located then at Raiņa boulevard 6. Just at this time the Chairman of the Council of Ministers Ivars Godmanis on the live air was speaking that the situation has normalized and people may leave the streets. He was cut short just as the live TV reports moved to city center near Old Riga canal where gun fights had erupted all over.

OMON raided the ministry of Interior and killed the militsiya lieutenant Vladimir Gomorovich. The OMON faced an armed resistance from the militsiya unit from town of Bauska who were near the spot and opened fire. However, there was not only OMON there was unknown unit the so called “third force” that based on the rooftops of the ministry and the nearby buildings and first opened fire above OMON men to provoke them, and then at the building and park in front of the ministry. It’s still unknown who was the third force, either some special squad of army or KGB or some other Soviet unit.

OMON gunman at the night of 20 August 1991

OMON gunman at the night of 20 August 1991

The attack was intended to provoke various armed units in Riga on both sides to join the firefight. So that the bloody outcome will result the imposition of the presidential government in Latvia. The direct rule from Moscow would halt the move to full independence.

After a hour of chaotic fire exchange the first news of the causalities were confirmed. Two members of Militsiya on the Latvian side Sergey Kononenko and Vladimir Gomorovich were killed. One schoolboy Edijs Riekstiņš were killed. Two TV operators Andrejs Slapiņš and Gvido Zvaignze who were filming the fire exchange were shot dead.    4 Latvian militsiya members were wounded along with TV operators from Russia and Hungary. It is possible but not confirmed that at the time of the siege one OMON gunman was shot dead, as the video footage showing truck entering the ministry yard and taking away the unidentified body.

The provocation failed as the resistance was not too significant to cause a greater eruption of events. Also just as in Vilnius on 13 January the TV cameras and foreign journalists were all around causing great backlash against Soviet Union.

The Barricades was later removed, but Latvia was not still fully free from Soviet Union and OMON continued to cause mayhem.  Their next target was Latvian customs posts at the borders. As Latvia had declared restoration of the independence, the own border guards and customs were needed. However, the Soviet Union still regarded Latvia as their territory and therefore viewed Latvian customs stations illegal. On the night of the 23 May OMON attacked four customs stations. On 29 May Latvian Supreme Council addressed a protest note to Soviet Supreme Council and Mikhail Gorbachev about the criminal actions of the OMON, demanding to remove them from Latvia. Soviet minister of the Interior Boris Pugo however called the OMON actions according to interests of the society and their actions were made without the consent of Moscow.

The last call for OMON was the August coup in Moscow in 1991. While Latvian government defied against the coup, Latvian communist leaders and members of army and KGB took active part in installing coup in Latvia. In 19. August at 19:15 OMON raided the Latvian TV building and halted the broadcast at 19:30. In 20:30 OMON raided the Riga Interior affairs office, at 20:45 OMON was back at the Latvian Ministry of the Interior. Then OMON seized the base of the First police battalion.   At 22:30 OMON invaded and vandalized the office of the Latvian People’s Front. At 22:15 near the Riga Interior affairs office OMON gunmen killed the driver of Jurmala House of Culture Jānis Salmiņš.

OMON in action in August 1991 at Dome Square Riga

OMON in action in August 1991 at Dome Square Riga

At 20 August OMON continued to take over the main Latvian objects. The Riga International phone and telegraph central and Latvian Radio building. The workers of the Latvian Radio installed a clandestine radio station in Salaspils. At evening together with Soviet Army troops OMON raided the Latvian police training center in Kauguri. Latvia seemed under complete grip under OMON at that time.

However the Latvian government was still working and the coup in Moscow itself faced an unsuspected resistance. On 21 August at 13:00 four armored OMON transporters entered the Dome Square and headed for the Supreme Council building where desperate Latvian government was looking to vote for complete  restoration of the independence. The vote was done in 13:10 and Latvia was now officially a fully independent from Soviet Union. The OMON left the scene at 14:10. At that day the August coup was defeated and officials of the Russian Soviet Federative Republic officially supported the independence of the Baltic states. The OMON retreated to its base at Vecmīlgrāvis an were commanded by deputy of the Soviet Minister of Interior not to leave their base. In August 31 OMON evacuated its base and went to its new location Tyumen, Russia. The one of the most greatest enemies of the free Latvia was ultimately defeated and exiled.

After the regain of the independence the Latvian authorities tried to find and sentence the criminals of the OMON. The main leader of the OMON Sergey Parfjonov was held and arrested at Tyumen airport by Latvian criminal police team. He was sentenced for many years, however he was asked back president of Russia Boris Yeltsin to face sentence at home. He was then amnestied and became local politician. He is still in the international search by Latvia. Two other OMON criminals escaped to separatist republic of Transistria and took important governmental posts. Other OMON men joined the armed conflicts in Georgia at early nighties and supported the movement against Yeltsin in 1993, however they may have been supported Yeltsin himself by making provocations to help Yeltsin issue a state of emergency. OMON men may also be responsible for killing of the St. Petersburg Duma deputy Galina Starovoitov because she stood against hiring the ex OMON members in government offices.

In Latvia Dmitry Mashkov sentenced for stealing jewelry while working at the police despite the fact that he was included in OMON’s criminal file. Later he was held suspicious for attack on Riga Synagogue on 1998 and for the murder of judge Jānis Laukroze. Also Konstantin Nikulin was involved in many criminal cases combined with murders of state officials.

The Riga OMON is just small part of giant list of unpunished crimes made by Soviet Authorities. The records of OMON men after their departure from Riga show that they have not abandoned their criminal lifestyle. Russia still has its own OMON that is tough guard of Vladimir Putin regime. OMON today can be seen at the streets of Moscow arresting opposition activists and dispersing demonstrations. The Russian interior system is just as brutal and criminal minded just as it was 20 years ago. Latvian politicians, security officials and the people must to do anything in their hands not to allow the return of the new OMON in Latvia.

The funeral of the victims of the OMON attack at 20 January 1991

The funeral of the victims of the OMON attack at 20 January 1991

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