US embassy cable - 91MOSCOW219

TAKEOVER OF PRESS BUILDINGS IN RIGA AND VILNIUS

Identifier: 91MOSCOW219
Wikileaks: View 91MOSCOW219 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Moscow
Created: 1991-01-03 15:21:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL PGOV PINT UR
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
O 031521Z JAN 91 ZFF4
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO SECSTATE WASHDC NIACT IMMEDIATE 9915
INFO RUEHLN/AMCONSUL LENINGRAD
MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 00219 
 
 
S/S PLEASE PASS TO EUR/SOV VERSHBOW ASAP 
 
E.O. 12356:  DEC;:OADR 
TAGS:  PREL, PGOV, PINT, UR 
SUBJECT:  TAKEOVER OF PRESS BUILDINGS IN RIGA AND VILNIUS 
 
REF:  LENINGRAD 6998 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT 
 
SUMMARY 
/------ 
 
2.  LATVIAN AND LITHUANIAN SPOKESMEN CONFIRMED PRESS 
REPORTS THAT SOVIET INTERIOR MINISTRY (MVD) SPECIAL 
FORCES HAVE TAKEN OVER THE MAIN PRESS BUILDING IN RIGA 
AND ARE OCCUPYING THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE LITHUANIAN 
BRANCH OF THE CPSU IN VILNIUS, REPORTEDLY AT THE 
LATTER'S REQUEST.  ONE JOURNALIST WAS BEATEN WHEN HE 
TRIED TO STAGE A SIT-DOWN STRIKE IN THE BUILDING AND 
ANOTHER EVICTED BODILY, BUT NO OTHER REPORTS OF 
INJURIES HAVE BEEN RECEIVED.  THE OCCUPATION OF THE 
PRESS BUILDING BRINGS TO A HEAD A LONG-RUNNING DISPUTE 
BETWEEN THE LATVIAN GOVERNMENT ON THE ONE HAND AND THE 
SMALL BUT VOCAL COMMUNIST PARTY ALLIED WITH SOVIET 
MILITARY FORCES STATIONED IN THE REPUBLIC AND SOVIET 
MINISTRY OF INTERIOR SPECIAL FORCES.  IT IS STILL NOT 
CLEAR WHO IS CALLING THE TUNE THOUGH:  THE COMMANDER OF 
THE INTERIOR MINISTRY SPECIAL FORCES TROOPS IN LATVIA 
ALLEGEDLY TOLD THE LATVIAN GOVERNMENT YESTERDAY THAT 
THE OCCUPATION OF THE PRESS BUILDING OCCURED WITHOUT 
HIS KNOWLEDGE OR APPROVAL.  THE COMMANDER OF SPECIAL 
FORCES IN LITHUANIA SAID THE SAME THING ABOUT THE 
TAKEOVER OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY BUILDING THERE.  USSR 
MINISTRY OF INTERIOR CONTACTS IN MOSCOW PROVIDED NO 
INFORMATION OR CLARIFICATION ON THE ACTIONS OF TROOPS 
IN RIGA AND VILNIUS. 
 
3.  THE SITUATION IN RIGA IS VERY TENSE, AND THE 
LATVIAN LEADERSHIP IS IN MOSCOW TO TRY TO RESOLVE THE 
SITUATION.  LATVIAN PRESIDENT GORBUNOVS IS MEETING WITH 
GORBACHEV AT 3:00, AND OTHER LATVIAN OFFICIALS ARE 
MEETING WITH USSR MILITARY AND INTERIOR MINISTRY 
OFFICIALS.  THE LITHUANIAN REPRESENTATIVE IN MOSCOW 
APPEARED LESS WORRIED ABOUT THE SITUATION IN VILNIUS, 
BUT SAID PRIME MINISTER PRUNSKIENE HAD CUT SHORT A 
VISIT TO AUSTRALIA AND WAS BACK IN VILNIUS FOR 
DISCUSSIONS ON HOW TO DEAL WITH THE SITUATION.  EMBASSY 
BELIEVES IT WOULD BE USEFUL FOR DEPARTMENT PRESS 
SPOKESPERSON TO CALL FOR A PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF THE 
INCIDENTS.  END SUMMARY 
 
 
TAKEOVER OF LATVIAN PRESS BUILDING NOT UNEXPECTED 
/-------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
4.  LATVIAN PREMREP PRESS SPOKESMAN ARIS JARSONS 
PROVIDED THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION ON THE TAKEOVER BY 
WHAT APPEAR TO BE SOVIET INTERIOR MINISTRY SPECIAL 
FORCES (SPETSNAZ) TROOPS OF THE MAIN PRESS BUILDING IN 
RIGA.  THE BUILDING AND PRINTING ENTERPRISE IT HOUSES 
FORMERLY BELONGED TO THE COMMUNIST PARTY, BUT FOLLOWING 
A LATVIAN SUPREME SOVIET DECREE IN DECEMBER, IT WAS 
AUTHORIZED TO BE TURNED INTO AN INDEPENDENT 
WORKER-OWNED JOINT STOCK VENTURE, WITH 20` OF THE STOCK 
TO REMAIN IN THE COMMUNIST PARTY'S HANDS. SHORTLY 
THEREAFTER, A SMALL NUMBER OF SOVIET INTERIOR MINISTRY 
FORCES BEGAN TO TAKE UP POSITIONS IN THE BUILDING, BUT 
DID NOT INTEREFERE WITH THE WORKINGS.  ON NEW YEAR'S 
EVE, LATVIAN COMMUNIST PARTY CHIEF ALFRED RUBIKS 
APPEARED ON LATVIAN TELEVISION TO PROTEST THE JOINT 
STOCK VENTURE, WHICH HE CHARACTERIZED AS 
"EXPROPRIATION", AND WARNED THAT "SOMEONE WOULD HAVE TO 
PAY" FOR THIS.  THE FOLLOWING NIGHT (JANUARY 1-2), A 
LARGE NUMBER OF SPECIAL FORCES ARMED WITH AUTOMATIC 
WEAPONS TOOK CONTROL OF THE PRESS BUILDING, SURROUNDED 
THE DIRECTOR DUDNURS, AND PREVENTED HIM FROM ISSUING 
ANY ORDERS TO THE WORKERS. 
 
4.  WORKERS REMAINED IN THE BUILDING THROUGH THE 
MORNING OF JANUARY 2, WHILE A LARGE CROWED ESTIMATED IN 
THE THOUSANDS, ACCORDING TO JARSONS, GATHERED OUTSIDE. 
ALTHOUGH THE MVD TROOPS DID NOT INITIALLY TRY TO EVICT 
THE WORKERS, THEY BEGAN TO GET TOUGHER DURING THE 
COURSE OF THE DAY.  THEY BODILY EVICTED ONE JOURNALIST 
AND BEAT UP ANOTHER WHO TRIED TO ORGANIZE A SIT-DOWN 
STRIKE.  MOREOVER THEY ALLEGEDLY TURNED THEIR MACHINE 
GUNS ON VICE PRESIDENT OF THE LATVIAN SUPREME COUNCIL 
DAINIS IVANS WHO SHOWED UP AT THE PRESS BUILDING 
SHORTLY BEFORE NOON, AND TRIED TO ENTER THE BUILDING 
DISPLAYING HIS DEPUTY'S CREDENTIALS.  NO OTHER REPORTS 
OF INJURIES HAVE BEEN RECEIVED.  SOVIET SPECIAL FORCES 
NOW OCCUPY EVERY FLOOR OF THE PRESS BUILDING, AND ARE 
PREVENTING LATVIANS FROM ENTERING.  THERE ARE STILL 
CROWDS MILLING IN FRONT OF THE PRESS BUILDING AND THE 
POTENTIAL FOR VIOLENCE REMAINS STRONG. 
 
 
WHO GAVE THE ORDER? 
/----------------- 
 
THE LATVIAN GOVERNMENT HAS RECEIVED NO OFFICIAL 
EXPLANATION FOR THE TAKEOVER OF THE BUILDING, ACCORDING 
TO JARSONS.  THE LATVIAN SUPREME COUNCIL CHAIRMAN 
SUMMONED THE COMMANDER OF SOVIET MVD SPECIAL FORCES, TO 
RIGA ON JANUARY 2 FOR AN EXPLANATION.  THE LATTER 
REPORTEDLY SAID THAT THE TAKEOVER WAS CARRIED OUT 
WITHOUT HIS KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT, AND HE REFERRED ALL 
QUESTIONS "TO MOSCOW".  THE LITHUANIAN PERMREP IN 
MOSCOW REPORTED A SIMILAR RESPONSE TO HIS GOVERNMENT'S 
EFFORTS TO GET AN EXPLANATION OF THE SPECIAL FORCES 
OCCUPATION OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY BUILDING IN VILNIUS. 
THE COMMANDER OF THE SPECIAL FORCES REPORTEDLY TOLD THE 
LITHUANIAN LEADERSHIP THAT THE ACTION WAS TAKEN WITHOUT 
HIS CONSENT OR KNOWLEDGE.  IN ADDITION, EMBASSY'S 
EFFORTS TO CONTACT THE USSR MINISTRY OF INTERIOR FOR 
CLARIFICATION OF INTERIOR MINISTER PUGO'S REPORTED 
REMARKS THAT HE WAS UNAWARE OF THE INCIDENT IN RIGA AND 
HAD NOT AUTHORIZED THE USE OF SPECIAL TROOPS WERE 
UNAVAILING. 
 
 
GORBUNOV TO MEET GORBACHEV TODAY 
/------------------------------- 
 
THE LATVIAN LEADERSHIP FLEW TO TO MOSCOW TO TRY TO 
RESOLVE THE SITUATION.  PRESIDENT OF THE LATVIAN 
SUPREME COUNCIL GORBUNOVS HAD A 3:00 PM MOSCOW TIME 
MEETING WITH GORBACHEV.  PRIME MINISTER GODMANIS IS 
MEETING WITH GENERAL MOISEYEV, AND OTHER SENIOR LATVIAN 
OFFICIALS ARE MEETING WITH INTERIOR MINISTER PUGO TO 
DEFUSE THE CURRENT SITUATION.  THE TAKEOVER OF THE 
PRESS BUILDING IN RIGA CULMINATES MONTHS OF GROWING 
TENSION IN THE CAPITAL AND FEARS BY THE LATVIAN AND 
OTHER BALTIC GOVERNMENTS THAT THE USSR WOULD RESORT TO 
MILITARY FORCE OR DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL RULE -- INCLUDING 
REPLACEMENT OF THE ELECTED GOVERNMENTS BY OFFICIALS 
SUBSERVIENT TO MOSCOW -- TO FORCE THE BALTICS TO ABJURE 
THEIR INDEPENDENCE CLAIMS.  IN LATVIA, THE DISPUTE HAS 
PITTED THE LATVIAN GOVERNMENT ON THE ONE SIDE, AGAINST 
THE SMALL BUT VOCAL LATVIAN COMMUNIST PARTY ALLIED WITH 
LOCAL SOVIET MILITARY COMMANDERS AND SOVIET INTERIOR 
MINISTRY SPECIAL FORCES.  THE DISPUTE WAS FUELED BY THE 
DECISION OF THE BALTIC DISTRICT MILITARY COMMANDER TO 
HOLD THE NOVEMBER 7 MILITARY PARADE IN RIGA, DESPITE 
THE EXPRESSED WISHES OF THE LATVIAN SUPREME COUNCIL. 
THE LATVIAN SUPREME SOVIET RESPONDED WITH A NOVEMBER 14 
DECREE ANNOUNCING THAT THE REPUBLIC WOULD NO LONGER 
PROVIDE MATERIAL SUPPORT AND SERVICES TO SOVIET FORCES 
STATIONED ON ITS TERRITORY, AND RESTRICTING THE 
ACTIVITIES OF THE LATVIAN COMMUNIST PARTY. 
 
THE DECREE PROVOKED A STRONG REACTION FROM MOSCOW: 
GORBACHEV SINGLED IT OUT FOR CRITICISM IN HIS NOVEMBER 
15 SUPREME SOVIET SPEECH, AND SOME LATVIAN DEPUTIES 
CLAIM IT WAS A MAJOR FACTOR BEHIND GORBACHEV'S DECISION 
TO GIVE THE MILITARY GREATER LEEWAY TO DEAL WITH 
ATTACKS ON THEIR FORCES IN THE REPUBLICS (YAZOV'S 
NOVEMBER    SPEECH).  ALTHOUGH THE DECREE HAS NOT BEEN 
PUT INTO EFFECT, AND HAS NO LEGAL STATUS BECAUSE 
SUPREME COUNCIL PRESIDENT GORBUNOVS REFUSED TO SIGN IT, 
IT HAS NEVERTHELESS BECOME A MAJOR SOURCE OF IRRITATION 
BETWEEN MOSCOW AND RIGA, ACCORDING TO BOTH SOVIET AND 
LATVIAN SOURCES.  MOREOVER, A SERIES OF FIREBOMBINGS IN 
THE REPUBLIC, ALTERNATING BETWEEN SOVIET MILITARY OR 
COMMUNIST PARTY FACILITIES AND LATVIAN NATIONAL 
MONUMENTS (REF A) HAS ALSO HEIGHTENED TENSIONS OVER THE 
SOVIET MILITARY PRESENCE IN THE REPUBLIC.  ALTHOUGH NO 
ONE HAS BEEN HURT SO FAR, THE REPUBLIC LEADERSHIP, 
ACCORDING TO PETERS, IS CONCERNED THAT THE INCIDENTS 
ARE PLAYING INTO THE HANDS OF EXTREMISTS ON BOTH SIDES 
AND COULD PROVOKE GORBACHEV TO IMPOSE PRESIDENTIAL RULE 
IN THE REPUBLIC. 
 
 
LATVIA PROPOSED NEGOTIATIONS ON STATUS OF FORCES 
/-------------------------------------------- --- 
 
ON NOVEMBER 18, LATVIAN PERMREP IN MOSCOW JANIS PETERS 
(PROTECT) WAS AUTHORIZED BY THE LATVIAN SUPREME SOVIET 
TO PROPOSE TO THE SOVIET GOVERNMENT NEGOTIATIONS ON A 
STATUS OF FORCES AGREEMENT ON SOVIET TROOPS STATIONED 
IN LATVIA.  HE TOLD EMBOFF THAT HE MET WITH 
PRESIDENTIAL COUNCIL MEMBER YAKOVLEV, WHO PROMISED TO 
CONVEY THE PROPOSAL TO GORBACHEV.  YAKOVLEV NEVER 
PROVIDED A FORMAL SOVIET RESPONSE TO THE LATVIAN 
OFFER.  HOWEVER, IN A CORRIDOR CONVERSATION WITH EMBOFF 
DURING THE FOURTH CONGRESS OF PEOPLE'S DEPUTIES IN LATE 
DECEMBER, PRESIDENTIAL COUNCIL MEMBER GRIGORIY REVENKO 
(PROTECT) TOLD EMBOFF THAT THE LATVIAN PROPOSAL WAS NOT 
WITHOUT MERIT, BUT THAT SUCH TALKS COULD ONLY TAKE 
PLACE AFTER THE REFERENDUM ON THE TREATY OF THE UNION. 
REVENKO ASSERTED THAT BALTIC ASSERTIONS THAT THE USSR 
WOULD IMPOSE PRESIDENTIAL RULE IN THE REPUBLICS WAS 
PURELY POLITICAL PRESSURE TACTICS. 
 
 
LITHUANIANS SOMEWHAT LESS CONCERNED 
/---------------------------------- 
 
LITHUANIAN PERMREP IN MOSCOW BICKAUSKAS (PROTECT) 
CONFIRMED THAT WHAT APPEAR TO BE SOVIET INTERIOR 
MINISTRY SPECIAL FORCES HAVE ALSO OCCUPIED THE 
HEADQUARTERS OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY IN VILNIUS, 
REPORTEDLY AT THE LATTER'S REQUEST, AND FORCED OUT THE 
LITHUANIAN MILITIA.  BICKAUSKAS, WHO RETURNED FROM 
VILNIUS YESTERDAY, SAID THAT THE COMMANDER OF SPECIAL 
FORCES REPORTEDLY TOLD THE REPUBLIC'S LEADERSHIP THAT 
THAT THE OCCUPATION WAS CARRIED OUT WITHOUT HIS 
KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT. 
 
BICKAUSKAS, WHO HAS PREVIOUSLY EXPRESSED CONCERN THAT 
THE SOVIET GOVERNMENT WAS PLANNING TO IMPOSE ANOTHER 
ECONOMIC BLOCKADE OR DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL RULE, 
CAUTIONED THAT THE SITUATION IN VILNIUS "SHOULD NOT BE 
OVERLY DRAMATIZED".  THE LITHUANIAN SUPREME COUNCIL IS 
MEETING TO DECIDE WHAT STEPS TO TAKE, BUT DID NOT FEEL 
THAT THE SITUATION WAS AT A CRISIS STAGE, AND HAD NO 
PLANS TO SEND REPRESENTATIVES TO MOSCOW TO TALK TO THE 
SOVIET LEADERSHIP.  NEVERTHELESS, PRIME MINISTER 
PRUNSKIENE CUT SHORT A VISIT TO AUSTRALIA TO RETURN TO 
VILNIUS.  BICKAUSKAS WAS CALLED ON HIS DIRECT LINE TO 
THE KREMLIN TO ATTEND THE 3:00 MEETING WITH GORBACHEV, 
BUT DID NOT KNOW WHETHER HE WOULD BE AUTHORIZED BY 
VILNIUS TO ATTEND. 
 
COMMENT 
/------ 
 
THE LATVIAN GOVERNMENT, ACCORDING TO ITS SPOKESMAN, 
APPEARS TO BE MOST ANXIOUS ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF 
EVENTS GETTING OUT OF HAND, AND IS CLEARLY DETERMINED 
TO TACKLE THE PROBLEM AT WHAT IT BELIEVES TO BE THE 
SOURCE -- MOSCOW.  WHETHER THE EVENTS IN RIGA HAVE BEEN 
ORCHESTRATED FROM MOSCOW OR NOT, THERE IS A REAL RISK 
OF GROWING VIOLENCE WHICH WILL NOT BE AMENABLE TO 
PEACEFUL RESOLUTION.  WE, THEREFORE, SUGGEST THAT THE 
DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON MAKE A STATEMENT URGING THAT 
THE SITUATION BE RESOLVED BY MEANS OF TALKS WITHOUT 
RESORT TO VIOLENCE. 
 
 
LENINGRAD MINIMIZE CONSIDERED. 
 
MATLOCK 
 
 
NNNN 

Latest source of this page is cablebrowser-2, released 2011-10-04