Staunton, January 20 – The barricade movement in Riga in January 1991 was a far more serious challenge to the Soviet system than the demonstrations in Vilnius, but had Mikhail Gorbachev backed the OMON and had it disarmed the Latvian forces, the Soviet Union could yet have been saved, Yevgeny Krutikov argues. But he didn’t and it wasn’t.
The attack on Latvian patriots 30 years ago today in Riga generally takes a back seat to the events of Vilnius a week earlier (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/01/soviet-state-terrorism-in-riga-in.html); but Riga represented a far more serious threat and a real chance to put an end to it, the Vzglyad commentator says (vz.ru/society/2021/1/20/1081069.html).
In an article which details the moves of the Latvians, including defunding the OMON, building barricades, gaining the loyalty of many police units, and in some cases arming themselves as self-defense forces, Krutikov says that Moscow faced a real armed insurrection, one that it had to suppress.
Many of his claims can be challenged, but he is certainly correct in asserting that “Latvia in those stays stood on the brink of a civil war” between the Latvian people and the Soviet forces of order. Had the OMON been supported by the KGB, the military and Moscow as a whole, it would have been able to “defeat and disarm the illegal armed formation of the Popular Front.”
That organization, the Moscow journalist argues, “already de facto controlled Riga.”
But that didn’t happen. “Gorbachev refused to take on himself even a minimum of responsibility for the events in the Baltics, and other government figures and agencies acted in a confused fashion, sometimes contradicting one another, and being opposed by the liberal circles in Moscow.”
The OMON was left on its own as the defender of the USSR. It acted appropriately, Krutikov argues; but because it was not supported, it couldn’t save the situation either in Latvia or in the USSR as a whole.
The commentator clearly wants to justify the arbitrary use of force that the OMON engaged in, but his remarks have another consequence: they highlight how far Latvia had moved in the direction of giving real content to the recovery of its independence, far further than its neighbors in key respects, although that is seldom recognized.