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The last defenders of the USSR, or why the Riga riot police went to court
The last defenders of the USSR, or why the Riga riot police went to court

With the advent of independence from the USSR in Latvia, only a handful of special forces dared to resist the new political forces, who decided to defend the Soviet order to the very end with arms in hand. In January 1991, the entire Latvian police swore allegiance to the new government, becoming the national police. The only exception was the Riga OMON. They were outlawed, fired at their bases, and pressured on their next of kin. But desperate men in black berets still hoped to reclaim a country that no longer existed.

Soviet agony and the first OMON detachments

OMON was among the first to appear in the Baltics

In the late 80s, the USSR was seriously feverish. Events unprecedented for a Soviet person took place - massive anti-government rallies agitated the whole country, from Moscow to Central Asia. It became more and more difficult to cope with the growing popular aggression, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs had to master new methods of work. In 1988, the first special-purpose militia units appeared in the power structures, designed to prevent public unrest. The Riga OMON initially consisted of 120 well-trained fighters. The share of Latvians was at most 20%.

In May 1990, the Latvian Supreme Council, with the majority of representatives of the Popular Front, proclaimed a course for the restoration of independence and the formation of an alternative government. This is how a dual power was formed in Latvia. The protege of the new forces, Minister of Internal Affairs Vaznis, transferred the OMON to personal subordination, initiating a purge based on ethnicity. But the commander of the detachment refused to obey the minister, officially declaring that he would act exclusively within the framework of the Soviet Constitution. Vaznis responded by stopping payments to riot policemen of monetary allowance, issuing ammunition and fuel. But the riot police continued to stand their ground, replenishing with ideological fighters.

Clashes between radicals and riot police

Riga OMON, 1988

On January 13, the Popular Front gathered a rally in support of the newly minted authorities and in protest against the Lithuanian pro-union actions. By the evening, the strategic objects of Riga began to grow overgrown with barricades. The barriers were erected with the help of heavy equipment, concrete blocks and metal structures provided by the directors of large enterprises. The defenders of the new regime also stepped up to guard the barricades in an organized manner. Their food was provided by promptly deployed field kitchens.

The local riot police decided to act. The next day, the soldiers of the unit disarmed the city police department, setting up their base there. The object of attention of the riot police was the bridge on the Milgravsky canal, which connected the special unit's base with the city center. While unblocking the local barriers, a passing driver died from a stray bullet. This episode prompted the Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to make a serious decision - to allow police officers to open fire to kill the riot police who threaten strategically important targets. In the following days, the wife of the OMON platoon commander was injured at the hands of unknown persons, and their post and convoy were fired upon. Moving away from the threat, the riot police found shelter in the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which was presented as a criminal assault. In the course of the shootout in the street, 5 people were killed, about a dozen were wounded.However, according to eyewitnesses, the fire was fired from the rear of the OMON, and the cameramen, who pointed their lenses towards the building occupied by the OMON, were shot in the back. In a later interview, a representative of the Soviet Prosecutor General's Office, Kostyrev, argued that the OMON had simply fallen into a trap. Other supporters of the provocation version also recalled that the details of what was happening did not point to the confusion of actions on the wave of the seizure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs buildings, but to a pre-planned operation. From the control panel of the Department of Internal Affairs, a message was received from the officer on duty, surprised at the prompt deployment of live television from the scene of the shootout, and the trapped riot police several times transmitted from the militia building messages about unmarked armed men who were around.

After negotiations with the security forces, the OMON was forced to retreat to the base, lacking sufficient forces to hold the facility, repel attacks, and lost the support of the allied authorities. It is noteworthy that after this episode about half a thousand Riga policemen came out in support of the riot police and demanded the minister's resignation.

The last hope for a putsch

Riot police at the base in August 1991

By the summer of 1991, the Baltic confrontations escalated, and along the former administrative border with the union republics, border points appeared in the form of trailers with representatives of the newly created security forces. The riot police decided to start liquidating the anti-union customs formations, taking people out into the street and burning mobile "customs".

When the State Emergency Committee took power in Moscow in August 1991, the Riga riot police got hope. Without hesitation, they disarmed the only combat-ready police battalion in Latvia "White Berets". Having seized weapons and equipment at their base, the riot police again took control of the strategic buildings in Riga. There was no resistance, the "assault" nationalist detachments of the nationalists fled, and the work of the newly minted government was paralyzed. It would seem that the riot police won, but the fate of the USSR was not decided at all in Riga. The coup failed, and the riot police who took control of Riga instantly turned out to be the soldiers of the now non-existent country.

Deportation and sentences

The riot policemen defended their name with honor

The OMON was on the defensive all the time while Moscow was negotiating with Riga. They were offered to voluntarily surrender their weapons, armored vehicles and equipment under the guarantees of unhindered sending one by one to the territory of Russia. There were also proposals to surrender the command staff and go home. But Latvia was forced to concede. The soldiers chose to leave with dignity, taking all their weapons, documents and families. On their armored personnel carriers the inscriptions were white: "We'll be back!" 14 military planes loaded with people and equipment soared into the sky in the direction of Tyumen. Then there were Yeltsin's betrayals, trials and sentences. But the Riga riot police defended their Union.

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