* Soviet forces killed 13 Lithuanians defending independence
* Ex-Soviet republic became keen member of EU, NATO
* Now Lithuanians worrying as Trump seeks deals with Putin
By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS, Jan 13 Lithuanians on Friday
commemorated the night in 1991 when 13 compatriots were killed
by Soviet forces in an ultimately futile bid to crush their
nation's new independence but U.S. President-elect Donald Trump
has filled many with new fear for the future.
Trump's praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin and vows
to improve relations with the Kremlin, his questioning of U.S.
commitments to NATO allies and Russia's resurgent assertiveness
have revived deep insecurities in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia
more than two decades after their breakaway from Moscow's yoke.
Lithuania's annual commemoration to honour the 13 unarmed
civilians who died to defend its recovery of independence has
always been both poignant and celebratory. But now it comes with
unease about whether Trump's America will keep protecting the
fervently pro-Western region in Russia's neighbourhood.
On Friday's 26th anniversary, bonfires burned throughout the
night, Lithuanians wore forget-me-not pins in their lapels, and
many brought children to show where they stood their ground
against Soviet troops on Jan. 13, 1991.
"January 13 was a big lesson to anyone who thinks that
freedom is a given," Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told
"I'm worried, although not yet scared, because I think
foreign policy is not determined solely by a president," said
Jonas Mikalauskas, 36, one of those who gathered on Friday at
the memorial to those who resisted the Soviet crackdown.
Lithuania proclaimed independence in March 1990, becoming
the first Soviet republic to do so, and Moscow tried to foil the
secession with an economic blockade. When that proved
ineffective, Soviet troops still garrisoned in the capital
Vilnius attacked its TV broadcast tower and sole TV station,
killing 13 civilians standing as human shields there.
HUMAN SHIELD AROUND PARLIAMENT
On hearing the news later that night, thousands more flocked
to parliament to ward off a feared Soviet attack. Moscow's
forces returned to barracks and later withdrew from Lithuania
after the entire Soviet Union broke up later in 1991.
"The people were everywhere, around the parliament building
and inside the building, very enthusiastic. And they were ready
to die for independence," Jonas Zukas, Lithuania's Chief of
Defence who was part of the ragtag volunteer militia that stood
guard inside parliament 26 years ago, told Reuters.
Last year, Lithuania started a trial over the 1991 deaths,
charging in absentia dozens of former Soviet officials,
including 92-year-old ex-defence minister Dmitry Yazov. Moscow
refused to cooperate, calling the trial political..
In 2014, spooked by Putin's annexation of the Crimea region
in Ukraine, Lithuania reintroduced conscription and began
expanding its military, aiming to boost defence spending to 2
percent of gross domestic product by 2018.
The Baltic states' long-term security, however, is tied up
with their membership of the European Union and NATO as well as
the U.S. commitment to underwriting European security, something
Trump questioned during his election campaign.
U.S. troops have been stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and
Estonia since April 2014 to reassure them following Russia's
annexation of Crimea.
Up to 1,000 German troops will be deployed in Lithuania from
next month, and U.S. troops and armour arrived in Poland this
week, as part of NATO-agreed measures to create a more credible
deterrent to any Russian military moves against eastern Europe.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and