Once also the economic blockade and all other attempts to mediation failed, and (most of all, perhaps) once the Lithuanian example inspired other Soviet Republics to secede or at least proclaim sovereignty, Gorbachev felt it was time for military intervention. On January 8, 1991, the military were sent to reestablish control. In three days, the Soviets seized numerous institutions, including the National Defense Department and the Press House. In response, large crowds of Lithuanians gathered around the main institutions in Vilnius, forming a human shield in their protection.
Just after midnight of January 13, 1991, things spiraled. The military encircled the TV tower, soldiers fired live ammunition overhead and into the unarmed civilian crowds, while tanks drove straight through lines of people. Fourteen Lithuanians were killed in the attack, either shot or crushed by tanks, plus one more who died by heart attack, and 702 were injured more or less seriously.
The “January killings” were the first event, during the Singing Revolution, to have a tragic conclusion. However, they also proved to be a sour defeat for Soviet Union: if ever the international community had any doubt on who was the aggressor and who the victim, the images of Soviet tanks shooting on unarmed citizens dispelled any remaining hesitation. From now on, the Western countries started recognizing Lithuanian independence as legitimate. On February 11, Iceland became the first non-Soviet country to do so. Denmark followed on February 28. By the end of August and the beginning of September, most of the Western world joined.
Another tragic episode occurred on July 31, as the Soviet paramilitaries killed seven Lithuanian guards and injured another sixty on the Belarusian border in what is known as the “Medininkai Massacre”. There was of course no border between Belarus and Lithuania during Soviet times, so its establishment, from the part of the Lithuanian state, was interpreted by Moscow as another act of defiance.
On September 6, following a failed coup d’état attempted by the communist leaders against Gorbachev, and after American President George H.W. Bush’s threat that U.S. would react to another military intervention in Lithuania, Soviet Union saw no alternatives than acknowledging Lithuania's independence.
The event marked the ideal ending to the Singing Revolution.
On September 17, Lithuania, along with Estonia and Latvia, became member of the United Nations. One year later, on October 25 1992, the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania (in Lithuanian: Lietuvos Respublikos Konstitucija) was approved, in a form that is still largely unchanged nowadays.
In retrospective, the path leading to Lithuania’s freedom and particularly the fact that it was finally achieved after suffering a military attack, was the perfect proof of the veracity of Gandhi’s famous quote “First they ignore you, then they deride you, then they fight you, and then you win”. Incapable of stopping the growing independentist sentiments and actions, the Soviet regime saw in violence their last chance to restore their authority. But exactly that decision proved they had run out of options, and that they were next to defeat.
Following a peaceful demonstration in defense of the Vilnius Television Tower and the Parliament, on January 13, the Soviet military kill fourteen Lithuanian protesters and injury 702. The “January killings” open the eyes of the international community.
Following a failed coup d’état and America’s threat of military intervention, Soviet Union finally acknowledges Lithuania's independence. The event marks the ideal ending to the Singing Revolution.