Soviet forces arrive in Lithuanian capital to enforce crackdown

January 09, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Soviet armored vehicles rolled through the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius yesterday, and police used fire hoses to keep anti-independence demonstrators from storming the parliament as the Kremlin continued to turn up military pressure on rebellious republics.

In all of the seven republics to which Soviet troops were dispatched Monday to round up draft dodgers, officials expressed fears that defiance of the army call-up was only the pretext for a general crackdown on nationalist movements across the country.

Lithuania, which has been in constant conflict with the Kremlin since it became the first republic to declare independence last March, appeared to be targeted for the most serious action.

Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis appealed to the people on republican radio to guard the parliament against an expected attempt by military and pro-Moscow forces to seize it today. "The only force which can protect us is you, dear Lithuanian people," he said.

An unusual, tendentious statement on Lithuania read last night to the Soviet parliament by its deputy chairman, Rafik N. Nishanov, seemed to lend weight to Mr. Landsbergis' fears, as it all but called for the overthrow of the republic's elected leadership.

In the chaotic atmosphere, the government of Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene resigned last night after controversial price rises were rejected by the parliament.

In Georgia, President Zviad Gamsakhurdia appeared on local television to declare void Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's decree of Monday restoring the legal autonomy of the Georgian province of South Ossetia.

Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs troops occupied South Ossetia in tanks after battles continued Monday night in the provincial capital, Tskhinvali, involving heavy arms and machine guns set up on rooftops by Georgian police. Four deaths were reported.

The only bright news yesterday was the signing of an economic agreement by Mr. Gorbachev and Russian Federation leader Boris N. Yeltsin, who had slashed Russia's contribution to the Soviet budget in an attempt to force cuts in defense and the ministerial bureaucracy. Details of the agreement were unavailable, but Russian officials said Mr. Yeltsin was sticking to his position.

Despite expressions of concern from Washington after paratroopers were dispatched to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and the Western Ukraine to enforce the draft, Moscow appeared to be moving intentionally toward a showdown.

For three years, Mr. Gorbachev's dramatic democratization at home has been seen as inseparable from his aggressive pursuit of better relations with the West.

But now, worried about domestic chaos and under obvious pressure from conservatives in the military, the KGB and the Communist Party, Mr. Gorbachev seems to be separating domestic from foreign policy.

After reformist Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze announced his resignation and warned against dictatorship last month, officials were at pains to stress that his departure would not change Soviet foreign policy.

Yesterday, Gorbachev spokesman Vitaly Ignatenko said the Soviet Union expected the scheduled Moscow summit with President Bush to take place in February as planned.

Reaction from republican officials to the reported deployment of paratroopers was sharp. Estonian officials recommended to draft-age men performing alternative service under a republican law to lie low, not showing up at their workplaces or going to their homes.

Marju Lauristin, deputy speaker of the Estonian parliament, tied the moves against the republics to the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait.

"Now the Soviet government can make real pressure on the Baltics when all the world is looking at the Persian Gulf," she told the Estonian News Agency.

Latvian officials announced they would prosecute under republican law the roughly 1,000 young men who had neither complied with the Soviet draft nor signed up for alternative service under Latvian law. The move was clearly aimed at forestalling action by troops to arrest draft resisters, which military officials said would not begin until after Sunday.

The Latvian parliament authorized its deputy head, Dainis Ivans, who is in Finland, to head a government in exile and represent Latvian interests abroad in the event of a military takeover. The parliament urged citizens not to help the army enforce the draft decree, issued by Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov on Monday with the backing of Mr. Gorbachev.

Conservatives have for some time been pushing for the suspension of republican parliaments and the imposition of direct presidential rule in the Baltic republics, Georgia and other areas resisting Soviet rule.

But while the Georgian-Ossetian violence appeared to give some legitimate basis for military intervention in Georgia, Moscow's actions themselves seemed to be inciting conflict in the Baltic republics, especially Lithuania.

Republican officials say they believe many of the anti-independence demonstrators in Vilnius are military or KGB employees in civilian clothes.

Mr. Nishanov, deputy chairman of the Soviet parliament, said the situation could develop unpredictably in the next few days.

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