MOSCOW -- The Kremlin's confrontation with defiant Soviet republics deepened yesterday, with Georgia's parliament vehemently rejecting an ultimatum from President Mikhail S. Gorbachev as a "declaration of war" and Russian Federation leader Boris N. Yeltsin taking the side of seven republics in their showdown with Moscow over draft resistance.
Meanwhile, in a candid newspaper interview, Mr. Gorbachev declared that "in all the major directions of perestroika, we have occupied the last trenches," beyond which it would be impossible to retreat. To give more ground to the republics, he said, would inexorably mean "the breakup of the union."
He rejected charges from both Soviet and Western observers that the country was headed toward dictatorship.
"Firm authority is needed, but that is not a return to dictatorship. Nonsense!" he told the newspaper Golos (Voice). "I won't be a dictator!"
In Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, a rally of pro-independence forces, summoned by President Vytautas Landsbergis to defend the parliament, dwarfed a demonstration by Russian workers and other opponents of independence. Officials had feared the Russian protesters might try to seize the parliament building.
But paratroopers arrived in Vilnius by air and truck, and armored personnel carriers were stationed around the republican television sta
tion, witnesses said. In Latvia and Estonia, the situation also remained tense, with officials fearing Moscow-backed forces might try to topple the elected leadership.
A Defense Ministry spokesman, replying to White House criticism of the reported dispatch of troops to the Baltic republics, said that additional paratroopers were being sent only to Lithuania. Sufficient troops already were on hand in the other republics to search for draft dodgers, he said.
Meeting in emergency session, Georgian legislators voted unanimously to condemn Mr. Gorbachev's decree of Monday ordering all local armed personnel, including Georgian police, out of the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
"If an attempt is made to forcefully remove detachments of Georgian police from this region, the Supreme Soviet of Georgia will consider this an effective declaration of war against the Georgian republic," the parliament's resolution said, according to journalists in Tbilisi, the republican capital.
Mr. Gorbachev's decree had attempted a compromise, by canceling both South Ossetia's act of secession from Georgia and the Georgian parliament's decision to strip the province of its autonomous status. A similar decree seems to have calmed passions in Moldova.
But the Georgian parliament, following the lead of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, declared the decree "interference in the internal affairs" of Georgia.
Yesterday Mr. Yeltsin condemned the order to use paratroopers to round up draft dodgers in the Baltic republics, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia and the western Ukraine, saying: "I am against such a decision. Violence leads to greater violence. We must, therefore, negotiate."
Mr. Yeltsin said the draft enforcement order, signed by Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov with the backing of Mr. Gorbachev, amounted to a "frontal attack" on the republics."There will be frontal attack in response," he said.
Instead of using force, Mr. Yeltsin said, "it is necessary to sit down with each republic and very carefully examine the problem and find a solution." He cited as a model his negotiations with President Gorbachev over Russia's contribution to the union budget, which were completed successfully Tuesday.
Mr. Yeltsin's position carries a great deal of weight for two reasons:
* As leader of the giant among Soviet republics and indisputably the most popular politician in the country, his stance is likely to reduce any public support Mr. Gorbachev may have been counting on in his standoff with the republics.
* In effect, he is the political leader of the overwhelming majority of the troops to be used to enforce the draft order, since they are Russians.
Under Mr. Yeltsin's leadership, the Russian parliament already has passed two resolutions warning union officials that it will not tolerate indefinitely the use of Russian draftees to police interethnic conflicts.
A generally harder line from Mr. Gorbachev has been perceptible since autumn.
In his interview with Golos, he said that in his six years in power, he had "lived several decades and several lives." If his goal had been dictatorial power, he would never have launched reforms, he said.
"I could have been a dictator long ago, when the general secretary of the Communist Party wielded more power than anyone else in the world. Not a single dictator wielded such power, not a single Pinochet!" he said, referring to former Chilean leader Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Mr. Gorbachev said the republics had taken sovereignty, which he said was his idea, to absurd lengths.
To permit the breakup of the union or the end of socialism, he suggested, would be to betray the memory of his grandfather, who had been tortured by Stalin's secret police, and his father, who had been severely injured in World War II.
"Are we going to say they -- our fathers and grandfathers -- lived for nothing? Then what would we be worth?" he asked.