Kremlin may widen crackdown to include Latvia and Estonia

January 16, 1991|By New York Times

MOSCOW -- There were growing signs that the Kremlin was preparing to follow up the military crackdown in Lithuania with similar actions in the other Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia.

In the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius the National Salvation Committee, the new pro-Moscow body being used as an apparent front for inviting the Soviet military to intervene, called yesterday for direct rule by President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Similar calls were heard as well in Latvia and Estonia at pro-Moscow rallies organized by Communist Party leaders loyal to Moscow.

In Lithuania, the National Salvation Committee charged that the government, which is led by Lithuanian nationalists, was preparing to "unleash direct military actions" and "pogroms" against pro-Moscow Russians and other residents. Today, Lithuanians were burying 10 victims of last weekend's Soviet military assault.

In Moscow, where the question for some days has been whether the apparent crackdowns came as the result of a Gorbachev order or were in effect forced upon the president, Gorbachev continued to defend the army's actions in the Baltics heatedly.

As he staunchly spoke for the Lithuanian crackdown, he seemed very much the man in charge and hardly a reluctant figurehead.

The Soviet leader also directed anger at Boris N. Yeltsin, the president of Russia, the Soviet Union's largest republic, who has attempted to rally opposition to the Kremlin's Baltic actions.

Yeltsin's suggestion that Russia might need to form its own police force and army units in self-defense was criticized by Gorbachev as a "gross violation" of the law and a "political provocation" that heightens the nation's tension.

Other republics, the Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia and Moldavia have closed ranks behind the Baltics.

Yesterday, Gorbachev leveled criticism of Latvian officials in a way that some took as a signal that a crackdown in their republic might be next.

The Kremlin clearly sought to bolster the case for direct rule by Gorbachev in the republics by presenting an extensive television news dispatch in which central authorities claimed to have intercepted secret coded instructions for a Lithuanian military plot against Communist and Soviet authorities.

The charge echoed some of the pretexts of past Kremlin military interventions in Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

The net effect was to suggest that advance justification was being laid by the Gorbachev government for some major new Kremlin action.

In the face of this, the Lithuanian independence government focused on making a last defensive stand in Vilnius, building a 15-foot deep trench around the Parliament building and 5-foot-high concrete barriers against a feared attack by Soviet tanks.

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