Crackdown spurs Europe to suspend aid to Soviets

January 23, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Paris Bureau of The Sun

PARIS -- The European Parliament suspended nearly $1.5 billion in food and technical aid to the Soviet Union yesterday, delivering a stern condemnation of Soviet repression in Lithuania and Latvia.

The parliament's decision to withhold approval of the aid package came a week after European Community foreign ministers warned Moscow against further military crackdowns in the Baltics, following the Jan. 13 deaths of 14 people in the army takeover of a broadcast center in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Last weekend, the Soviet army killed five more people when it stormed Riga police headquarters in a drive to reassert control of Latvia.

"The repression in the Baltic states has made an immediate decision by the parliament impossible," said Alain Lamassoure, the French chairman of the Budget Committee.

In opting to hold up emergency food aid worth $300 million and $650 million in food credits, the Strasbourg-based parliament cut deeper into the Soviet aid program than European Community foreign ministers had threatened.

Torn between uncertainty over who had made the decision to start shooting in Vilnius last week, and over Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's position as he struggles to maintain authority, the European Community had said last week that it would only reconsider about $500 million in technical aid earmarked for transportation and communications projects, but would leave the food aid package alone.

But the military crackdown in Latvia, whose pattern seemed to follow the one in Lithuania, assured Mr. Gorbachev of stiff repercussions.

Within the EC, Denmark and Britain argued for holding up aid to Mr. Gorbachev, while Germany argued for it to go through unhindered -- at least until agreements on the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Germany were ratified by Moscow.

Yesterday, France and Germany announced that they would launch a separate diplomatic initiative to Mr. Gorbachev, independent of the European Community's steps.

The European Parliament did not drop aid to the ailing Soviet system altogether but merely put off a decision until its next session in late February. The 518-member parliament must approve spending in countries that are not in the EC.

Meanwhile, European Community finance and economic ministers planned to continue studying aid to the Soviet Union, keeping a sharp eye on events in the Baltics.

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