Soviet troops fire on Lithuanian cars censure fails in Russia

January 25, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Soviet troops opened fire yesterday on two official Lithuanian cars following their column of armored vehicles on a road outside Vilnius, injuring one person, officials of the Baltic republic said.

The Soviet military claimed, as it has in previous shooting incidents, that the soldiers were fired on first, according to the Tass news agency. Soldiers seized one of the alleged gunmen.

Lithuanian officials said the incident, like troops' seizure of a newsprint warehouse Wednesday, violated President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's assurance Tuesday that there would be no more uncontrolled attacks by troops.

The military apparently is intent on showing that it still acts with impunity in the Baltic republics, despite vehement criticism in the West and in the Soviet Union of assaults by troops in Vilnius and Riga, Latvia, that cost 19 lives.

The continuing war of nerves and bullets seems to be aimed at intimidating the Baltic republics, beginning with Lithuania, into backing away from their independence demands. While it appears unlikely that Moscow is controlling troops' actions in every case, Mr. Gorbachev's reluctance to condemn clearly the earlier, fatal shootings appears to have given the troops license to act as they please.

Meanwhile yesterday, in a defeat for both the Balts and for Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin, Communists in the Russian Federation parliament blocked a resolution condemning Soviet troops' violence in Lithuania and Latvia.

The resolution, already considerably watered down, received 117 votes in favor and 51 against, falling nine votes short of the necessary half of all the deputies required to pass.

The vote --ed hopes that the parliament of the giant Russian Federation would follow Mr. Yeltsin in taking an official stand defending the republics against the political demands and military force of the Soviet government.

"The parliament today has suffered a defeat -- at the hands of its own members," said a demoralized Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, Mr. Yeltsin's top deputy. He called the failure the result of "a very clear-cut policy of a certain group of deputies who do not want to take part in constructive work," clearly the Communists.

Andrei Eizan, a Latvian government envoy in Moscow, said Russia's failure to condemn the violence was "a great misfortune." While he said he hoped a resolution still might be passed next week, he told the Baltfax news agency that he feared it would come too late to have any meaning.

Western governments, having for weeks soft-pedaled an obvious hard-line turn in Mr. Gorbachev's policies, reacted with sharp criticism and threatened to drop economic and other cooperation. More than 100,000 people demonstrated in Moscow against the violence and demanded Mr. Gorbachev's resignation. Mr. Yeltsin denounced the troops' moves and signed an agreement with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to help guarantee one another's sovereignty.

Before the shooting was reported yesterday, Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis accused troops of kidnapping

TC two draft-age students and of breaking promises to keep him informed of military movements around the republic.

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