Soviet delegates named for Baltic talks, but republics are skeptical

February 02, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev appointed delegations yesterday for discussions with the three Baltic republics, but there was no sign that the Soviet leadership was prepared to open serious independence negotiations with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Joint army-police patrols ordered by Mr. Gorbachev began in Moscow and in cities all over the country despite widespread protests that they are unconstitutional, unnecessary and dangerous.

A promise from Internal Affairs Minister Boris K. Pugo that the patrols would not be started over the protests of local authorities was broken in several places, including Lithuania and the Russian Federation.

Baltic officials dismissed the delegation announcement as a Kremlin move designed to soften Western and domestic criticism in the wake of last month's violence without making any real changes.

"There's nothing new in this," said Estonian Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar after participating in a meeting of the Federation Council, which includes officials of all the republics and Mr. Gorbachev.

"These commissions have been set up to delay matters," he told the Baltfax news agency.

Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis said the announcement "is not the sign of the Kremlin's good will that we are waiting for." He noted that Mr. Gorbachev's decree refers to the three republics as "Soviet Socialist," words dropped by their parliaments last year.

According to official reports, the Federation Council condemned the use of force in Vilnius and Riga last month in which 20 people died. But it also told the Baltic republics they should suspend their unconstitution al acts -- in other words, their independence declarations.

Mr. Gorbachev, partly by inviting a number of hard-liners to speak, was apparently able to avoid a direct confrontation with the republican leaders. His chief rival, Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin, snubbed Mr. Gorbachev and presided at his own parliament's session while sending a deputy to the Federation Council.

The delegations to the Baltics are stacked with officials of precisely those Soviet institutions that most vigorously oppose secession of any republic: the military, the police, the state-planning monopoly Gosplan and the defense industries.

At least two top military officials of those appointed, Chief of Soviet General Staff Mikhail A. Moiseyev and Deputy Defense Minister Valentin I. Varennikov, signed an open letter to Mr. Gorbachev in December calling for a state of emergency and other tough measures to foil "separatists."

According to Mr. Savisaar, the Estonian prime minister, General Varennikov made some very tough remarks at yesterday's Federation Council meeting.

He said agreement with Lithuania will be impossible while Mr. Landsbergis remains president.

More significantly, according to Mr. Savisaar, he declared that "the Baltics have become a testing ground for Western ideology and a seedbed for the future strategic plans of the U.S.A."

Mr. Gorbachev's earlier decree on the army-police patrols was also assessed by many Soviet citizens as deceptive. Aimed at legitimizing the secret, Dec. 29 patrol order of Mr. Pugo and Defense Minister Dmitry K. Yazov, it cited rising crime as requiring military backup for the police.

But many people believe the patrols are dictated by politics. They say the patrols are a giant step toward imposing martial law without following any of the legal niceties of Soviet law, including consultations with republican legislatures.

"This doesn't have anything to do with crime. This is all part of a bigger plan, I fear," said one Soviet journalist.

In Moscow, elected leaders had condemned the patrols. The Russian Federation parliament had appealed to Mr. Gorbachev to halt the patrols until there could be a ruling on the constitutionality of the decree.

But the Moscow police chose to obey Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Pugo, a hard-liner whose appointment as minister of internal affairs in November made the patrol order possible. Sources said, however, that Moscow officials managed to bargain the number of patrols down to 63 from over 100, to minimize weapons carried, and to insist that the armored vehicles foreseen in the decree not be used.

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