Baltic leaders ask for support after border attacks Soviet 'Black Berets' blamed for attacks

May 26, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Leaders of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia appealed for international support yesterday against what they said was a new campaign of force and intimidation directed by Moscow to disrupt Baltic independence.

Their appeal followed a series of attacks by Soviet troops in the last four days on border posts set up by the Baltic states along their boundaries. They were carried out largely by "Black Beret" troops based in Riga, Latvia, and in Vilnius, Lithuania, who take orders from the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs but increasingly resemble a vigilante force.

At least 14 border posts have been hit, their premises ransacked or burned and their employees beaten and humiliated.

The attacks come as Moscow seeks massive aid from the West to try to maintain living standards during a tumultuous transition to a market economy.

Mixed signals on Soviet economic plans and needs already are making Western leaders wary of committing to any "new Marshall Plan" for the Soviet Union, as a Soviet deputy prime minister called it yesterday. Violence by Soviet troops on the Baltic borders, and earlier in Armenia, may add to Western skepticism.

"As long as attacks on people and facilities continue, it is impossible to take seriously assurances about the continuation of reform and the development of democracy in the Soviet

Union," said the appeal from the Baltic Council. It was signed by presidents Vytautas Landsbergis of Lithuania, Anatolijs Gorbunovs of Latvia and Arnold Ruutel of Estonia, the Baltfax news agency reported.

They said the border attacks recall the period preceding open violence by Soviet troops in Vilnius and Riga in January. "We face once again a large-scale coordinated operation against all three Baltic states at one time," the statement said.

Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin, asked yesterday about the violence, said he had raised the issue Friday with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. He said Mr. Gorbachev had promised to look into the matter.

Boris K. Pugo, Soviet minister of internal affairs, denied yesterday that the Black Berets, known formally as OMON for their initials in Russian, had taken part in the raids, according to the newspaper Izvestiya. He said no attacks were ordered by Moscow.

But Leningrad television reporter Alexander Nevzorov, a Russian nationalist closely associated with the OMON units, showed footage Friday night of the Black Berets attacking customs posts, roughing up their employees and setting their buildings on fire.

Mr. Nevzorov's role in the border violence appears to be %J considerable, since he has been present at most of the incidents, urging the troops on and justifying their actions on the air.

He first associated himself with the forces of reaction in the Baltic republics after the night of Jan. 13, when Soviet troops seized Lithuanian broadcast facilities by force, killing 14 civilian demonstrators.

Mr. Nevzorov began running a series of broadcasts justifying the soldiers' actions as necessary to defend the rights of the Russian-speaking population in Lithuania, whom he described as nashi," or "ours."

His broadcasts are widely viewed as crude propaganda targeting less-educated Russians with appeals to nationalism and resentment of other nationalities. But they have a wide audience.

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