BY cutting back drastically on energy supplies, Moscow is cracking down on Lithuania in a way that will hit home for every citizen in the republic. In so doing, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is taking a big gamble: He risks heightened tension with all the Soviet minorities. He risks severe damage to his image in the world. And, as acknowledged for the first time in the Soviet press Wednesday, Soviet-American relations could take a turn for the worse.
If Moscow allows the energy cutoff to drag on, causing severe hardship to the republic, Western governments will face a tough choice: Either make a public offer of help to Lithuania, which would satisfy domestic public opinion but would damage relations with Moscow, or risk public censure by limiting their support for Lithuania to statements.
Lithuania has instituted gasoline rationing, as lines at filling stations have swelled. But according to Lithuanian lawmaker and economist Kazimieras Antanavicius, the government is ill-prepared for the sanctions that Moscow had threatened a week ago.
``I haven't seen and I haven't heard of any concrete plans,'' he said in Vilnius. ``Now, maybe there aren't such important dangers. But after two weeks, the most important danger will be our Lithuanian people. They will be jobless, and ... they must eat something. Who will pay for them? We don't have any rubles. The rubles are only in Moscow. What happens to us?''
Top Lithuanian officials are asking Soviet republics and foreign countries to provide them with fuel supplies directly. Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene and Foreign Minister Algrinas Saudragas are in Norway trying to reach agreements. Norway's government has said its companies are free to sell energy supplies to the Baltic state.
But with Soviet forces guarding every point of entry into the republic, which declared independence on March 11, it remains unclear how Lithuania could receive such deliveries.
``That's the biggest problem,'' says Rita Dapkus, spokeswoman of the Lithuanian parliament. ``There are lots of countries that want to help us, but the coast and borders have been fortified.''
A day after cutting off oil supplies to the resource-poor Baltic republic indefinitely, the Soviet government ordered a drastic reduction in gas deliveries.
According to the director of Lithuania's gas concern, Litvagas, their Byelorussian supplier received orders from Moscow to reduce gas supplies to Lithuania by 85 percent as of noon yesterday Moscow time. The order came in a cable to Byelorussia's Zaptransgas in Minsk, which was signed by Yuri Maslyukov, director of the state planning agency Gosplan, the director of Litvagas told the Monitor.
The remaining 15 percent of gas deliveries will be used for the ``everyday needs of the population,'' he said. ``That means all industries are to stop, including chemical plants and power.''
Of the 18 million cubic meters of gas Lithuania receives each day, they will now be receiving only 3.5 million, according to a message sent from Zaptransgas to Litvagas. The cuts in gas and oil mean Lithuania faces possible electricity brownouts.
Another source of energy for Lithuania, the Ignalina nuclear power plant, is also not functioning as all three reactors have been shut down. One was shut down long ago by popular demand, and the other two were closed a few days ago, one for planned repairs, the other because of alleged leaks in the cooling system. The plant is run by the Soviet Ministry of Nuclear Energy, and some Lithuanian energy officials question the need to have all three reactors closed simultaneously.
Early yesterday morning, Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Romualdas Ozolas announced on Lithuanian television that Soviet troops had closed down an oil pumping station near the republic's main oil refinery at Mazeikiai, to make sure no supplies were getting through.
The Lithuanian oil cutoff came despite attempts by the republic's parliament to ease tensions with Moscow.
On Wednesday, deputies declared a moratorium on new legislation until May 1, provided Moscow agreed to resume talks with Lithuanian representatives. An unofficial delegation is in Moscow to explore negotiations.
The Lithuanians remain firm in refusing to rescind their declaration of independence.
Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis says the energy cutoffs reflect a Soviet Union in crisis, ``unable to find a humane solution'' to its conflict with the republic.
``Lithuania has suffered much graver hardships and if we must suffer these hardships for the sake of the independence of Lithuania, then it is not the worst thing,'' Mr. Landsbergis said in statement released by the Lithuanian parliament press office.
``The Soviet Union's action concerning Lithuania will strengthen the process of self-determination everywhere - in Lithuania, in the USSR, in the Western world. All political forces will have to take a clear stand.''