Russia's Baltic Pantomime
Internal Red Army watchdog group argues the January Baltic crackdown had Kremlin backing - and that the repression continues.
ON the night of Feb. 12, a team of KGB agents and Red Army soldiers went to the Vilnius railway station to make an arrest. They did not go, however, to round up the usual suspects of Lithuanian dissidents, draft resistors, or journalists. Instead, three Soviet military officers - one a deputy in the Russian Federation Parliament - were picked up and charged with illegal possession of weapons and drug trafficking, and taken at gunpoint into custody.
The captured were members of Shield - a reform-minded organization of Soviet army officers with a reputation for taking ``in house'' business of the Red Army outside. They were scheduled to take the night train to Moscow where they planned to share the findings of their investigation of Bloody Sunday with the Russian Federation Parliament.
The officers - all ethnic Russians and none from the Baltics - were released a day later. Shield reported to the Lithuanian Parliament and to the Moscow News that the failed Jan. 13 coup d'etat against the Lithuanian government by the National Salvation committee and its parent Communist Party could not have begun without approval by the highest Kremlin powers - President Gorbachev, Defense Minister Yazov, Interior Minister Pugo and KGB chief Kryuchkov.
Satellite tapes confirm that military command in Moscow and Vilnius maintained contact throughout the siege. Contrary to Gorbachev's claims made as late as Feb. 28, Shield found no evidence of civilian provocation of Soviet troops. Referring to the Moscow backed assault as a war crime, Shield recommended trial in an international court for the organizers of the coup. The report concluded with a prediction that further violence in Lithuania is likely - a forecast now taking shape.
The next week Oleg Shenin came to town. Mr. Shenin is a Politburo member, secretary of the Central Communist Party and architect of a plan formed last August by Moscow to destabilize conditions in the Baltics. A meeting in Vilnius of the Communist Party during which Shenin was the featured guest, invited ``like-minded communists from Byelorussia, the Ukraine and all the Soviet Union,'' to come to Lithuania and join an armed defiance of the Landsbergis government. The Party - whose leader is Gorbachev - now invites outside gunmen to Lithuania from other republics. The suggestion alone of such a bold provocation violates even the Soviet constitution.
The proposed scenario has, however, appeared in recent Soviet history in several places - particularly in areas where independence drives are strong. In the north of Georgia last year ethnic Ossetians were mysteriously armed with impressive supplies of weapons identical to those used by the Soviet Army. When armed clashes with the independence- minded Georgians erupted, Soviet troops intervened as ``peacemakers.'' In Vilnius and Riga, unexplained explosions are seen as a prelude to this Soviet maneuver.
DESPITE Gorbachev's warning that the Feb. 9 plebiscite in Lithuania was against Soviet law, 85 percent of eligible voters turned out with 91 percent voting for independence. Latvians and Estonians voted for independence last week. Gorbachev maintains, however, that a Moscow-sponsored ballet on March 17 would have legal standing if as few as 10 percent of the voters cast ballots - a tally he might muster if Soviet Army conscripts participate.
Though President Landsbergis offered to assist Soviet citizens in Lithuania should they want to participate in the March 17 referendum, Moscow plans to use the Communist Party as election organizers - the same Party that organized Bloody Sunday.
Many Balts view the coming Moscow-sponsored referendum as a cue for presidential rule.
While Soviet troops prepare a retreat from Eastern Europe, the pullback in the Baltics, lauded by Foreign Minister Bessmertnykh as Gorbachev's olive branch, is a myth. A withdrawal of 20,000 extra troops is misleading since twice that are permanently garrisoned there. More important are the kinds of Soviet military present in Lithuania. Several special forces divisions remain. These veteran units are highly trained and motivated for domestic assaults and led the massacre at the TV tower. The Amon MDNM or Black Berets, a separate force of KGB mercenaries, have not left. More tank divisions arrived this week.
Still occupied by Soviet troops are the Vilnius broadcast center, press building, police academy, paper distribution plant and civil defense headquarters. Black Berets are replacing enlisted men as guards. As if for emphasis, three red Soviet flags fly over the radio and TV building.
Lootings are common. One Soviet officer boasted an 80,000 ruble windfall from the sale of his ``trophies'' taken from the Vilnius radio station. Abductions of draft-age men continue.
The new Kremlin committee appointed to negotiate with Vilnius for Lithuania's political future has neither the power nor the intention to even consider independence. With a makeup of Soviet military and intelligence hardliners, their motive is to buy time and pantomime good faith for the West - while Moscow continues Baltic destabilization, according to Lithuania negotiators.
The one year anniversary of Lithuania's declaration of independence on March 11 will go by without celebration. People on the street speak about the terror of Bloody Sunday in present tenses. The Parliament remains barricaded - surrounded by concrete slabs and dump trucks decorated with pictures of the Virgin Mary and the saints. Sand bags pile high. Anti-tank ditches fill with snow. Lithuanians have no plans to remove them.
``They will stay,'' says Landsbergis: ``From that part of the world we have come to believe nothing and expect anything.''