Lithuania Anticipates Kremlin Clash
AN uneasy calm settled over Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, June 4, after Soviet troops appeared in the streets overnight and began conducting identity checks. The troops, some in armored cars, set up checkpoints the evening of June 3 near key government buildings, including the parliament, and at bridges, the airport, and the railway station, said Rasa Tautvydas, a spokeswoman for the parliament's information bureau, in a telephone interview. The troops supposedly were looking for draft dodgers, Ms. Tautvydas added.
``They dismantled their posts by about 1 a.m.,'' Tautvydas said June 4. ``At this point, it's calm. There's no sign of troops on the streets.''
The action, however, came the same day that a Soviet prosecutor's preliminary report was issued, freeing the military of blame in the deaths of 13 civilians during an assault on Vilnius television facilities Jan. 13. The report, signed by Prosecutor Nikolai Trubin, blamed ``unconstitutional activities'' encouraged by the Lithuanian leadership for the deaths, calling the use of troops to settle the situation justified.
``The leadership of the Soviet interior troops ... and the Vilnius garrison, in order to provide safety and law and order and to prevent mass riots and to disarm the militants ... took appropriate measures,'' the report said.
The document, distributed to members of the Soviet parliament, went on to say Lithuanian militants, not soldiers, killed the 13 unarmed civilians during the assault on the television facilities.
The report runs contrary to hundreds of eyewitness accounts from local residents and foreign journalists, who say the troops fired on the unarmed civilians. The Lithuanian prosecutor's office condemned the report, saying it contained outrageous lies.
Lithuania has often faced off with the Kremlin since the Baltic republic declared independence last year. After a period of relative calm since January, tension has been rising in the last several weeks with the destruction of customs posts established along the borders of Lithuania and Latvia. Lithuanian officials have blamed elite Interior Ministry troops for the attacks.
Mr. Trubin's report, coupled with the military's activity on June 3, has caused concern among Lithuanian leaders that another buildup to confrontation is occurring. The Lithuanian government has tried unsuccessfully to contact Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov for an explanation of the June 3 maneuvers.
``[Lithuanian parliament leader Vytautas] Landsburgis has raised the alarm that the latest events may signal another attempt to stop Lithuania's drive to gain independence,'' said Tautvydas.
Plans were under consideration June 4 to increase security at the parliament building, she said, adding that civilians could be called on to surround the building as a protective measure.
The incident comes as Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is striving to secure foreign aid. Promising that the Soviet Union would carry out democratic reforms, he has pushed hard of late for an early summit meeting with United States President Bush, as well as an invitation to the July Group of Seven meeting of industrialized nations in London.
It is unclear what effect the latest trouble in the Baltics may have on Mr. Gorbachev's bids to win foreign aid. The Baltic crackdown was one of the primary reasons a Bush-Gorbachev summit was postponed earlier this year.