Lithuanian President Sees Commonwealth Replacing USSR

THE waves of the new world order have yet to wash over Lithuania, but the president of the Baltic republic, Vytautas Landsbergis, is out to change that. In a recent interview in Washington, President Landsbergis described his country's primary challenge.

``As we speak today, the Kremlin leadership is threatening Lithuania. Unless we agree to return to the central banking, financial, and tax system, and sign the new Union Treaty, the Kremlin is prepared to ruin our economy.... We have received threats related to the Soviet Army,'' he says.

The Union Treaty, according to the draft proposal, would leave Moscow in control of foreign policy, energy, transportation, borders, and the Army. While it proposes greater autonomy for land reform and the privatization of some industries within the republics, it would bind the USSR together under a single banking and currency system and leave much central economic planning to Moscow - a system little altered from the past.

Landsbergis characterizes the treaty as short on sovereignty. ``This treaty actually takes away many of the sovereign rights from the republics and has no provision for them to ever leave the union.''

After briefing President Bush on renewed Soviet pressure during a meeting at the White House on Dec. 10, Landsbergis repeated that his first visit to the US since Lithuania declared independence had one purpose: ``My country is in danger, and I came here to seek political protection from the US.''

Bush says he will ``carefully consider the request,'' but has offered few guarantees beyond restating the official US policy of nonrecognition of the Soviet annexation of the Baltics in 1940.

Still, Landsbergis expresses confidence that US support for Lithuania is forthcoming.

``I have no doubt that in some fashion the US is going to issue a warning to the Soviet Union. What form that warning takes remains to be seen,'' he says, though he does offer one suggestion. ``I support giving aid to the areas of the Soviet Union where it is needed. But it would be appropriate for the US and the Western nations to consider Soviet behavior toward the Baltics as part of their decision to either give assistance or continue it.''

This approach is being pushed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina. In a Dec. 5 letter to Secretary of State James Baker III, Senator Helms, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, proposed that the US tie the passage of most-favored-nation status for the Soviets with a commitment by Moscow to a hands-off policy in the Baltics.

Landsbergis questions Western nations' intentions in sending Moscow more than $30 billion in Western aid in recent months.

``If the West is trying to preserve stability in the Soviet empire, it is a lost cause. The stability will come after the empire reorganizes as a commonwealth of politically independent but economically connected states,'' he says.

``Whatever changes are taking place in the central government in Moscow, there is still the fundamental belief in the Russian empire. New business and economic strategies haven't altered this viewpoint,'' Landsbergis says.

Landsbergis explains that attempts to fortify the central powers in Moscow will only prolong and worsen the transition, and could ultimately undermine Western investments. He says channeling massive world support to this center encourages Moscow to cling to an ``imperial tradition,'' one that will constantly lead to bankruptcy and the need for continual Western replenishment.

``After the decolonization of the USSR, the end result would be cooperation between friendly neighbors instead of coercion of captives by a master - and which is the healthier business climate for the West?'' he asks.

Landsbergis was accompanied on his North American visit by his wife, Grazina. While still a music student, she was deported to Siberia by the Soviets.

``Through czars and Siberia and the Soviets, we have [survived]. We have learned how to do it well,'' she says.

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