Lithuanian Leader Is Not Hopeful

Arrival of key Soviet military commander in capital is condemned by President Landsbergis

THE hopes of Lithuanian nationalists for an easing of Moscow's crackdown faded as a top Soviet military commander arrived in Lithuania to take charge of Soviet troops. Gen. Valery Varennikov, chief of all Soviet ground forces, arrived in Vilnius late Jan. 14, a Lithuanian parliamentary spokesman said.

``Varennikov's name has been associated with great calamities in recent years,'' said Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis at a news conference the same day. ``His appearance in Lithuania doesn't cause great optimism in us.''

In Moscow, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev moved to try to counteract the growing impression abroad that the Soviet Union is taking a major step back to the repressive policies of the cold war era.

On Jan. 15, he nominated Alexander Bessmertnykh, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, as the new foreign minister. The ambassador replaces Eduard Shevardnadze, who resigned last month, warning of the advance of ``dictatorship'' in the Soviet Union.

Mr. Bessmertnykh is closely associated with Mr. Shevardnadze's pro-Western foreign policy and his appointment is clearly intended to calm fears in Washington of a retreat from those policies, particularly cooperation in the Persian Gulf crisis.

In making the nomination, Mr. Gorbachev went out of his way to praise the departing foreign minister, while also making it clear that the nation's policy did not depend on any single individual.

In Washington, presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater had indicated on Jan. 14 that the planned summit in Moscow next month between President Bush and Gorbachev was in jeopardy after the crackdown in Lithuania. He also said US aid to the Soviet Union would be reviewed. Similar reactions have come from countries in Western Europe.

The events in Lithuania ``will inevitably have an impact on our policy,'' the new foreign minister told parliament Jan. 15. ``This is why we should work on ways to avert and avoid similar events,'' he added, according to the official news agency Tass.

But newly elected Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov was almost dismissive of the need for Western aid.

``From the economic point of view, for instance, all West German food aid is enough to feed Moscow for just one day and not even a full day,'' Tass quoted him as telling reporters.

Lithuanian leaders see little reason to believe that a political dialogue with the Kremlin will be successful.

A telephone conversation earlier Jan. 14 with Gorbachev had given Mr. Landsbergis reason to hope that a peaceful solution to the Lithuanian independence crisis could be found, Landsbergis said. He added that Gorbachev told him a Kremlin fact-finding commission sent to the Baltic republic had full authority to mediate the dispute.

But speaking before the Soviet parliament on Jan. 14, Gorbachev described the conversation as ``very unproductive.'' With such a person, he said, referring to Landsbergis, ``it will be difficult to find a way forward for dialogue.'' Gorbachev has often expressed a strong dislike for the Lithuanian music professor turned nationalist leader.

In his statement, Gorbachev harshly criticized the Lithuanian government, blaming it for the conflict that left 15 dead after Soviet troops seized the state television and radio broadcasting center. Gorbachev also promised to permit the Lithuanian health minister to visit installations seized by Soviet troops, but the order was not carried out.

``We know there is chaos in ruling bodies,'' Landsbergis said. ``If the same chaos is in military units, then there is danger to the whole world.''

Landsbergis said he would meet with the mediating commission, comprising three members led by Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, into the early hours Jan. 15. He hoped they would stay until the crisis was resolved, he said.

Meanwhile, Juozas Yermalavicius, spokesman for the Committee for National Salvation, a shadowy front organization of the Communist Party, dismissed the commission's mediation efforts as useless. He repeated the threat that the Salvation Committee would, if necessary, use force to seize power. He described the committee as a revolutionary organization above the Soviet Constitution.

``The time for the commission has long since passed,'' Mr. Yermalavicius said in the hall of the Lithuanian Communist Party Central Committee building during an impromptu press conference as Interior Ministry troops dressed in combat fatigues shuffled past. ``They don't understand the situation here.''

Yermalavicius went on to describe the situation as civil war and said that presidential rule must be introduced immediately to prevent ``pro-fascist nationalist forces'' from causing more trouble. ``If there is no presidential rule, then there could be more bloodshed,'' he said.

Landsbergis said Gorbachev did not mention presidential rule in their phone conversation, but right now Lithuanian leaders place little trust in Gorbachev. Instead, they appear to be pinning their hopes on Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin, who has spoken out strongly against the Soviet military actions in the Baltic republics.

``The best support is coming from the Russian Federation leadership. This is a force the Kremlin has to reckon with and may serve as an example for Western countries,'' Landsbergis said.

Mr. Yeltsin has been planning a visit to Lithuania, a parliament official said, but details had yet to be worked out. Meanwhile, the Salvation Committee threateningly commented that it could not guarantee Yeltsin's safety.

Inside the Parliament building, it looked as though the Lithuanian leadership had decided to cut its losses if a tank or air assault comes. Barricades still remain in place outside the building, but furniture that had been piled in windows inside has been removed from the windows. Many of the volunteers guarding the building on previous nights appear to have left the premises. Outside, citizens have begun spiking their Soviet passports on wires jutting out of barricades. Some burned their documents.

Tens of thousands of Lithuanians waited hours in line to pay their final respects to 10 of the victims of the Jan. 13 assault by troops on television facilities.

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