THE crisis in Lithuania has brought a rebirth of Soviet propaganda methods. The official news media have portrayed the military crackdown on the democratic government in Lithuania in terms unrecognizable to Western eyewitnesses.
From the start, the Soviet people have been told that Soviet troops intervened to support the demands of the local population for ``order,'' ending conditions of chaos. Here is a chronology of the Soviet media campaign:
Jan. 7: The Defense Ministry announces deployment of paratrooper units to seven republics, including the three Baltic republics, ``to help enforce the draft.''
Jan. 8: About 5,000 mostly Russian demonstrators organized by the Communist Party assault Lithuania's parliament in a protest against price increases. The nationalist-controlled parliament reverses the price policy, forcing the resignation of the Cabinet. ``The crisis of power in Lithuania is intensifying,'' the Tass news agency reports.
Rafik Nishanov, the chairman of the Soviet parliament's Council on Nationalities, tells parliament that the Lithuanian population demands order to end the ``numerous violations of basic human rights, the defilement of Soviet soldiers' graves and monuments, and disregard for the main provisions of the Soviet Constitution.''
Jan. 9: Lt. Gen. Franz Markovsky of the Soviet Army General Staff tells Soviet television that paratroopers will not perform ``gendarme functions'' and that ``the military command is not planning a military coup in any of the Soviet republics.''
Mr. Nishanov, on the instructions of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, meets a group of unnamed representatives of ``Lithuanian public and democratic organizations'' who demand ``direct presidential rule in Lithuania to protect human rights and ensure security and normal living conditions.'' Soviet media play up reports of a Communist rally in Vilnius demanding to end the ``paralysis of power.''
Jan. 10: Mr. Gorbachev sends a message to Lithuania's parliament in which he threatens to respond to demands to impose presidential rule from ``numerous'' organizations and citizens unless the republic revokes its pro-independence laws and follows the Soviet Constitution.
The Lithuanian Communist Party organizes strikes in enterprises mainly manned by Russian workers to demand dissolution of parliament and presidential rule.
A new prime minister and Cabinet are elected. Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis rejects Gorbachev's ultimatum. Tass reports ``the Lithuanian leaders are whipping up tension, using as a pretext the appeal of the Soviet president.''
Jan. 11: A previously unknown ``Congress of Democratic Forces of Lithuania'' led by the Communist Party sends an ultimatum to the government demanding it respond to Gorbachev's appeal by 3 p.m. local time. Otherwise, ``a Committee for the National Salvation of Lithuania will be formed to take over the future of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.''
Soviet troops storm key facilities, including Lithuanian defense department and publishing house, a move Tass describes as a measure ``to return property to the legitimate owner - the Communist Party Central Committee.''
Jan. 12: The newly created Lithuanian Committee for National Salvation issues a statement: ``The republican authorities have lost control over the course of events and are trying to retain their influence through deceit and demagoguery.... The National Salvation Committee considers it its duty to take all power and avert the economic crisis and a fratricidal war.''
Jan. 13: At 1:00 a.m., Soviet troops assault the television and radio center, leaving at least 13 dead and more than 100 injured. At 9:29 a.m., Tass briefly reports the ``incident'' saying the clash left two dead, including one serviceman, and about 30 wounded.
Later Tass says: ``Since anti-Soviet broadcasts were constantly conducted through the channels of national television and radio and hostile remarks against the leadership of the USSR were voiced, the leadership of the National Salvation Committee decided to bring state television and radio under control.''
Tass claims troops fired only after ``aggressive behavior by a group of militants.'' At 3:57 in the afternoon, it cites Lithuanian officials reporting that 13 people were killed and 112 injured.
On the evening TV news, Interior Minister Boris Pugo, repeating Tass's version of events, denies allegations of a military coup as ``groundless rumors,'' and says the steps were taken in response to a violation of the rights of part of Lithuania's population.