Lithuania faces Soviet reprisals, parliamentary leader says

WASHINGTON -- A year after Lithuania launched a drive for independence that spread throughout the Soviet Union, the Baltic republic is still facing threats of economic and military reprisals from the Kremlin, President Bush was told yesterday.

Vytautas Landsbergis, president of the Lithuanian Parliament, said he asked Mr. Bush for "political protection" in the form of some sort of rebuttal to Soviet assertions that they retain sovereignty over Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors, Estonia and Latvia.


The president made no promises during a 40-minute White House meeting except to continue asserting the U.S. refusal to recognize the forcible Soviet takeover of the Baltics in 1940, administration officials said. But Mr. Landsbergis said he was optimistic that more might be done.

"We compare the situation in Lithuania in 1940 to the situation in Kuwait in 1990," Mr. Landsbergis said. "We do not wish on the Kuwaitis the same experience of 50 years of waiting [for independence.]"


The comparison with Kuwait was in part a reminder that last year at this time, before the Iraqi invasion swung world attention to the Persian Gulf, much of the news was focused on the daring move by Lithuania to wrest free of Soviet domination.

By spring, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev had cut off the flow of fuel and other supplies to Lithuania and swelled the ranks of Soviet troops stationed there to stifle the independence movement.

The struggle added a tension to the U.S.-Soviet relationship that lingered even through the Bush-Gorbachev summit in Washington last June. But it seems to have been largely forgotten, with the two nations now working to beat back Iraqi aggression in the gulf region.

In fact, the White House appears ready to announce this week a package of emergency food and medical assistance to the Soviets to help get them through a tough winter.

Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who is scheduled to meet with Mr. Bush tomorrow, said he had requested the aid during preliminary talks in Houston with Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

But White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater insisted yesterday that U.S. concern for the Lithuanians has not waned.

"There are no economic sanctions in place at this point, but there still is definitely tension in the situation," Mr. Fitzwater said, referring to relations between Lithuania and the Kremlin. "I would say the situation does not appear to have improved any."

Since the Lithuanians first began their breakaway a year ago, the rebellion has spread to most of the 15 Soviet republics, prompting some to predict that the central government may fall.


"I see positive things happening in the Soviet Union: not a disintegration, but a decolonization," Mr. Landsbergis said.

The result, he predicted, would be a commonwealth of 12 Soviet republics, with the three Baltic states going their own way.