Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, returned home early yesterday from a congressional tour of the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, convinced they will be "fully independent."
"I just hope and pray it will be without violence," he said.
Mr. Cardin was part of a 14-member congressional delegation headed by Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, that left for the republics a week ago -- just hours after Lithuanian citizens, in a non-binding popular vote, backed a declaration of independence by a 13-to-1 margin. Similar elections are scheduled March 3 in Latvia and Estonia.
Mr. Cardin, whose grandparents were from Lithuania, expressed concern at what he described as the Soviet military's "intimidation" in the republics, where troops began what were called "training exercises" as the election was held. A month ago, 14 people were killed when Soviet troops attacked demonstrators at Lithuanian broadcast facilities.
Mr. Cardin said the Baltic presidents all felt the need for U.S. pressure on the Soviet Union.
"They were absolutely convinced that [Soviet President Mikhail S.] Gorbachev did not anticipate the strength of the U.S. protest when they moved into Vilnius. The people in Estonia particularly believe they were spared violence as a result of reaction in the West to violence by the Soviets in Vilnius and Riga," Mr. Cardin said.
"All the presidents indicated willingness to negotiate with the Soviets on security treaties, non-native populations and economic exchanges with the Soviet Union, but the Soviets instead have sent tanks in. That's no way to negotiate -- through fear."
In Moscow, Mr. Cardin said, the delegation met with Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin, the chief rival to Mr. Gorbachev. Mr. Cardin quoted Mr. Yeltsin as saying that "the struggle in the Baltics is really the struggle for democracy in the Soviet Union, and that it must succeed in the Baltics if it is to succeed in the Soviet Union."
"They're going to get their independence," Mr. Cardin said. "They have it now. You can't turn the clock backward."