President Mikhail S. Gorbachev today called Lithuania's declaration of independence "alarming" but gave no indication he plans any action to prevent the Baltic republic from breaking away.
He did not, however, acknowledge the legality of the move, continuing to refer to Lithuania as a Soviet republic and not by the new name adopted by Lithuania's legislature.
Another member of the ruling Communist Party Politburo told reporters that the Kremlin will deal peacefully with Lithuania.
"We will not use force," Yegor K. Ligachev told reporters at the Congress of People's Deputies in Moscow. "We must resolve this by political means." Ligachev is believed to be one of the more conservative members of the party's ruling body.
Gorbachev, opening a new session of the Congress, noted that the chairman of the Lithuanian delegation was absent from his chair on the stage with other members of the Presidium.
"The information coming from Lithuania is alarming, and momentous decisions are being made there that will affect both Lithuania and the Soviet Union," Gorbachev told more than 2,000 deputies.
The lawmakers had assembled in Moscow today to consider constitutional amendments that would create a new, extraordinarily powerful Soviet president and revoke the Communist Party's monopoly on power.
Gorbachev said the Congress should study the "decisions adopted in the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic," ignoring the republic legislature's action Sunday declaring a sovereign "Republic of Lithuania."
Just two weeks after pro-independence candidates won a two-thirds majority in Lithuania's legislature, the body met in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, and voted to restore sovereignty after 50 years of Soviet rule.
Lithuanian lawmakers acknowledge, though, that true independence can only be won after long, difficult negotiations with the Kremlin.
In Washington, the Bush Administration expressed support for Lithuania's move toward independence but said it will delay formal recognition until the Lithuanians are "in control of their own destiny."
White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said the United States will urge the Kremlin to "respect the will of the citizens of Lithuania." The United States has never recognized the forcible 1940 annexation of the three Soviet republics--Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Lithuania's declaration of independence represents perhaps the biggest crisis yet for Gorbachev, who marked his fifth anniversary as Soviet leader on Sunday.
Meanwhile, a divided Soviet Congress debated Gorbachev's proposal for a powerful presidency, and the plan faced possible rejection for lack of the required two-thirds majority.
But Sergei Stankevich, a progressive deputy who has fought placing so much power in the hands of one man, said he would have to cave in if Gorbachev were to stake his own leadership on the issue.
The session fell behind schedule and closed for the day without a vote on the presidency, despite Gorbachev's urgings to keep to a tight schedule.