Mikhail S. Gorbachev today called Lithuania's declaration of independence "illegal and invalid" but urged patience, saying Moscow's relations with the Baltic republic will continue unchanged for now.
He said a commission was studying how to respond to Lithuania's action.
In comments to the Congress of People's Deputies, Gorbachev indicated that Lithuania's independence drive is likely to encounter formidable resistance. He said the Kremlin will not begin negotiations with the three Baltic republics on the independence they are seeking.
"We cannot talk about negotiations," he said. "You carry out negotiations with a foreign country."
But several lawmakers said it was likely Gorbachev will soften his position.
The Soviet leader told the 2,000 deputies that Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov and a commission were studying the Lithuanian "situation." On Sunday, Lithuania's legislature reclaimed the sovereignty the nation lost 50 years ago.
Gorbachev won applause from the Congress when he said the Kremlin will not give in to demands to negotiate independence with republics seeking independence, including the other two Baltic states--Latvia and Estonia.
The Lithuanians want recognition as a sovereign state and the start of talks on secession. On Monday, the Estonians called for talks with Moscow on independence. All three republics were forcibly annexed in 1940.
At one point, calling the Lithuanians "comrades," Gorbachev paused and then said, "I think they are comrades."
The Soviet leader made a point of welcoming the presence of Lithuanian deputies at the Congress. But Lithuanian Deputy Vaidotas Antanaitis said they now considered themselves observers.
Antanaitis read excerpts from the declaration of independence, together with appeals for recognition of their sovereignty. He said Lithuania wants good relations with Moscow and called for negotiations.
Gorbachev offered no reaction.
Another Lithuanian deputy, Algimountas Chekuolis, said he believed that the Soviet leader will soften his position. "Gorbachev is a realist," he said. "He'll change his stand."
Ingrik Toome, a deputy and premier of Estonia, said Estonians and Latvians were upset by Gorbachev's statement that there would be no negotiations, but added that the Soviet leader might not yet have fully explained his position.
"So far, many of his political steps have shown that he has to start these negotiations," Toome said.