3 Baltic Republics Ally for Secession : Independence: Presidents agree to coordinate their political efforts in dealing with the Soviet Union. A regional council formed in 1934 is re-established.


The three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined forces Saturday in their struggle to secede from the Soviet Union, pledging to coordinate their political efforts to achieve independence and to cooperate in economic development.

In a declaration signed by their presidents, the three republics affirmed their determination to stand together in a united front to force Moscow to recognize their independence and resist its mounting pressure to back down.

“We have to stick together always,” Estonian President Arnold Ruutel, who hosted the conference, said in Tallinn, the Estonian capital. “We must give a hand to one another, these three small nations of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, because in the past we have always worked together in difficult times.”

The declaration, though broadly worded, lays the foundation for a joint strategy in the three republics’ now separate campaigns for independence and to make their cause an international issue of much greater magnitude.


“The Baltic governments intend to conduct negotiations with the Soviet Union, having agreed among themselves on a position of not deviating from the principle of independence,” the leaders said in a joint communique, which was published at the end of their meeting.

The three republics would like to meet jointly with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Ruutel said following the four-hour conference at Tallinn’s 18th-Century Toompea Castle. But they remain willing to negotiate individually as well, he said.

“Such an approach could break the deadlock on the Baltic issue,” Ruutel said of the proposed joint negotiations. “This is a unique historical event. We must join our hands together in a declaration of unity.”

So far, Gorbachev has refused to negotiate except on the basis of the Soviet constitution and present laws--terms that the Baltic republics reject as requiring repeal of their recent declarations of independence and recognition of Soviet sovereignty.

The three Baltic presidents also agreed to re-establish the Council of Baltic States, which brought their republics into a loose union in 1934, and they said they would ask for their inclusion in the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and then the United Nations and other international bodies on the basis of their membership in the old League of Nations.

The Council of Baltic States will meet regularly at various levels to make non-binding recommendations on coordinated policies to the three governments on a range of political and economic issues, officials said. Together, the three republics have a population of about 8 million.

The three republics last week put into effect new economic policies intended to create an integrated market in agricultural produce and farming equipment and supplies--a move that draws them out of the centrally managed, state-owned Soviet economy and brings them closer to the market economy with its entrepreneurial energy that they want for the future.

Although political leaders in all three republics have spoken before of the need for cooperation in their struggle for independence, the intense nationalism of each has made such coordination difficult. Estonia and Latvian leaders, moreover, have been openly critical of their Lithuanian counterparts for what they see as hasty action, virtually precipitating the present crisis, in rushing their declaration of independence.

But after the Saturday discussions, which officials said were conducted largely in Russian, a firm agreement appeared to have emerged on extensive cooperation, starting with political coordination.

“Our trilateral meeting presents a real possibility for solving the Baltic issue,” Ruutel told reporters, saying that with a coordinated strategy the three republics would be able to press Moscow for negotiations and dramatize the independence issue more effectively abroad.

The documents were also signed by President Vytautas Landsbergis of Lithuania and President Anatolijs Gorbunovs of Latvia.

While all three Baltic republics declared their independence from the Soviet Union in the past two months, each has done so in a different way, pursuing different strategies and using different tactics.

Moscow has opposed all three secession moves, insisting that each republic must resolve the issue through negotiations based on the Soviet constitution and new legislation that requires a five-year wait. Estonia and Latvia have large Russian minorities, many of whose members want to stay in the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev, moreover, is concerned that the secession of one, two or even all three Baltic republics, which together constitute less than 3% of the Soviet population, could lead to greater separatism and the eventual breakup of the country as a federal union.

In its wrath, the central government has hit Lithuania, the first and boldest in its secessionist move, with severe economic sanctions, attempting to prevent it from breaking away and to discourage others from following the same course.

“The circumstances are now more acute for Lithuania than for Latvia or Estonia,” Lithuania’s Landsbergis said. “Thus the solidarity that we feel from Latvia and Estonia is becoming more important. . . .

“Now we are creating a united front against the Kremlin’s economic and military pressure, which threatens not only Lithuania but all three Baltic countries.”

Landsbergis said that, with perhaps enough fuel for only 10 days, as many as 300,000 people could be out of work soon in Lithuania as factories close for lack of electrical power and raw materials.

In separate letters to Gorbachev and President Bush, the three Baltic leaders appealed for international recognition of their nations’ independence as a way to promote world peace and European stability as the two leaders prepare for their summit meeting in Washington at the end of the month.

The Baltic republics should be treated like the countries of Eastern Europe that “also lost their independence in World War II,” they wrote to Gorbachev. “The only countries whose governmental independence has not been restored up to now are the Estonian Republic, the Latvian Republic and the Lithuanian Republic.”

Their forced incorporation into the Soviet Union under a pact with Nazi Germany was “an act of occupation,” the three leaders declared, and must be reversed.

“The realization of generally recognized norms of international rights in relation to the Baltic republics--former full members of the League of Nations--will strengthen peace, disarmament and cooperation in all of Europe.”

In a similar letter to Bush, the Baltic leaders made clear their hope that he would use the forthcoming Soviet-American summit to press Gorbachev to recognize their republics’ independence. Secretary of State James A. Baker III is expected to raise the issue this week when he meets in Moscow with Gorbachev and Eduard A. Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister, to prepare the agenda for the summit, which begins May 30.

“We must now do all we can to achieve our goal--the sovereignty of our three nations,” Gorbunovs said, reflecting the Baltic leaders’ renewed determination to pursue their countries’ independence.

In Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, government officials reported that a column of more than 100 Soviet military vehicles drove through the streets about 1 a.m. Saturday in what many residents took to be further pressure to get them to renounce their independence declaration.

Times staff writer John-Thor Dahlburg, in Vilnius, contributed to this story.

Baltic Economy Without Moscow The Baltic republics joined forces in their effort to secede from the Soviet Union. The three pledged to coordinate their political efforts. Map shows selected major Baltic economicresources. Shaded areas: Market gardening, veetables, dairy farming: Estonia All other areas: Livestock, potatoes, vegetables: Tallin, Riga, Klaipeda, Kaunas, Vilnlus Machine-building, metal-working centers: Tallin, Riga, Liepaja, Kaunas Major electric generating plant: n equals nuclear power, t equals thermal (oil or coal): Estonia, Riga, Vilnlus Source: CIA