Gorbachev Rebuffs 2 Republics : Secession: Declarations of independence by Estonia and Latvia are ruled illegal. Action opens the way for sanctions.
President Mikhail S. Gorbachev ruled Monday that the declarations of independence by Estonia and Latvia are illegal, opening the way for sanctions against the two Baltic republics if they seek to implement their decisions to secede from the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev, in a statement released by the official Soviet news agency Tass, said that the Estonian Parliament acted “without consulting the people of the republic” and by “ignoring the existing economic, political, cultural and legal ties” with the Soviet Union.
Latvia, he said, went “against the rights and interests of other subjects of the Soviet federation” when it declared itself an “independent democratic republic” with its resolution on the “restoration of sovereignty” on May 4 and thus violated the Soviet constitution and laws.
Gorbachev, using the broad presidential powers he received under a recent constitutional amendment, declared both actions as “having no juridical force from the moment of adoption” and said that any legislation based on them would be void as well.
Both republics had tried to avoid a direct confrontation with the Kremlin by making clear their desire for negotiations with the central government rather than seceding through unilateral actions, and Latvia proposed a step-by-step transition to independence.
But Gorbachev’s decrees, putting the Latvian and Estonian actions in the same category as neighboring Lithuania’s bolder unilateral declaration of independence, made clear his determination to resist this dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The Estonian and Latvian presidents, along with the president of Lithuania, had appealed directly to Gorbachev on Sunday for immediate talks on their determination to secede from the Soviet Union, inviting him to name a time and place and offering to meet other conditions.
Gorbachev’s action, while expected, consequently appeared to deepen the crisis begun when Lithuania declared its independence March 11 and then rushed through its Parliament extensive legislation to implement it.
The Soviet president immediately declared that action void and later imposed economic sanctions, including an embargo on oil, raw materials and natural gas for industry. The sanctions are squeezing Lithuania harder each day.
A public opinion poll published Monday showed that Gorbachev has national support for his strategy in dealing with the secession crisis in the three Baltic republics.
Surveyed by the National Center for the Study of Public Opinion, 60% of the respondents said that “under no circumstances” should military force be used, and 57% said that the central government’s standing abroad would be enhanced if it opened negotiations with Lithuania.
But the poll, published by the widely read weekly newspaper Arguments and Facts, also showed that 95% of those surveyed in Lithuania said that the republic’s declaration of independence represents the republic’s will and that even outside Lithuania, the feeling is growing that the republic will eventually leave the Soviet Union.
Pro-Soviet, anti-independence groups are planning protests in all three republics today.
In the Latvian capital of Riga, thousands of leaflets were dropped from military helicopters Monday urging people to join an anti-independence demonstration outside the Parliament building and to support a brief general strike.
The leaflets urged people to “take to the streets” and “demand the restoration of Soviet power,” according to local officials. Workers were encouraged to converge on the Parliament building, where “a handful of traitors and political adventurers, who are deciding our fate instead of us, should tremble at the sound of the working class,” the leaflets said.
Tensions escalated in Riga on Monday as Soviet army officers, most of them Russians, attempted to enter the Latvian Parliament building with a petition protesting the declaration of independence, according to the Latvian Popular Front. While the front strongly favors independence, 46% of the population is not Latvian, and most of them are believed to oppose the move.
The front said that about 200 officers left only after President Anatolijs Gorbunovs appealed for calm. Their entry was blocked by the building’s guards and by Latvian women who were there to protest their sons’ service in the Soviet armed forces.
With supporters and opponents of independence planning to gather outside the Parliament buildings today, a larger confrontation is expected.
In Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, officials of the Communist Party that remain loyal to Moscow said that coordinated protests are planned for all three Baltic republics to demonstrate not only their opposition to secession but also their continued ability to mobilize their supporters effectively.
In Estonia, Russian workers announced plans to demonstrate in front of the Parliament building today, according to news reports from Tallinn, the capital.