Hard hit by a Soviet shut-off of oil and gas supplies, breakaway Lithuania late Wednesday formally offered to suspend laws enacting its independence declaration if the Kremlin agrees to talks to end a political crisis now in its third month.
"This is a clear concession we are making to Moscow," the speaker of the Lithuanian Supreme Council, Aleksandras Abisalas, said by telephone from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. "We do not hide the fact that it is a retreat; we have done everything possible."
Abisalas, however, acknowledged that the concessions approved by the Lithuanian Parliament do not include a specific demand from Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev that the declaration of independence also voted by the lawmakers on March 11 be suspended.
"When you have a chasm behind you, you can only take one step back," Abisalas said.
When reminded of Gorbachev's explicit demand, he acknowledged that he doubts the resolution as approved will cause the Soviet leadership to break off its five-week-old economic sanctions that are taking a heavy toll on the resource-poor Baltic republic's economy.
Abisalas said the Lithuanian government is counting on pressure from President Bush during next week's superpower summit and other foreign governments to bring the Soviet Union to the bargaining table and persuade it to end economic sanctions.
In a speech earlier in the day, Lithuania's president, Vytautas Landsbergis, called on his countrymen to "survive as though we were in a surrounded fortress." He said during parliamentary debate that he sees no hope that Moscow will lift its economic embargo, which has put thousands of people out of work and closed factories that are now deprived of their energy sources.
"We are poor, but we will not starve to death," Landsbergis said. "Our main weapon is unity and stamina."
Gasoline sales to private motorists were to cease as of Wednesday, since the Soviet Union is the republic's sole source of petroleum. "Not one drop" of oil has flowed into Lithuania since Soviet economic sanctions were imposed in April, Abisalas said.
In a report on the paralyzing effects of the economic sanctions, Lithuania's official Radio Vilnius said that over one-fourth of industry is now idle at some point during the workday because of the shortage of energy or supplies.
The radio cited official figures that said 19,000 industrial and agricultural workers are jobless because of the sanctions, which it said had cost the republic $75 million.
Municipal hot water supplies to private homes in the republic of 3.8 million people could be curtailed as early as Friday for want of fuel to heat the water, officials have said.
In its attempt to end the crisis, the Lithuanian Supreme Council, by a 74-15 vote with 10 abstentions, offered to suspend temporarily "actions and decisions arising from realization of the March 11, 1990, acts of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania related to interests" to be defined later by both parties.
Abisalas said that vague formulation was intended to be broad enough to embrace laws Gorbachev has objected to specifically, including a measure freeing Lithuanian youths from compulsory Soviet military service and another establishing identity cards for Lithuanian "citizens."
The freeze on laws disputed by Moscow would go into effect with the start of "interstate negotiations" between the Lithuanian and Soviet governments, the document says, and would remain in effect as the talks continued.
The offer from the Lithuanian Parliament was to be handed to Gorbachev or his representative by staff members of the republic's mission in Moscow, Lithuanian officials said. They said it was unclear when Gorbachev would receive it.
Lithuania, like its Baltic neighbors of Estonia and Latvia, became independent after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution caused the break-up of the multi-national Russian Empire. But all three lands were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940 after a non-aggression pact the Soviets concluded with Nazi Germany consigned them to the Kremlin's orbit.
Estonia and Latvia this spring also proclaimed their intention to secede, though more gradually than Lithuania.
However, in a meeting Tuesday with the two republics' presidents in Moscow, Gorbachev reportedly rejected their step-by-step approach as a violation of the Soviet constitution. He has repeatedly insisted that the three republics follow procedures laid down by a new law on secession, which would require negotiations to fix reimbursement for local investments made by the Soviet government.
When debate on which concessions to offer Moscow began in Lithuania's Parliament on Saturday, deputies ruled out a freeze of the republic's independence declaration, and Abisalas said they held to that line because "if we suspended the declaration of independence or the (pre-1940) constitution, we'd voluntarily be joining the Soviet Union."