Yeltsin Extends Hand to Lithuania : Russia President Vows Close Ties in Defiance of Sanctions

From Associated Press

Boris N. Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Federation, promised his Lithuanian counterpart today he will foster close ties between his huge republic and the secessionist Baltic region, Lithuanian sources said.

Yeltsin's offer represents a slap in the face for Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who ordered an economic blockade against Lithuania in an effort to force it to back off its March independence declaration.

If Russia were to resume supplying Lithuania with gas, oil and other raw materials, it would mean the virtual end of the Kremlin's sanctions--without Gorbachev's consent.

But Yeltsin has not explicitly said he intends to provide such goods to Lithuania. Moreover, it is not clear whether his republic could gain practical authority to do so, even if it adopts an autonomy plan championed by Yeltsin.

Yeltsin, who was elected president of the Russian republic Tuesday, met with Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis for "a very friendly talk with full mutual understanding," said Natasha Boganova, secretary of the Lithuanian representation in Moscow, where the two met.

"Yeltsin is prepared, as soon as Russia gets its sovereignty, to cooperate fully with the Baltic republics, and Lithuania first of all," she said.

Lithuania, struggling to circumvent the blockade, has been seeking direct ties with newly elected radical leaders in various parts of the country.

Gorbachev has demanded that Lithuania suspend its declaration of independence before the blockade can be lifted and talks begun. Lithuanian lawmakers have offered compromise measures, but they refuse to suspend the declaration.

Landsbergis plans to meet with delegates from Moscow and Leningrad, where radicals have taken over the city administrations, and delegates from other parts of Russia, the Lithuanian Parliament's information service said.

Yeltsin has said he expects the Russian Parliament to declare the Russian Federation's sovereignty within the first 100 days of his term.

The Russian Federation is the Soviet Union's largest republic, with two-thirds of its territory and just over half its population.

Sovereignty would mean republic authorities would have the final say over which Soviet laws are valid on Russian territory, and greater independence in general from the national government.

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