Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev will meet the presidents of the three Baltic republics today in a new move to break the political stalemate over the determination of their small nations to secede from the Soviet Union, Lithuanian and Latvian officials reported.
Gorbachev apparently agreed to the meeting after Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis said he will participate in a session, for the first time, of the country’s new Federal Council. Thus, Landsbergis implicitly acknowledged that Lithuania remains part of the Soviet Union despite its unilateral declaration of independence three months ago.
These two meetings will be the first between Landsbergis and Gorbachev since that declaration and, if they go well, are expected to lay the basis for opening formal negotiations between Lithuania and the central government on its secession from the Soviet Union.
“The very fact that they are conversing without insisting on the revocation of our March 11 declaration of independence is already forward movement,” Algimantas Cekuolis, a senior Lithuanian official, commented. “We are optimistic.”
The Estonian and Latvian presidents had talked with Gorbachev last month during a previous session of the council, which is made up of republic leaders and central government officials, but Landsbergis had refused to participate on grounds that Lithuania had already re-established its sovereignty with the declaration of independence.
Gorbachev, from the outset, has maintained that Lithuania is free to leave the Soviet Union under the terms of the Soviet constitution but must follow a new law that lays out a five-year process for secession.
Lithuania’s dispute with the central government has, in effect, been only about how the small nation of 3.8 million will secede, not that it will eventually do so.
To meet Gorbachev’s terms, the Lithuanian Supreme Council, the republic’s legislature, has suspended virtually all the actions it had taken to implement its unilateral declaration of independence--but not the declaration itself.
But that apparently did not go far enough to satisfy Gorbachev, who wanted Lithuanian acknowledgment, however indirect, of the supremacy of the Soviet constitution. According to Lithuanian and Latvian officials, Landsbergis’ participation in the Federal Council meeting should satisfy this demand.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene, who negotiated this compromise last month, arrived in Moscow on Monday to see Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov and confirm the deal but was unable to meet immediately with him due to a lengthy meeting of the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo on economic questions.
Accompanied by Algirdas Brazauskas, the first secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party and a deputy premier, Prunskiene is now scheduled to meet Ryzhkov this afternoon.
“The aim of the visit is to discuss a number of problems, mainly of an economic character, that have arisen in the relations between Lithuania and the Soviet Union,” Brazauskas told the official Soviet news agency Tass, alluding to the economic sanctions that Moscow imposed on Lithuania two months ago in response to its secessionist drive.
Cekuolis, the senior Lithuanian official, said that all the meetings were arranged after Prunskiene discussed ways to break the deadlock with Ryzhkov by telephone last week.
“According to what Prunskiene said, Ryzhkov said that this was more or less the basis on which we can start to talk,” Cekuolis told journalists.
The three Baltic presidents--Arnold Ruutel of Estonia, Anatolijs Gorbunovs of Latvia and Landsbergis of Lithuania--met Monday in the Lithuania town of Panevezys to plan their strategy for the talks with Gorbachev today. Lithuanian and Latvia spokesmen declined to provide further details of those discussions.
The three presidents agreed last month to revive the Baltic Council, a pact that linked their then-independent countries before World War II, as a united front to deal with major political issues.
The Federal Council, which was established in the series of constitutional amendments that created the Soviet Union’s new executive presidency in March, brings together republic leaders to discuss issues that affect the country as a federal system made up of 15 separate republics and many other regions that are homes to minority nationalities.
The session today is expected to focus on the future federal structure of the Soviet Union, an issue of crucial importance as not only the Baltic republics but other regions demand greater autonomy or even independence.
Gorbachev, who still harbors the hope that the Soviet Union can be transformed from a highly centralized, rigidly controled system into a commonwealth of diverse nations sharing the same political and social values and cooperating economically, wants to ensure the all-but-inevitable secession of the Baltic states does not endanger this goal.