President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, defending himself against the rising anger here and abroad over the killing of 14 Lithuanian nationalists by Soviet troops, said on Monday that it was the local military commander, not Moscow, who decided to use force in seizing a television center, but that the general was acting within his authority.
“We did not want, and do not want, this,” Gorbachev said of the weekend violence in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
But the blame for the crisis lay with the Lithuanian leadership and its yearlong campaign for independence, Gorbachev continued, and he saw no alternative to the tough line the government has taken with the republic.
In declaring Lithuania’s independence on March 11, the republic’s Parliament “staged an overnight coup d’etat against the (Soviet) constitution,” Gorbachev declared.
“All subsequent acts by the Soviet president, by the government, by all state institutions, including those of the army, could not be different from what they were. . . . There could be no other actions, and no one could even hope for them.”
Describing the Baltic crisis as of “immense, fundamental and vital importance to us all,” Gorbachev again made clear that he sees the future of the Soviet Union as a state now at risk and that he is determined to ensure its survival.
And he appealed for Western understanding of the nature of developments here so that there is not a return to the animosity of the Cold War.
“We should try and remain coolheaded,” he said. “We shall look for a solution here, and the West needs to take a constructive stand because confrontation and a head-on collision, which some may like to see, is not what we need.”
Vilnius itself was calm on Monday as Lithuanians mourned their dead. The toll rose to 14 with the death of one of the 166 people who were wounded by the soldiers Sunday, the Lithuanian health ministry said. Twenty-six people were described as still in serious condition.
The “mission of goodwill” sent before the shooting by the Council of the Federation, the country’s highest policy-making body, continued its efforts at mediation with Gorbachev’s assurance that it had full powers. It is expected to report today to the Supreme Soviet, the national legislature.
Soldiers seized yet another broadcast facility on Monday, a small relay station in central Vilnius, but no violence was reported.
The overnight curfew imposed by military authorities on Sunday was suspended again on the understanding, extended in a discussion between Lithuanian Vice President Kazimieras Motieka and Gen. Valentin I. Varennikov, a deputy defense minister, that the Lithuanian government would not summon its supporters into the streets as it had last week.
About 2,000 nationalists remained overnight on the plaza before the Parliament building in central Vilnius, but the sense of imminent confrontation was gone.
Tensions were rising in the neighboring Baltic republic of Latvia, however, and in Riga, the capital, Soviet troops occupied a police academy early today. There were no serious injuries reported.
Latvia’s separatist government has rejected demands for its resignation.
In Moscow, the focus became primarily political--an attempt to assign responsibility for one of the bloodiest clashes in three years of ethnic unrest, tentative efforts to open a dialogue that would avert future violence and an assessment of the long-term costs.
The Soviet defense and interior ministers told the Supreme Soviet, the country’s legislature, that the commander of the Vilnius Garrison, Maj. Gen. Vladimir N. Uskhochik, acted without consulting Moscow in sending paratroopers and tanks to seize the Lithuanian government’s broadcasting center, but they said he had full authority to do so.
“I can definitely say that there were no such orders from the center,” Boris Pugo, the interior minister, told the Supreme Soviet.
Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov said that Uskhochik had properly decided to provide “moral and material support” to the Committee of National Salvation, which has declared that it is assuming power in Lithuania.
The group, formed last week with the support of the small pro-Moscow Communist Party but with no apparent legal standing, said it wanted to halt the “anti-Soviet, anti-army material” being broadcast on Lithuanian radio and television.
Egidijus Bickauskas, the Lithuanian representative in Moscow, called Yazov’s explanation “a barefaced lie.” Maj. Valentin Lopatin, leader of a reform movement within the military, said that a garrison commander would never make such decisions on his own. Sergei B. Stankeivich, Moscow’s radical deputy mayor, commented: “It’s fantasy to believe a military commander responded to appeals of an underground committee.”
Even Roy A. Medvedev, a longtime political dissident, who is now a Supreme Soviet member and Gorbachev supporter, said: “They may have had no orders from the center, but I’m convinced the center was fully informed.”
But Gorbachev, speaking with journalists after the Supreme Soviet debate, said he had learned of the paratroopers’ bloody assault on the television broadcasting center only on Sunday morning, hours after the clash.
Like his ministers, Gorbachev expressed support for the garrison commander in his decision to back the National Salvation Committee, although none of its officials or members is known, in its efforts to “restore order” in the republic.
Recalling his warning last week to Lithuanian leaders, he said he had many requests to impose “presidential rule” on the republic, removing its elected government and ruling himself by decree.
Gorbachev said the army had recordings of Lithuanian officials telling their supporters to “arm yourselves . . . repulse them . . . just act.”
“I don’t think that some single act broke the wire,” Gorbachev said, running through a chronology of the developments in Lithuania as he saw them. “The whole place was in a state of confrontation. We must look for solution in a dialogue, to break this chain somehow and not to lose our heads.”
Shogren reported from Moscow and Dahlburg from Vilnius.