Soviets Seize Printing Supplies in Vilnius
Soviet soldiers seized the central paper and dye warehouse in the Lithuanian capital Wednesday, despite a pledge by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to restore peace in the Baltic republics.
“This is simply an attempt to hamper the press in Lithuania and certainly will increase the tension,” Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis told a news conference.
Landsbergis said a telegram, which had been approved by the republic’s Parliament, was sent to Gorbachev saying that the Soviet leader should order the withdrawal of all Soviet troops occupying buildings in Lithuania.
Gorbachev told the nation Tuesday that his main task was to achieve calm in the Baltic republics. But he called on the republics to abide by the Soviet constitution.
The Lithuanian Parliament’s press office said two civilians who claimed to represent the Lithuanian Communist Party announced that they were taking control when they arrived at the warehouse with soldiers.
About 20 Interior Ministry soldiers with automatic weapons drove up in five jeeps and took up positions throughout the warehouse. The few workers inside offered no resistance, Lithuanian government spokesman Audrius Azubalis said.
He said that the building contained about 37 tons of paper but that the seizure was unlikely to have a serious effect on news because most independent publications have their own supplies.
The Soviet military has made similar moves at several other buildings in Lithuania and the neighboring Baltic republic of Latvia, which, along with Estonia, seek independence from Moscow.
The Soviet military already controls Press House, the main printing plant in Vilnius. A unit of the “black beret” troops of the Soviet Interior Ministry last weekend seized a similar plant in Riga, the Latvian capital.
Self-defense units have been formed in all three Baltic republics to try to protect civilians and buildings.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the House, on a 417-0 vote, condemned the Soviet Union for its crackdown on the Baltic republics and asked President Bush to consider economic sanctions if Moscow continues to exert military pressure.
White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said that Jack Matlock, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, met Tuesday with Soviet Foreign Ministry officials “to reiterate our deep concern about the ongoing situation and to urge the Soviet government to act to end its use of force in the Baltics.”
When asked whether the United States held Gorbachev responsible for the violent crackdown, Fitzwater said that the Soviets, in the meeting, “emphasized that President Gorbachev did not personally order the troops to fire in Riga. But our response . . . is that we hold the government responsible, regardless of who specifically gives the orders.”
The White House spokesman said the question of whether Bush will travel to Moscow, as originally scheduled, for a summit conference Feb. 11 to 13 remains open.