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Lithuania Hopes to Get Oil and Gas From Other Soviet Republics Willing to Barter : Secession: The breakaway state would trade milk and meat. But delivery is a major problem.

April 26, 1990|ESTHER SCHRADER and MASHA HAMILTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VILNIUS, Soviet Union--With hopes for substantial help from the West fading, Lithuanian leaders set their sights Wednesday on obtaining oil and gas from Soviet republics and cities willing to defy Moscow's embargo orders in exchange for milk and meat.

But Western analysts noted that even those regions willing to risk the Kremlin's wrath, either because they politically support Lithuania or because they want to obtain the scarce food supplies, are likely to face serious difficulties in delivering oil or gas supplies to the Baltic republic: The country's pipelines, roads and railways are centrally controlled.

The Vilnius government, meanwhile, issued a grim report about the future impact of the Moscow-imposed economic sanctions, noting that food shortages affecting items such as sugar, salt, rice and margarine are likely and warning that the republic could only guarantee salaries, pension checks and student grants for month of April.

Lithuanian leaders said they are searching for new solutions in the face of the U.S. failure to lend significant material or moral support to the republic, which declared its independence from the Soviet Union on March 11 and is now facing a Kremlin-imposed oil and natural gas embargo.

"One opinion is that the United States must support (President Mikhail S.) Gorbachev so democratic processes can take place in the Soviet Union," said Lithuanian legislator Virgilijius Chapaitis in an interview. "But the Lithuanian issue shows that when democratic processes are really taking place, they are prevented."

President Bush said Tuesday that he is adopting a wait-and-see attitude toward the Lithuanian struggle before deciding whether to impose sanctions because he does not want to act against the Soviet Union in a way that could damage Gorbachev's power base.

His position prompted bitterness here, in part because the United States long encouraged Lithuanian nationalists by its public refusal to recognize the republic's forcible 1940 incorporation into the Soviet Union.

But that traditional policy of support for Lithuania and its sister Baltic republics of Latvia and Estonia is in conflict with Washington's current desire to promote Gorbachev and to make use of an improved political climate to achieve strides in superpower relations.

Lithuanians agreed that they understand but added that they are nevertheless disappointed.

"We would like to see this relationship (between Washington and Moscow) prosper, of course, but not at our expense," Deputy President Ceslovas Stankevicius said in an interview. He said he would like the United States, at the very least, to seek guarantees from Moscow that it would not block alternative supplies of oil and gas from reaching Lithuania.

"I find it hard to believe that the United States of America will really refuse to help," he said. "It will be catastrophic if the West washes their hands of us, catastrophic for Lithuania, for \o7 perestroika \f7 (restructuring) and for all the things Western countries want to see happen in the Soviet Union."

Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov spoke informally Wednesday, meanwhile, with a group of journalists and deputies from the Lithuanian Parliament in the lobby of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow during a break in hearings. He reiterated previous demands that Lithuania repeal its independence-oriented laws, the journalists reported. The Soviet Union so far has refused requests from Lithuania to open negotiations as a way out of the crisis.

That position also was restated Wednesday by Yevgeny M. Primakov, one of Gorbachev's closest advisers, who told the official news agency Tass that talks could begin "only if Lithuania withdraws to the March 10 line, i.e., the day before Lithuania proclaimed independence."

He said the Lithuanian declaration of independence could not be considered serious because it was taken without due consideration, an apparent reference to Moscow's position that a republic-wide referendum on the issue should have been held.

"Crucial decisions that affect not only the fate of \o7 perestroika \f7 in the Soviet Union but also stability in the world cannot be taken all of a sudden," he told Tass.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene, whose weeklong trip to Scandinavia yielded little but words of encouragement, was put in charge of a new committee set up to devise ways around the Moscow blockade.

"We've been talking a lot, and we haven't come up with anything concrete yet. Enough talking. Let's really get something done," Prunskiene told Parliament on Wednesday in announcing the latest strategy.

She said Lithuania is seeking independent economic ties with the cities of Moscow, Leningrad and Lvov, in the western Ukraine.

"Lithuania could supply them with meat and milk in exchange for the goods that we need," she said, noting that Lithuania produces all of its meat and dairy needs.

In addition, she said, a Lithuanian delegation will be traveling to Eastern Europe this week to seek trading partners.

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