The Lithuanian Crisis

Courtesy Reuters

For over two years Lithuania has been moving toward reclaiming its independence. This drive reached a crescendo on March 11, 1990, when the Supreme Soviet of Lithuania declared the republic no longer bound by Soviet law. The act reasserted the independence Lithuania had declared more than seventy years before, a declaration unilaterally annulled by the U.S.S.R. in 1940 when it annexed Lithuania as the result of a pact between Stalin and Hitler.

The decision to push for independence was made only about two weeks before its announcement by Sajudis, the Lithuanian Movement for Perestroika. The declaration reflected a consensus on the desire for independence, not its timing or the means to achieve it. Despite these differences, however, and the hardships a fight for independence promises, virtually all Lithuanians continue to support sovereignty for the republic-including a majority of the republic's non-Lithuanian residents.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev initially assumed independence was a "card" Lithuanians were trying to play, that they could be made to back down through the threat of force and the promise of political and economic autonomy. When the strength of Lithuanian resolve caught Moscow by surprise, Gorbachev changed his strategy. He apparently decided that threats and promises would not suffice and, after a 48-hour warning period, on April 13 he began to cut supplies of oil and natural gas to the republic.

From the onset of the crisis Gorbachev was aware that his stand against Lithuania risked his hard-earned rapprochement with the West. He nonetheless chose a course of economic embargo, conscious that his foreign policy initiatives hung in the balance. This gamble may yet pay off. President Bush and West European leaders have decided that their fifty-year support for Baltic independence is an indulgence no longer sustainable in the post-Cold War world. Their position is that the political future of three small states, with fewer than ten million people among them, must not jeopardize the emergence of a new security order in Europe or undermine the processes of political

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