MOSCOW, JUNE 30 -- The Soviet Union lifted its 10-week-long oil embargo of Lithuania today following the rebellious republic's decision to freeze its declaration of independence for 100 days.
Moscow's action removed the most devastating element of an economic embargo imposed in April and is expected to ease at least some of the political pressure on Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev as he looks toward Monday's opening of the 28th Communist Party Congress.
A flurry of compromise gestures by both the Kremlin and Lithuania seemed to indicate that the long period of angry confrontation between them is at an end and that negotiations on the question of Lithuanian independence would likely begin soon, probably after the party congress.
The two other Baltic republics, Estonia and Latvia, have also asserted their sovereignty and are demanding negotiations with Moscow, but it is still not clear what issues and which parties the upcoming talks will involve. The Soviet Union annexed the three Baltic republics in 1940 under a 1939 agreement with Nazi Germany. Between 1920 and the annexation, the Baltic states were independent countries and members of the League of Nations.
In Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, a government spokesman said that oil began flowing early this evening to Maziekiai, the republic's only oil refinery. Officials at the Tyumen oil fields in Siberia sent telegrams asking whether the refinery was ready to accept "maximum amounts" of oil. Vilnius officials responded that the pipes were clear and ready.
By responding so quickly to the Lithuanian legislature's vote Friday to declare a moratorium on its declaration of independence, "Moscow has kept its word," said Lithuanian government spokesman Ceslovas Yursenas. He said that tractors that had been idled for weeks would be back in the fields later this week.
The news of a breakthrough also came as a relief to Western leaders who found themselves in the difficult position of maneuvering between the competing interests of Lithuanian leaders and Gorbachev. In Kennebunkport, Maine, President Bush told reporters that he was "encouraged" by the news that Moscow was ending the embargo.
Furious that the Lithuanian legislature had taken "unilateral" action on March 11 and declared the "reestablishment" of its independence, Gorbachev two days later declared the move illegal. On April 18, he ordered supplies of oil, natural gas and other raw materials shut off.
Lithuania relies on the Soviet Union for its oil and gas, which is provided at subsidized prices. The blockade put about 40,000 people temporarily out of work and threw the Lithuanian economy into chaos.
Gorbachev softened his stance in May after meeting with Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene and said the embargo could be lifted if Lithuania suspended the March 11 declaration.
Gorbachev and Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, in two meetings in Moscow this week, settled on the moratorium formula, by which all laws passed by the Lithuanian legislature after March 11 would be inoperative for 100 days after the start of independence talks.
Although Moscow had clamped down on the shipment of materials ranging from tea and sugar to natural gas, Lithuania was able to weather the blockade through equal measures of good fortune and resilience. Warm weather kept the demand for heating oil relatively low, and many people put out of work by the embargo received regular salaries or vacation pay.
In Finland, Prunskiene said today that Lithuania would resolve its "future relations" with the Soviet Union only after it gains real independence. "Then we shall decide whether union with the Soviet Union offers advantages," she said.