MOSCOW, JAN. 24 -- Russian republic President Boris Yeltsin failed today to win sufficient support in the Russian legislature for a resolution condemning the use of military force against civilians in the Baltic republics.
Hard-line Communists succeeded in blocking adoption of the resolution, arguing that it did not contain any criticism of the pro-independence legislatures of the Baltic republics. The draft will now be sent back to the legislature's individual chambers before being resubmitted to a full session next week.
Yeltsin's failure to push through the resolution criticizing the Kremlin's policy in the Baltic republics was a blow to the democratic coalition that he has managed to assemble over the last two weeks. Many reformist politicians say that Russia, the largest and wealthiest of the Soviet Union's 15 republics, could be the next target if the Kremlin succeeds in reasserting central control in the Baltic region.
Yeltsin's hold over the Russian legislature is precarious, depending on the votes of a large bloc of independent and rural members. The Communist Party controls roughly one-third of the seats. Today's resolution mustered 117 votes, with 51 opposed, nine votes short of the required absolute majority of the 250 members.
"This is a defeat for the Russian parliament," said Ruslan Khasbulatov, Yeltsin's principal deputy. "A certain group of deputies do not want to take part in constructive work. I am beginning to feel a chill from the hall."
During backstage negotiations earlier this week, the draft resolution had been watered down to exclude direct criticism of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. But it did suggest that Interior Minister Boris Pugo and KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov bore direct responsibility for the deaths of at least 13 civilians in Lithuania Jan. 13 and four in Latvia last Sunday at the hands of Soviet security forces.
A Communist member of the legislature, Anatoly Shevtsov, said the draft was unacceptable because it did not mention the "gross political errors" committed by the Baltic parliaments. Gorbachev has argued that the separatist governments in the Baltic bear ultimate responsibility for the bloodshed because they persistently flouted the Soviet constitution and ignored the rights of the Russian-speaking minority.
The latest public opinion polls suggest that the army action in Vilnius has consolidated support for the Lithuanian parliament among both Lithuanians and non-Lithuanians in the republic. Support for independence is said to have risen to 98 percent of the Lithuanian population and 75 percent of the ethnic-Russian population -- compared to 94 percent and 47 percent in July 1990.
The poll, conducted three days after the violent seizure of the Vilnius television station by Soviet troops, also showed that Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis is more popular among Lithuania's Russian population than Gorbachev.
Lithuanian officials accused Soviet soldiers today of firing at two cars that were following their convoy outside Vilnius. One person was injured in the incident.
In another sign that Russia could be shying away from a confrontation with the Kremlin, the Russian legislature today endorsed tough new monetary reforms ordered by Gorbachev. Yeltsin described the measure as "difficult but necessary" in view of the huge imbalance between the amount of money in circulation and the scarcity of consumer goods.
Several republics, including Russia, have called for an extension of the Kremlin's Friday deadline for the limited exchange of high-denomination 50- and 100-ruble bills, arguing that it has provoked panic around the country. But the central bank refused to budge, saying that any attempt to postpone the deadline would be illegal.