MOSCOW, JAN. 30 -- Soviet troops sent to the Baltic republics over the past few weeks "have either left the region or are about to do so," a spokesman for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev confirmed today.
Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh told journalists in Washington Tuesday night that some units would be withdrawn to allow a resumption of talks between Moscow and the secessionist governments of Soviet Lithuanina, Latvia and Estonia.
Lithuanian parliamentary officials said 30 to 40 trucks full of Soviet soldiers left Vilnius, the capital, Tuesday night and that two columns of military vehicles left for the Byelorussian border this morning.
But Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis cautioned that it was too early to say if a full withdrawal was underway. Soviet troops, he noted, still occupy most of the public buildings, including the Vilnius television station and transmission tower, that they seized earlier this month.
Soviet Interior Minister Boris Pugo was quoted today by the Moscow newspaper Rabochaya Tribuna as saying that all extra army paratroop units and two-thirds of the Interior Ministry security forces, which include Black Beret commandos, had been withdrawn from the three Baltic republics. The Soviet army still has more than 100,000 troops stationed in the Baltic region, which it regards as part of its frontline defenses.
In Latvia, meanwhile, a Communist-backed so-called National Salvation Committee withdrew its earlier claim to have seized power in the republic as a "goodwill gesture" to Gorbachev. The Soviet leader last week described any attempt by self-styled salvation committees to seize local power with the help of the army as "unconstitutional."
A similar Communist-dominated committee that claimed power in Lithuania after Soviet paratroops assaulted the Vilnius television station Jan. 13 has suspended its activities.
In Vilnius today, Jonas Tautkus, 20, died after being shot by Soviet troops at a checkpoint on Tuesday. Lithuanian officials said the man, apparently a draft resister, was shot when he refused to get out of his car. A Soviet military spokesman said Tautkus was hit by a ricocheting bullet. He was the 14th Lithuanian fatality of the Soviet crackdown this year; five Latvians also have been killed.