MOSCOW, FEB. 1 -- Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev appointed high-level delegations today to discuss a wide range of political, economic and military issues with the pro-independence governments of the Baltic republics.
The decision appeared designed to ease tensions in the Baltic region following a violent crackdown by Soviet security forces in Lithuania and Latvia last month. But the projected talks appear to fall well short of negotiations on independence.
A presidential decree establishing the three delegations, each headed by a deputy prime minister, referred to the Baltic states as "Soviet Socialist Republics." This term is explicitly rejected by the Baltic governments and parliaments, which last year proclaimed the restoration of their prewar independence.
Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis said the wording of the decree was "not a sign of goodwill from the Kremlin. But it seems some talks and discussions will take place," he told Lithuanian radio, "and maybe there will be some better prospects."
A previous round of talks between the Soviet Union and Lithuania broke down last year because the two sides were unable to agree on either their ground rules or their goal. Vilnius insisted that the negotiations culminate in Soviet recognition of Lithuanian independence, while Moscow refused to accept any preconditions for the talks.
Gorbachev's decree used the term "discussion of issues" to describe the purpose of the latest talks, suggesting that their purpose is limited to providing a machinery for airing grievances. Tension between the military and the local population has risen sharply in all three republics since Jan. 13, when Soviet paratroopers stormed a Lithuanian television station and communications tower, killing 13 civilians.
The parliaments of both Lithuania and Estonia have now decided to hold their own referendums on independence over the next few weeks and Latvia is considering a similar move. By staging their own votes prior to a nationwide referendum on March 17 on a new Treaty of Union among the 15 Soviet republics, Baltic leaders are hoping to frame the question in such a way as to ensure large majorities for independence.