VILNIUS, U.S.S.R., FEB. 10 -- The secessionist government of Soviet Lithuania, jubilant over the overwhelming show of popular support for independence in a plebiscite here Saturday, acknowledged today in the cold aftermath of the nonbinding vote that it may have little practical effect in bringing Lithuanians freedom from the Soviet Union.
"The question now is what do we do with the victory?" said Lithuanian legislator Algimantas Cekuolis, a strong advocate of independence for the Soviet Baltic republic.
Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, appearing subdued in his first news conference since the plebiscite, may have summed up his republic's predicament in noting that Lithuania still has no effective means of pressing Moscow to accede to its demands for independence or, indeed, to stop the Kremlin from imposing direct rule on the republic if it chooses.
"We cannot be protected from this," Landsbergis said. "We possess no military force of our own. There are no other means against violence but support from world public opinion and the great powers of the world."
His mood seemed to contrast sharply with the high spirits he displayed Saturday night, when it became clear that more than 90 percent of ballots cast in the plebiscite were in support of independence for this land of 3.7 million. "I think this is a victory against lies and intimidation," Landsbergis said then. "The Lithuanian people reject lies and are not afraid."
From politicians to pensioners, Lithuanians here in their ancient capital seemed in resigned agreement that by themselves they can do little more to regain their pre-World War II independence as long as the Soviets possess the military and political force to block their bid for freedom.
"Our next steps depend not just on our own will, but on the Soviet Union," said Lithuanian Vice President Bronius Kuzmickas, who expressed the optimistic view of some here that the plebiscite could bring added pressure on Moscow from Western governments.
"I don't exclude violence or the use of armed forces," Kuzmickas said, "but now the Kremlin is in a harder position" with the vote results before the world community. There has been no official reaction from Moscow since the plebiscite, which President Mikhail Gorbachev rejected last week as lacking a "legal basis."
Pressing for firm foreign backing as Lithuania's best weapon in its struggle with the Kremlin, Kuzmickas said he thinks Washington should now consider partial economic sanctions if Moscow fails to soften its stance against Lithuanian nationalism. Other officials here said they will seek additional diplomatic help from the United Nations and from a U.S. congressional delegation due to visit Vilnius later this week.
Landsbergis said that he discussed the vote with British officials by phone late Saturday and that he planned to contact other foreign leaders personally to inform them officially of the outcome.
Asked on the CBS News program "Face the Nation" about the plebiscite and the drive for independence in all three Soviet Baltic republics, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said: "We've made it very clear that we want to see the aspirations of the Baltic peoples for independence fulfilled, and we will continue to take that position in our discussions with the Soviet Union and to make the point . . . that it's very important to U.S.-Soviet relations."
Lithuanian leaders also expressed the hope that populist politician Boris Yeltsin, president of the Soviet Union's vast Russian republic, will shatter the deadlock over Baltic secession by leading Russia to full independence, thus ending the Kremlin's hold on all 15 Soviet republics.
Landsbergis said he spoke with Yeltsin Saturday and that the two discussed Lithuanian-Russian cooperation. Over the last month, Yeltsin has repeatedly denounced Soviet military and police actions in the Baltic republics and backed Baltic moves toward independence.