Soviet troops dispatched to enforce the Red Army draft rolled into the first of seven breakaway republics before dawn Tuesday in what secessionists called a pretext for bloody suppression.
In Washington Tuesday, the White House sharply rebuked the Soviet Union for sending the troops into the Baltic states, calling the action "provocative and counterproductive."And in a stunning announcment Tuesday, Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene, an architect of her Baltic republic's independence drive, announced her resignation, the Baltic News Service said.
Prunskiene made her annoucement at a Lithuanian Parliament session after returning to Vilnius from a Krmemlin meeting with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
An "armored column of Soviet military hardware" including 108 vehicles entered Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, at 4:35 a.m. and wound past the Lithuanian legislature before reaching an army barracks, the Lithuanian government said.
Thousands of paratroopers were expected later in Latvia, Estonia, Moldavia, Armenia, Georgia and the Ukraine, ordered in Monday by the Soviet Defense Ministry.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimeira Prunskiene flew to Moscow Tuesday and met with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Lithuanian officials said. Estonian President Edgar Savisaar also flew to Moscow.
The Defense Ministry said it ordered the troop deployments to protect national security.
Thousands of young men in the republics are ignoring Red Army draft orders. In the three Baltic republics, many are performing alternative service such as hospital or social work under laws passed by the republics but considered invalid by the Kremlin.
No violence was reported as troops arrived in Lithuania.
However, a Latvian lawmaker, Yuri Boyars, said the troop deployment could be a "pretext to start really a bloody suppression, a use of force on a massive scale." He spoke to reporters at the Supreme Soviet, the national legislature.
Another Latvian lawmaker, legislative leader Dainis Ivans, said Tuesday in Helsinki, Finland, that he would head an exile government if necessary.
White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater told reporters at the White House that the Soviet decision to send troops to seven Soviet republics to enforce the military draft "amounts to intimidation,".
"The United States is monitoring carefully the Soviet government's decision to send additional military forces" to the three Baltic states and four other republics, Fitzwater said in a prepared statement.
"This action represents a serious step toward escalation of tension within the USSR."