President Mikhail Gorbachev said Monday that a local military commander decided to use force in Lithuania, where an assault by Soviet troops on Sunday claimed 14 lives.
"The manner of defense was decided by the commandant," Gorbachev said of the assault. "I learned only in the morning when they got me up. When it happened, no one knew."Lithuania's foreign minister, who is in Poland with instructions to form a government in exile if Moscow takes over the republic, said the army is taking control in the Soviet Union.
"In Vilnius, the Soviet army is the enemy and nobody knows who is commanding it," said Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas.
Gorbachev said Sunday's assault came after a group of what he called "workers and intellectuals" had asked the military commander in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, to "give us protection."
He appeared to be referring to opponents of Lithuanian independence who have formed a self-declared National Salvation Committee.
Sunday's deaths were the first in the 10-month-old standoff between the Kremlin and the republic of 3.7 million people, which was annexed by the Soviet Union at the start of World War II.
The storming of the republic's main broadcast facility provoked harsh condemnation from the United States, the European Community and NATO.
European Community foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, agreed Monday to condemn the crackdown, but Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jacques Poos said the ministers did not suspend a $1 billion aid program recently approved to help the ailing Soviet economy.
The NATO nations deplored the killings and warned that any further use of force in Lithuania would have "negative consequences" on the allies' relations with the Kremlin.
In his comments to reporters during a break at the Supreme Soviet in Moscow, Gorbachev did not identify the military leaders who ordered the assault. Nor, during his 10-minute conversation with reporters, did he express regret for the deaths or explain why he waited until Monday to comment on the violence.
The other Baltic republics, Latvia and Estonia, braced for possible crackdowns. Citizens set up barricades Monday in the streets of Riga, the Latvian capital, and gathered to protect telephone and radio buildings. Latvia's parliament met through the night.
In Lithuania Monday, the streets were quiet, and the republic closed its schools to begin three days of official mourning.
Earlier, Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov and Interior Minister Boris Pugo said Sunday's assault was requested by the National Salvation Committee.
But in remarks to the Supreme Soviet, neither of them explained how the shadowy committee had the authority to order army tanks and troops into action.
Soviet paratroopers, the KGB and Communist Party loyalists also have seized a radio relay station, bringing to eight the number of buildings occupied in and around Vilnius, said Lithuanian parliament spokeswoman Rita Dapkus.
Yazov said he issued orders Monday that tanks in the city not use their weapons and that troops be confined to barracks.
The National Salvation Committee on Sunday declared a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and said a military commandant was in charge of Vilnius. It forbade the use of photocopying machines, fax machines and amplifiers, banned most public demonstrations and authorized the military to make spot checks.