The absence of Soviet troops on the streets of Vilnius overnight signaled an improvement in relations with Moscow, Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis said Thursday.
Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh, in an interview with Pravda, said the West was reacting emotionally to unrest in the independence-minded Baltics and endangering superpower relations.Government spokesman Audrius Azubalis said there was no visible Soviet troop presence on the streets of Vilnius overnight following a pullout of Soviet troops Wednesday.
Landsbergis, noting the absence of military patrols, said, "Perhaps this is a good sign. . . . This is a step toward a better situation."
But, the Lithuanian leader warned Wednesday that Soviet soldiers still occupied several republic-owned buildings and cautioned the West not to be taken in by Kremlin promises of a pullout.
Soviet Interior Minister Boris Pugo said all paratroopers had left the Baltic region and two-thirds of the "black beret" Interior Ministry troops were withdrawn.
Military officials said Soviet paratroopers were sent in early January to protect non-Lithuanian residents, mostly Russians, from alleged discrimination. They were also ordered to round up draft evaders.
But many saw the move as an act against the Baltic independence movements. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, independent between the wars, were forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940. They now want to secede from Moscow.
Twenty people have died in Lithuania and Latvia in the Soviet crackdown, which has included armed assaults on Lithuania's main television station and Latvia's Interior Ministry.