Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Georgian leader looks to Putin, OSCE to help solve Abkhaz conflict

TBILISI, Oct 15 (AFP) - Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze sought Monday to end his country's spat with Russia over the wave of violence in breakaway Abkhazia despite fears that Moscow is backing the separatists against Tbilisi.

Shevardnadze offered to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the crisis in Abkhazia only days after he threatened to evict a contingent of Russian peacekeepers from the conflict zone.

His offer came as Abkhaz military helicopters attacked a group of Georgian partisans and Chechen rebels holed up in the Kodori gorge, while Georgian fighters renewed claims that Russia was behind the air strikes.

But as fierce fighting raged near the gorge's Sugarloaf Mountain, the Georgian president hinted that cooperation over Abkhazia could help Tbilisi and Moscow to mend relations tattered by the two-year war in Chechnya, the Georgian leader hinted.

"The key to improving relations between our two countries lies in solving the Abkhaz conflict," Shevardnadze said on Monday.

Russia has accused Georgia of harbouring Islamic separatists ever since Moscow launched its self-styled "anti-terrorist" campaign in Chechnya on October 1, 1999.

Nevertheless Shevardnadze said Monday that Putin was a politician with whom he could have a "constructive dialogue" and he offered to met the Kremlin boss for urgent talks "in Tbilisi or Moscow or anywhere else."

Shevardnadze added that he had "no doubts about Putin's sincerity in saying Russia respected the territorial integrity of Georgia."

"But why has Russia blocked for almost a year the adoption by the United Nations of a document fixing Abkhazia's status as a part of the Georgian state?" he asked.

Last week Shevardnadze threatened to expel Russian peacekeepers from Georgia after Tbilisi allegedly intercepted communications showing that Russian pilots were responsible for a series of air attacks on Georgian villages near the border.

Georgian partisans fighting Abkhaz forces only 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the breakaway "capital" Sukhumi told AFP on Monday that the unmarked planes that carried out the strikes could only have come from Russia.

"The question is -- where did the Abkhazians get the helicopters and missiles, where did they get the heavy artillery with which they are targeting us," said one Georgian commander.

"We're fighting not only the Abkhazians but also the Russians, because that's where the planes must have come from."

Shevardnadze was also due to hold talks late Monday with officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe amid fears the latest wave of violence could erupt into war.

Abkhazia's defence spokesman Garry Kupalba said Abkhaz forces undertook "mopping up" operations in the Kodori gorge after blockading around 400 Georgian and Chechen fighters over the weekend.

Forty OSCE observers have been stationed since February 2000 on Georgia's 80-kilometre (50-mile) border with Chechnya, north of the Kodori gorge.

Abkhaz leaders have accused Chechen rebels of joining forces with Georgian partisans in a fresh round of fighting that has seen the death toll rise to 75 since the beginning of this month.

Abkhazia claimed de-facto independence from Georgia in 1993 after a war in the early 1990s in which the separatists were supported by Moscow.

Back to the Top    Next Article