FEROCIOUS fighting broke out in the Trans- caucasian nation of Georgia this week, with government forces battling separatists in the autonomous region of Abkhazia along the Black Sea. The death toll reportedly reached 335 before a three-day Abkhazian offensive on Sukhumi, the region's capital, was repulsed by government troops.
Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze denounced "Russian involvement" in the battle. "The events of the past few days show Russia is increasing the scale of its undeclared war against Georgia," he said.
In recent days, Mr. Shevardnadze has leveled similar accusations at Russia, saying "thousands" of Russian troops were fighting on the Abkhazian side. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev Wednesday denied Russian involvement in the Georgian civil war, which began in August.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin on Wednesday appealed for closer integration of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the loose association that emerged from the rubble of the Soviet Union.
Mr. Kozyrev's ability to convince newly independent commonwealth states that Russia wishes to cooperate with, not dominate, them could prove crucial to the appeal's success.
Many commonwealth nations are wary of Moscow's pronouncements. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has been accused by several states of intervening in local conflicts in an effort to recreate a Russian Empire.
Emil Pain, an adviser to President Yeltsin, admitted some Russians were fighting in Abkhazia, but said they were acting against Yeltsin's orders. Shevardnadze, who sent a letter to Yeltsin suggesting talks, said Yeltsin cannot fully control Russian forces in the conflict zone, which borders Russian territory.
He asserted that the Georgian civil war is being used by Yeltsin's hard-line opponents to stir up trouble in Russia's Caucasian ethnic regions.
"The conservative forces who were victorious at the Russian Congress want to shift the center of chaos into Georgia, and thus let the steam out of the Russian pot," Shevardnadze said.