PEACE prospects are dissipating in Georgia's civil war, and many in the Transcaucasian nation say Russia is to blame.
Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze on July 6 declared martial law in the Black Sea region of Abkhazia, which has been waging a nearly year-long struggle to break away from Georgia. The declaration - a mostly symbolic act because Georgian forces control only a tiny part of the region - came in response to a determined offensive by Abkhazian separatists to take the regional capital, Sukhumi.
Currently Abkhazian forces have Sukhumi surrounded and are shelling the city center, news agencies report. Georgian officials say more than 3,000 people on both sides have been killed since hostilities began last August.
As they try to repel the Abkhazian offensive, Georgian leaders are renewing verbal attacks on Russia, charging Moscow is behind the conflict's upward spiral. Georgian-Russian relations warmed briefly following a May summit in Moscow between Mr. Shevardnadze and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, during which the two agreed on an Abkhazian cease-fire plan. That effort never took hold.
Shevardnadze last week appealed to the United Nations Security Council to convene a special session to discuss the Abkhazian situation. "A blatant aggression against a sovereign state is being conducted by Abkhazian separatists and Russian mercenaries," the Georgian leader said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
Russian forces are stationed in the region by agreement with Georgia, supposedly to play a peacekeeping role between Georgian and rebel forces. Russian forces are playing a similar role in conflicts in other former Soviet republics, such as Moldova and Tajikistan. President Yeltsin has argued that the UN should grant Moscow special regional peacekeeping powers. "Russia has a heartfelt interest in stopping all armed conflicts on the territory of the former Soviet Union," he said Feb. 28.
But many Georgian officials say the Russian military is doing more to inflame the Georgian civil war than to stop it. They charge that rogue Russian Army units are supplying and supporting the Abkhazians. The Russian Defense Ministry has repeatedly denied being actively involved in the fighting, except in self-defense. But Russian jet fighters and helicopters have been shot down over the battle zone.
Georgian leaders also say Moscow has not done enough to stop the intervention of the so-called Confederation of Mountain Peoples - a grouping of autonomous regions in the Russian Caucasus. The Confederation has been dispatching volunteers to fight on the Abkhazian side, and on July 5 announced a "total mobilization" to battle what it termed "Georgian aggression."
Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, meanwhile, rejects Georgian claims that Moscow's policies are aimed at destabilizing Georgia, which is not a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States that links 10 of the former Soviet republics.
Mr. Kozyrev, speaking in a television interview, warned that Russia would impose economic sanctions against Georgia and Abkhazia if they refused to agree to a new, Moscow-brokered cease-fire plan. That plan calls for recognition of Abkhazian autonomy within "the territorial integrity of Georgia." But some Georgian officials have already poured scorn on Moscow's threats, saying Tbilisi now has virtually no trade with Russia, and thus sanctions would have little effect.
Russian readiness to wield economic pressure against former Soviet republics has been particularly evident in recent weeks. Moscow ordered cutoffs of gas supplies to the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, in part to protest what it claims are policies of ethnic discrimination against the Russian populations of those countries.
More broadly, Moscow has moved to cut back the flow of cheap credits and the subsidized sale of oil, gas, and other energy supplies at prices significantly below world levels.
Russian Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov claims that such subsidies cost Russia $18 billion last year. He said last week that Russian credits to former Soviet republics would be cut back to 800 billion rubles (about $800 million) for the second half of the year, all of it provided as loans with clear repayment terms.
The Russian government has already shifted sale of energy to the Baltic republics to world price levels. On July 6, the Russian government instructed its energy enterprises that supplies to all the former Soviet republics would only be on the basis of average world prices, calculated in dollars, from the third quarter of this year.
But the Russian government is also willing to cut special deals with republics that are ready to submit to "economic union" arrangements with Russia, as has been done with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Finance Minister Fyodorov makes it clear that such union means that the economic policies of those now-independent states "must be harmonized with those of Russia," as he told reporters on June 30.