Georgian Conflict Tests Russian Diplomatic Skills Negotiations This Week May Be the Last Chance to Stop the Spread of the Georgian Civil War to Ethnic Groups in Russia

By Justin Burke, | The Christian Science Monitor, September 1, 1992 | Go to article overview

Georgian Conflict Tests Russian Diplomatic Skills Negotiations This Week May Be the Last Chance to Stop the Spread of the Georgian Civil War to Ethnic Groups in Russia


Justin Burke,, The Christian Science Monitor


AS the chances for a peaceful settlement of the Georgian civil war seem to fade, Russia faces the prospect of being dragged into the conflict in the Caucasian nation.

All efforts to contain the conflict, which pits Georgian forces against separatist-minded rebels in Abkhazia, so far have proven ineffective.

The two sides agreed to a cease-fire on Saturday, but heavy fighting resumed less than 24 hours later.

A force of 1,000 Georgian troops, backed by 10 tanks, launched an attack Sunday on the Abkhazian town of Gagra, Abkhazian authorities claimed. Georgian officials, meanwhile, blamed Abkhazian troops for violating the cease-fire.

The failure of the truce to take hold reduces the chances for a political solution to be found at a planned Thursday meeting between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister who is now the head of Georgia's provisional government.

The Yeltsin-Shevardnadze summit aims to provide new momentum to the regional peace process. Some experts say the meeting is perhaps the last chance to prevent a major escalation of the war, including the widescale participation of various ethnic groups in the northern Caucasus region of Russia.

"A lot depends on the negotiations {on Thursday}," says Richard Ovinnikov, a senior adviser of the Foreign Policy Association, a Moscow think tank headed by Mr. Shevardnadze before his return to his native Georgia in March.

"The alternative to a settlement is a major conflagration and this would mean the direct involvement of the Russian Federation," Mr. Ovinnikov adds. "Russia should avoid direct involvement because this could set a dangerous precedent for other border areas."

More than 1,000 volunteers from the so-called Confederation of Mountain Peoples in the northern Caucasus have already infiltrated Georgia to fight on the Abkhazian side. The participation of northern Caucasian armed groups has raised the possibility that fighting could spread to southern Russia.

Despite the desire of both Russian and Georgian political leaders to keep the conflict from spreading, their ability to contain the situation seems to be diminishing by the day. …

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