Yeltsin to talk to Ukraine, Georgia, but makes new threats to Moldova

June 23, 1992|By Serge Schmemann | Serge Schmemann,New York Times News Service

MOSCOW -- President Boris N. Yeltsin flew to the Black Sea yesterday to dampen tensions with Ukraine and Georgia. But he had only new threats for Moldovans locked in fresh violence with their secessionist Russian and Ukrainian minority.

Arriving in the Russian resort city of Sochi on the northeastern Black Sea coast for talks with President Leonid M. Kravchuk of Ukraine, Mr. Yeltsin said the discussions would cover the gamut of disputes between their countries, from economic issues to control of the Crimean Peninsula and the Black Sea Fleet, as well as the region's ethnic conflicts.

"The negotiations on the hot spots will not be simple, but I think we can find some compromises, maybe some interim decisions in order to stabilize the situation so that nobody could say that Ukraine and Russia are almost at war -- which of course is impermissible," Mr. Yeltsin said. "Russia will never allow it."

The conciliatory tone Mr. Yeltsin took toward Ukraine dissolved when he was asked about Moldova, which has shaped into the hottest current eruption in the former Soviet lands. Asked whether he also anticipated a meeting with the Moldovan president, Mircea Snegur, Mr. Yeltsin grimaced and said: "No, but we anticipate measures."

What measures? "We are discussing that," he replied. "Effective ones."

The Moldovan conflict, which has pitted Russian and Ukrainian residents of the east bank of the Dniester River against the ethnic Romanian majority on the west bank, stepped up sharply over the last week both on the ground and in the belligerence of politicians' polemics.

On the Russian side, Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi and Mr. Yeltsin himself have warned of intervention. The Ukrainian regional military commander said somewhat ambiguously that his troops would "do their duty" if the conflict grew. President Snegur declared that "Russia has unleashed an undeclared war against Moldova."

The latest swirl of hostilities is over Bendery, the only predominantly Slavic city on the west bank. First the Moldovan forces moved on the city, then the Slavic forces drove them back, with heavy casualties and destruction. According to several reports, the Slavic forces also had help from troops and tanks of the former Soviet 14th Army, which is stationed in Moldova and under the command of Moscow.

[Reuter reported last night that a cease-fire had taken hold in Bendery, arranged in part with the help of Mr. Rutskoi.]

Tension in the area heightened yesterday after an explosion at an 14th Army ammunition depot. Officers said 26 men had been killed.

Mr. Yeltsin said that after his meetings with Mr. Kravchuk, he had invited the Georgian leader, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, and leaders of North and South Ossetia for peace talks in Sochi.

South Ossetia, a region in northern Georgia that seeks separation, has been the site of a stubborn struggle that also has recently flared up.

Fighting also raged on between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenian forces were reported fighting to repulse an Azerbaijani counteroffensive in Nagorno-Karabakh and advancing on the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhichevan.

The tenacious war, the first major ethnic struggle to erupt once the Soviet state began to crumble, has taken more than 2,000 lives and has become increasingly dangerous, with Turkey and Iran taking an increasingly active interest in the conflict.

There was speculation in Moscow that Mr. Yeltsin might have taken a tough tone on Moldova in part to maintain a link with the growing "national patriotic" spirit in Russia.

At its extreme, frustration with the perceived humiliation of Russia has united die-hard Communists and Russian ultra-nationalists, and several hundred of them clashed yesterday with the police in Moscow after trying to march to the city center.

Though the protest was relatively small, it reflected frustrations thatmay prove increasingly mettlesome to Mr. Yeltsin as regional struggles continue to remind Russians of their lost empire and as economic hardships pile on. Utterances to this effect have become common in parliament.

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