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Georgia Presses Claim of Russian Involvement in Abkhazian War With PM-CIS-Russia-Politics, Bjt

March 24, 1993

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) _ Georgia, pressing its claim that Moscow is intervening militarily in the republic, has paraded two Russian soldiers who said they had been sent to fight for the independence of Abkhazia.

Sergei Golishev, 18, and Vladimir Pyatugin, 20, sat timidly in the glare of television lights on Tuesday.

The two men, wearing green fatigues, said they had volunteered for a unit in southern Russia only to discover they were being shipped to Georgia’s Abkhazia region. They had gaps in their stories, but it was enough for Georgian authorities.

″We don’t know the name of the persons who ordered them here,″ David Gogiberidze, deputy chief of Georgia’s military intelligence, told reporters. ″But this is proof that (Russians) are involved.″ Russia’s Defense Ministry says it is neutral and has repeatedly denied its troops are helping Abkhazians separatists.

Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze has claimed that Russia is arming and advising the separatists in Abkhazia, where a Muslim minority has been battling Georgian troops for eight months.

Despite the dispute, Shevardnadze has supported Russian President Boris Yeltsin in his power struggle with the hard-line Russian parliament. Shevardnadze has indicated he believes Yeltsin may be unaware of or unable to control elements in the army who are intervening in Abkhazia.

Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister, ordered several thousand troops into the region last August. Last week, he suggested that the Russian military - possibly without the knowledge of President Boris Yeltsin - was trying to hold onto the beautiful and strategic area along the Black Sea.

Georgia shot down a Russian Su-27 fighter jet over Abkhazia this month after accusing Russia of bombing Georgian positions and sending 150 Russian military advisors to set up the so-called Abkhazian National Defense Forces.

Often giving one-word answers to vollies of questions, the two young soldiers said they had been offered $23 a month - several times a soldier’s average wage - to serve in the unit.

They said they decided to leave the unit after arriving at a Russian military airport in the Georgian town of Vaziani, about 10 miles from the capital, Tbilisi.

Pyatugin said he and Golishev made their way to a Georgian military base near Tbilisi and went to Georgian authorities last week.

There was no way to verify the soldiers’ account, and it was unclear whether they were using the Abkhazian conflict as an excuse for desertion.

Golishev told reporters he had deserted once before, but both soldiers said they wanted to return to the military to serve in Russia.

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