Russian President Boris Yeltsin on Friday sought to reassure leaders of the former Soviet republics that Russia wants a peaceful way out of the war in Chechnya.
Yeltsin appeared unsteady as he entered a hall where the leaders were meeting. He clutched the arm of one official while another supported him from the other side.
There have been persistent reports about Yeltsin’s health and drinking habits, particularly on his trips abroad. A Yeltsin spokesman in Moscow said there had been no indication the president wasn’t feeling well.
Moscow’s invasion of Chechnya has caused apprehension among the 12 former Soviet republics, especially Central Asian nations that, like Chechnya, have large Muslim populations.
“Russian leaders regret the bloodshed,” Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev said at a news conference after Yeltsin’s address to the leaders of what is now known as the Commonwealth of Independent States.
“The general impression is that the Russian government is seeking ways of ending the hostilities and settling the conflict by negotiations,” Nazarbayev said, declining to elaborate.
Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Chechnya on Dec. 11 to crush the southern republic’s independence drive.
CIS leaders elected Yeltsin Friday to another year as head of the commonwealth and signed a dozen agreements on cooperation in areas including defense and transportation.
The CIS formed amid the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991. Real integration has eluded the unruly alliance, which unites all of the former Soviet republics except for the three Baltic states.