TBILISI -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze signed a friendship treaty Thursday in the hopes of thaw between Moscow and Tbilisi after an ice age of mutual distrust.
Party leaders in the Russian Duma, the lower house of Parliament, immediately voiced opposition to the treaty, warning Yeltsin that it will get a rough reception when it is sent to the legislature for ratification.
Yeltsin's one-day visit to Tbilisi marks his first official trip to the Transcaucasian republic, which has been torn apart by ethnic conflicts many Georgians feel were deliberately stirred up by Moscow.
'We've been through difficult times in the past,' said Yeltsin, 'but we need relations with Georgia to be not only friendly, but those of allies.'
The Russian president got a warm reception not only from Shevardnadze, but also from a meeting of leading Georgian scientists and academicians where he announced Russia would provide Georgia with credits worth $13 million.
More crucial was the pact signed by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and Georgian defense officials allowing Russia to create three military bases in Georgia after 1995, the current deadline for the withdrawal of Russia's 8,000 military contingent from the southern republic.
However, the assasination of the Georgian deputy defense minister and an attempt on the life of Defense Minister Georgy Karkarashvili marred the signing of the military accords.
The death of his deputy Nikolai Kekelidze so upset Karkarashvili, who had tendered his resignation earlier in the week, that he withdrew from the talks, going instead to Kekelidze's apartment, where he in turn was injured in another explosion.
Georgian authorities said they viewed the incidents as terrorist acts, possibly by Abkhazian separatists who oppose Russian assistance in creating a Georgian army.
Duma factions also have taken exception to a clause in the friendship treaty envisaging Russian help in building up Georgia's armed forces, with Moscow supplying arms and military hardware to the Caucasus republic.
In what could be Yeltsin's first major clash with the legislature, all party heads -- including the leader of the pro-Yeltsin Russia's Choice Yegor Gaidar -- warned Yeltsin in a letter Thursday that such a provision could 'destabilize the situation in the Caucasus region and prevent the treaty's ratification by the Duma.'
Yeltsin himself told reporters before his departure for Georgia that the treaty's ratification should be postponed until Tbilisi had quelled ethnic conflicts in the north and west of the former Soviet republic.
Russian hard-liners have consistently supported separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where government troops have been fighting rebels committed to seceding from Georgia.
Relations between Tbilisi and Moscow reached a crisis last year when Georgia accused hard-line Russian generals, still based in the republic, of arming, advising and even fighting alongside secessionists in Abkhazia.
Relations improved after Shevardnadze agreed to Georgian membership of the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States, and Moscow deployed its troops in west Georgia to crush a rebellion against Shevardnadze's rule.
'President Yeltsin's visit here today transcends the boundaries of Russo-Georgian relations,' said Shevardnadze at a joint press conference with Yeltsin. 'The (25) documents we have signed will strengthen the entire C.I.S.'
In the friendship treaty, the two states undertake to respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity and not to interfere in each other's internal affairs or threaten the use of force against each other.
The treaty also allows for joint patrolling of Georgia's borders.