Russian Democratic Forces on the Georgia Conflict

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A group of Russian Democratic political figures have released a statement on the conflict over South Ossetia. “No one won from the war,” the opposition leaders write. “More precisely, everyone lost.”

The statement first appeared in the liberal Yezhednevny Zhurnal online newspaper on August 19th.

On the conflict around South Ossetia, August 8-13, 2008

From August 8-13, 2008, an armed conflict took place on the territory of South Ossetia and in various regions of Georgia. [The conflict] led to numerous casualties among the South Ossetian and Georgian populace, including the deaths of peaceful residents and Russian soldiers.

It is a secret to few that both the Georgian authorities and the Russian authorities were long exchanging bellicose rhetoric and were practically preparing for war. This is evidenced by the speed with which combat operations unfolded from both sides, and their scale. The conflict became the consequence of a total breakdown of politics on the settlement of the situation in South Ossetia, under way as part of a 1992 agreement.

The circumstances of what happened still await explanation, which is hindered by torrents of willful disinformation from various sides. One thing can be said with certainty: no one won from the war. More precisely, everyone lost.

The Georgians lost, [as did the] South Ossetians and the Russian people, who were pulled into an absolutely senseless bloody conflict with fatalities and destruction.

The Georgian leadership lost, having embarked on the impermissible act of shelling peaceful residential districts in the course of storming Tskhinvali. It is now clear what President Saakashvili’s stated intentions, to solve the problems of the unrecognized territories by peaceful methods, are worth. Those Western powers lost, who spoke out for the unconditional support of the Georgian leadership in the face of ambitions to solve these [territorial] problems by force.

The Russian authorities suffered heavy injury, having allowed the unjustified, excess use of force against sovereign Georgia, and by stepping far out of the framework of their peacekeeping mandate. As results of the adventurist decision, which did not have justified political ends, to carry out wide-ranging Russian bombardment of Georgia outside the immediate conflict zone, Russia’s leadership put the country on the brink of international isolation for the first time since Soviet days. Even our closest allies in the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] did not back the actions of the Russian leadership. The CIS itself is on the verge of collapse.

Many countries are officially asserting the need to enact various kinds of sanctions against Russia. The process of admitting Ukraine and Georgia into NATO will now evidently accelerate. Poland headily reached an agreement with the US on deploying elements of the American missile defense system on its territory. Russia’s membership in the Group of Eight is under threat, as are important international initiatives advanced by Moscow: accession into the WTO, and carrying out the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

The Georgian people, who are brotherly to Russia, have suffered a serious moral trauma from Russian intervention for many years. The perception of Russia and Russians by ordinary Georgians may now dramatically change for the worse.

Russia’s reputation as a guarantor of the peaceful settlement process in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the neutral status of Russian peacekeeping forces has been dealt an irreparable blow. Russia has become one of the parties in the conflict.

The legitimacy of the Black Sea Fleet’s presence on the territory of Ukraine is endangered, as ships from the fleet were redeployed to Georgian shores to participate in the conflict, breaking conditions of the fleet’s stay on Ukrainian territory, as overseen by a 1997 agreement.

The decision to use military force outside the territory of the Russian Federation was taken without the approval of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, in violation of subparagraph “d” of paragraph 1, article 102 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

The bombardment of Georgian cities and towns gave reason to compare the actions of our country with attacks by the USSR on Poland in 1939, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979. An active, and regrettably successful image-building of Russia as the aggressor is taking place around the world. Those Russians, who succumbed today to jingoistic propaganda, would do well to took at Soviet newspapers dated 1979 to become convinced of the full similarities in the rhetoric used to justify an invasion into foreign territory, then and now.

Furthermore, preserving the fragile peace isn’t guaranteed, seeing how the parties have refused to admit their mistakes, and have continued to make bellicose statements, which have sounded from Moscow as well.

In connection with the conflict and the existing post-conflict situation, we Russian democratic political figures, do declare the following.

1.We mourn the victims of the August 8-13 2008 armed conflict in the Caucasus and call on all direct and indirect participants of the conflict, out of respect and remembrance of the deceased and to prevent a repeat of the bloodshed, to pivotal changes concerning the future of political settlements in this region.

2.We welcome the cease-fire in the conflict zone, and call for the Russian Federation and Georgia to maintain the peaceful agreements reached on August 12-13 2008 in Moscow and Tbilisi through the intermediary of French President N. Sarkozy, as well as the adoption, by the Russian Federation and Georgia, of official international obligations on non-use of force in the zone of conflict.

3.We welcome the effective peacekeeping efforts on the part of the European Union and the leadership of France, in its presidency of the EU, which has led to a rapid end of bloodshed. We also welcome the new intermediary initiatives of the European Union on the conflict’s settlement and the initiatives to send observers from the EU to the conflict zone.

4.We call for the unconditional provision of all necessary conditions for the return of Ossetian and Georgian refugees to their regions of residence.

5.What has happened is a total breakdown of Russian foreign policy of recent years, carried out under the leadership of Russia’s second president, Vladimir Putin, and based upon the revival of aggressive imperial rhetoric, saber rattling, provocation, readiness to get involved in heavy-handed operations for the sake of geopolitical horseplay, disregarding people’s lives and the country’s reputation. As the “architect” of Russian foreign policy of recent years, Vladimir Putin carries personal responsibility for this breakdown.

6.We consider it expedient to discuss the matter of replacing Georgian and Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone with international peacekeeping forces, represented by a neutral government.

7.We call for the start of direct talks on the status of the unrecognized territories between official representatives of Tbilisi, Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, with participation of international mediators.

8.We call for the leadership of the Russian Federation to remove all roadblocks for such talks and to cease a policy of encouraging Abkhazia and South Ossetia to isolationist activities.

9.We call on all political figures interested in the conflict’s settlement to henceforward exercise responsibility for the future resolution of conflicts on the territory of Georgia, and to avoid military preparations and militant rhetoric.

10.We call for an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the violation of the Constitution of the Russian Federation by Russia’s high-ranking officials, manifested by the decision to use military force outside the territory of the Russian Federation without the approval of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, and call for appropriate measures to be taken toward those guilty of violating the Russian Constitution.

Members of the coordinating group on the assembly of the All-Russia Congress of Democratic Forces:

N. Belykh, chairman of the Federal political advisory committee of the Union of Right Forces party

D. Bilunov, executive director of the United Civil Front

I. Yermolenko, chairman of the Samara branch of the Yabloko party

G. Kasparov, chairman of the United Civil Front

O. Kozlovsky, coordinator of the Oborona movement

O. Kurnosova, chairwoman of the St. Petersburg branch of the United Civil Front

V. Milov, political figure

B. Nemtsov, political figure

L. Ponomarev, leader of the For Human Rights movement

M. Reznik, chairman of the St. Petersburg branch of the Yabloko party

A. Ryklin, board member of the United Civil Front

I. Starikov, member of the presidium of the Russian People’s Democratic Union

I. Yashin, leader of the Yabloko Youth

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