Leading members of Russia’s marginalized liberal opposition have issued a statement criticizing the Russian government’s recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The statement, which was published by the Internet newspaper Yezhednevny zhurnal, was signed by, among others, Garry Kasparov, chairman of the United Civil Front and former world chess champion; Vladimir Milov, president of the Moscow-based Institute of Energy Policy and a former deputy energy minister; Boris Nemtsov, former deputy prime minister and co-founder of the Union of Right Forces (SPS); Maxim Reznik, chairman of the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko; the journalist Aleksandr Ryklin, who is a member of the board of the United Civil Front; Lev Ponomarev, head of the For Human Rights movement; and Yury Samodurov, co-chairman of the All-Russian Civil Congress. All the signatories are members of a coordinating group for a planned national congress of democratic forces.
In their statement, the signatories said that in announcing a “unilateral recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Russia’s leaders had made an “unforgivable mistake” that would lead to “a further escalation of tension in the Caucasus and the world in general, [to] a sharp deterioration of Russia’s international positions, and also to costs for all of the people drawn into the conflict.” The signatories called the announcement of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence “hypocritical” given that the regions are “occupied by Russian troops” and the regions’ political leaders are “totally subject to Moscow.” Under these conditions, they added, it was impossible to speak about “real independence, backed by guarantees of national sovereignty”; it would be more accurate, the signatories said, to refer to “Russian annexation of these territories.”
The signatories also said that Moscow’s recognition of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence did nothing to resolve the task of defining the status of these territories but actually postponed it. “A unilateral declaration of independence did not ensure wide international recognition of Kosovo,” they wrote. “The ‘independence’ of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will not be recognized by anyone other than Russia and, possibly, two or three marginal dictatorial regimes. Thus, the Abkhaz and South Ossetian people are doomed to many years of a miserable life without a real international legal status. After many years of isolation, they will probably have to return to negotiations about reunifying with Georgia, as happened with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which was not recognized by anyone other than Turkey.”
The statement’s signatories said that both Moscow’s “unilateral” recognition of Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence and its bombardment of Georgia “showed what, in practice, the Russian leadership’s lofty phrases about international law, [and its] criticism of the American invasion of Iraq and the unilateral recognition of Kosovo’s independence, are worth.” The signatories added: “Russia’s rulers showed their real face, showed that they themselves do not in fact respect international law, including their own obligations (in particular, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1808 of 15 April 2008, in which Russia once again confirmed [its] recognition of Georgia’s territorial integrity), using criticism of the war in Iraq or the West’s recognition of Kosovo only as a pretext for carrying out an anti-Western foreign policy.” As a result of its actions, the statement reads, Russia’s leadership has “lost the moral basis for criticizing the actions of other nations that have violated international law.”
The statement’s signatories also said that Russia’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had dealt a severe blow to its relations with other countries. “Instead of measures to renew a dialogue and strengthen mutual confidence with Western countries, we can expect a slide into confrontation, with unclear and probably grave consequences for Russia,” the statement reads. “The undisguised desire of Moscow to try to split off pieces of territory from neighboring states will inevitably provoke a growth in distrust toward Russia among those post-Soviet countries where separatist manifestations exist or are possible. A hastening of the entry into NATO of Georgia, Ukraine, and … possibly other countries (first and foremost, Azerbaijan) is probable.” The signatories added that the Kremlin, in precluding the use of diplomatic means to resolve the issue of Georgia’s territorial integrity, has made it possible for Georgia to cite international law in searching for “additional means for protecting its sovereignty,” meaning that Tbilisi may seek military assistance from other countries. Russia thus “risks getting drawn into a new war in the future,” their statement reads.
In order to ensure that events do not unfold according to the worst-case scenario, the statement reads, Russia must strictly observe the terms of the cease-fire agreement brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, including the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgian territory. It adds that Russia must also “cease provocations and obstructions of the diplomatic process and negotiations between Georgia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia about a peaceful search for a way to resolve the problem of the unrecognized territories” (www.ej.ru, September 1).
There is little likelihood that Russia’s leaders will heed such calls. That fact was underscored by comments that President Dmitry Medvedev made when asked by the Italian television channel RAI whether he would participate in Italian-brokered negotiations with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. “For us, the current [Georgian] regime has gone bankrupt,” Medvedev responded. “The president, Mikheil Saakashvili, doesn’t exist for us. He is a political corpse” (New York Times, September 2).