Russian Activists Call for Adherence to International Law

First they called on Georgia to stop the military assault on South Ossetia, then they denounced Russian aggression in Georgia. Human rights activists in Russia are speaking up for peace and justice in the Caucasus region.

Writing for the August 11 edition of the Eurasia Daily Monitor, Jonas Bernstein reported that, “Some veteran Russian human rights activists have criticized Russia’s attack on Georgia unequivocally.” Bernstein sourced his report to the Russian news site, which may be the most balanced news agency to report on the conflict.

Working backward from the reports at, we find an August 7 statement posted at, the website for the Memorial International Society founded by Sergei Kovalev. The statement was apparently composed in the first hours of military outbreak, while the Georgian army was advancing northward toward the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali.

The Memorial statement reminded readers that the territory of South Ossetia was officially under the peacekeeping purview of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe).

“Georgia, as an OSCE member, has an obligation to resolve conflicts with peaceful measures,” said the Memorial statement. “Restoring the territorial integrity of the government cannot be grounds for the dismissal of such responsibilities. War operations in South Ossetia should be rapidly halted. The path of negotiations will be long and difficult, but this is the only way can lasting peace be attained.”

Of course, the statement did not stop the Georgian attack, and Russia soon entered the battlefield of South Ossetia from the north.

As soon as Russia expanded is military operation beyond South Ossetia, Kovalev joined a coalition of human rights activists in Georgia to denounce the aggression in strong terms.

“We call for the immediate stop of aggression against Georgia,” said the statement of August 10, translated into English two days later by “We consider that Russia’s leadership, having set another bloody stain to the country’s reputation, finally made its presence in the Group of Eight unacceptable from a moral point of view.”

On August 11, another statement denouncing Russian military actions came from a Russian opposition party led by Garry Kasparov.

“Today, it is short-sighted to concentrate solely on criticism of [Georgian President] Saakashvili,” said the statement by the United Civil Front (again translated by “To demand an immediate cease-fire and start of talks is correct, but insufficient. If we want to eliminate the risk of repeating similar tragic situations in the future, the Russian authority must bear responsibility for its actions before its citizens.”

Kasparov’s party wants to hold Moscow accountable for longstanding policies that have served to perpetuate a conflict in South Ossetia.

“As a first step,” says the party statement, “the president and prime-minister would do well to explain why the government is issuing tens of thousands of Russian passports in the territory of a neighboring country, with which we maintain normal diplomatic relations? Why are the key posts in the South Ossetian government and security services occupied by career Russian civil servants and military personnel? Why, after an attack on Russian peacekeepers by the superior forces of the opponent in Tskhinvali, did the official establishment stand in a state of stupor for several hours, and didn’t rush to provide military assistance? What does the Kremlin want to achieve by escalating the conflict with Georgia and expanding the theater of military operations?”

These critical words from Russian human rights activists and politicians offer a framework for peace activism in the USA. As we read the Russian activists’ recollections of Russian mistakes and crimes, we may find ways to join grievances against the misadventures and illegalities of our own aggressive state.

As the USA prepares to introduce a militarized humanitarian mission into Georgia, the words of Russian dissidents apply: “Historical experience shows that the interference of our country in someone else’s affairs inevitably, and contrary to any claims of ‘assistance,’ leads to innumerable misfortunes. “

Isn’t there an eerie echo for American activists in the following paragraph by Russian human rights activists?

“The incursion into Afghanistan led to many years of unceasing widespread violence and human rights abuses, as well as flare-ups of war again and again. The historical development of Afghanistan turned completely around: from a secular government it turned into a theocratic one. The actions of the Soviet leadership led to a sharp rise in the popularity of Islamic fundamentalism not only in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan and Arab countries as well. (Remember the alliance between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda).”

As our nationalist media on both sides whip up the fighting spirit in terms of either/or, Russia or USA, the level voices of Russian activists remind us: “Politics not based on the principles of international law does not serve the true interests of the Russian people and can in no way work to resolve national-territorial conflicts in this region.”

From a perspective of USA peace activism, can’t we say “ditto” to much of this?

Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collective.. Read other articles by Greg, or visit Greg's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar balkas said on August 16th, 2008 at 6:42am #

    rusian peace activists do not provide us the principle on which they object to reunification of ossetia or the claimed right of georgians to posses s.ossetia and abkhazia.
    if situation of abkhazia and and s. ossetia bears similarities with the situation of kosovo such as all three regions being conquered and annexed, then abkhazia and s. ossetia deserve at least most modern autonomies.
    since the evil empires made laws so as to cement land gains via warfare, i do not think we need to respect such laws any longer.
    we have now US laws in effect. under these circumstance russia, by giving ossetia and abkhaiza broad autonomies, is justified in holding both regions. thank u

  2. Michael Kenny said on August 16th, 2008 at 7:00am #

    I don’t know about US peace activism, but US neocons can certainly say “ditto” since these people are repeating their “party line” more or less verbatim! I assume that these groups are part of the US-funded NGOs which have been trying to undermine Russian democracy for years. That certainly is the case of Kasparov (who is not Russian at all but Armenian Jewish).

    Of course, the neocons’ Russian allies have shot themselves in the foot! First of all, the fact that an opposition exists and can make statements on the internet about military matters gives the lie to claims that Russia is not a democracy. That should surprise nobody, since Russia is a member of the Council of Europe (like Georgia, Greece, Turkey (who also exchange shots from time to time!), Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Poland, Latvia and the rest of democratic Europe, 43 countries in all) and as such, is subject to the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech and free political activity, and to the compulsory jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, before which any individual can bring an action if he considers that his rights have been infringed. Lots of cases are brought every year against all the Member States, who win some and lose some. Russia has lost a few and, like everybody else, has always complied with the judgment. I set this out because I know that none of it gets into the US media. See for more information on the Council.

    Moreover, the elderly rump communists, who claimed that a democratic state cannot defend itself, have been proved wrong, thereby consolidating democracy.

    So these various statements are another victory for the policy, started in Putin’s time, of making Russians proud of their democracy.

  3. cg said on August 16th, 2008 at 10:23am #

    God forbid any nation might suggest they are different and desire/require perhaps a “different” path other than the sacred pseudo-democracy mantra which is anything but democratic in its blood soaked money grubbing roots.
    If anyone felt and lived the soul of Russia more than Solzhenitsyn, I’ve yet to hear it.

    (of course the A.S. monumental work “TWO HUNDRED YEARS TOGETHER” remains unpublished (as well as unmentioned) in the English language. Presumably for *technical reasons) *wink wink

  4. bozhidar balkas said on August 18th, 2008 at 12:17pm #

    solzhenitsin to me was an enemy of working class. he favored perpetual serfdom for working people by denying them the right to own work and work place.
    the russia he loved or not was the russia ruled by capiatalists and fascists. thank u