Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 2008
Volume 19
Issue 4
Page Numbers 180-183
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In early August, following a Georgian attack on the breakaway region of South Ossetia, Russia invaded Georgia. A group of leading Russian democrats, including Gary Kasparov, Boris Nemtsov, and Lev Ponomarev, published a statement in the liberal online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal on August 19. Excerpts appear below. (For a full version of this text, see 

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 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 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, excessive use of force against sovereign Georgia, and by stepping far out of the framework of their peacekeeping mandate. As [End Page 180] a result 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. . . .

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 look 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 declare the following. . . .

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 12–13 August 2008 in Moscow and Tbilisi through the intermediary of French president N. Sarkozy. . . .

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 [End Page 181] roadblocks for such talks and to cease a policy of encouraging Abkhazia and South Ossetia to [engage in] 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.

On August 9, the presidents of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland signed a joint declaration on the conflict. Excerpts appear below:

We, the leaders of the former captive nations from Eastern Europe and current members of the European Union and NATO—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland—are extremely concerned about the actions of the Russian Federation against Georgia.

We strongly condemn the actions by the Russian military forces against the sovereign and independent country of Georgia.

Following the unilateral military actions of the Russian military forces, we will use all means available to us as Presidents to ensure that aggression against a small country in Europe will not be passed over in silence or with meaningless statements equating the victims with the victimizers.

. . . We underline the obvious bankruptcy of Russian “peacekeeping operations” in its immediate neighborhood. The Russian Federation has overstepped a red-line in keeping the peace and stability in the conflict zone and in protecting Russian citizens outside its own borders.

The EU and NATO must take the initiative and stand up against the spread of imperialist and revisionist policy in the East of Europe. New international peacekeeping forces should be created as the current setting proved to be ineffective.

We regret that not granting NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia was seen as a green light for aggression in the region.

We believe that the EU and NATO as the key organizations for European and Transatlantic stability and security should play a leading and crucial role in securing the freedom, security and prosperity of countries not only in the EU but also in the neighboring European area.

It is a litmus-test for the credibility of the EU and NATO to solve the conflict in its immediate neighborhood and to prove for all EU and NATO members, aspirant countries and democratic partners that it is worth being members and partners of these organizations. [End Page 182]


On August 6, a military coup d’état in Mauritania overthrew the civilian government of President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who had been elected with 53 percent of the vote in a second-round contest on 25 March 2007. The African Democracy Forum, a network of more than 450 democracy and human rights organizations throughout Africa, issued a statement on August 8 condemning the coup, excerpts of which appear below:

The Africa[n] Democracy Forum (ADF), a network of over 450 democracy and human rights organizations throughout Africa, condemns the coup d’état in Mauritania and calls for the immediate restoration of a constitutional order.

On Wednesday, 6 August 2008, the military generals launched a coup d’état in Mauritania and overthrew President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who came into power as a result of the country’s first democratic election in 2007. This coup came after the president sought to replace several military leaders. The generals immediately formed an 11-member Ruling Council to run the country, and the Council announced its intention to hold a presidential election as soon as possible. This coup violates the rights of the people of Mauritania by disregarding the democratic choice that people in Mauritania made in 2007 to end the 2-year military rule after the 2005 coup. It also acts against the democratic progress that the country as well as the African continent have made in recent years.

Responding to the coup, ADF joins civil society organizations in Mauritania to:

  • Condemn the coup against the democratically-elected government and the violation of the Constitution,
  • Call for the immediate restoration of a constitutional order and democratic processes,
  • Recognise and commend the AU’s current stance in speaking out against the coup plotters and to encourage this institution, in collaboration with the international community and its partners, to continue to reject the current state of affairs and to facilitate a peaceful resolution while protecting the rights of the citizens of Mauritania.
  • Urge the United Nations, African Union, and other members of the international community to reject the recognition of the new Ruling Council and help protect the democratic rights of the Mauritanian people, and
  • Appeal to democracy and human rights organi[z]ations in Africa and around the world to join the efforts of Mauritanian civil society to defend the rights of the people, advance further democratic values, and ensure the immediate restoration of democratic institutions in the country. [End Page 183]