WASHINGTON —During the week that marks the third year since the Russian invasion of Georgia, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission, called on the government of the Russian Federation to withdraw its remaining troops from Georgian territory and allow refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes.
“Russia must cease its continuing, illegal occupation of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia and allow those who fled their homes during the 2008 war to go back without preconditions,” Rep. Smith said. “Still today there are rampant human rights violations in the Russian-controlled areas – and Russia and its proxy authorities refuse to permit international monitors to enter South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Russian government is not upholding its international commitments, in particular, maintaining respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other participating States of the OSCE, and refraining from the threat or use of force to resolve conflicts. Our government should put this at the top of the OSCE agenda.”
“It is important for Russia to act now and remove all of its troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moreover, the Russian Federation must immediately permit the full return of the OSCE mission,” added Senator Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission.
Russia invaded Georgia on August 7, 2008 under the pretext of protecting Russian peacekeepers and citizens in the secessionist region of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. During the five-day war Russian military attacks destroyed key Georgian infrastructure and resulted in the loss of more than 850 civilian lives and the displacement of over 100,000 people. Shortly after the Russian invasion, Rep. Smith went to Georgia to help secure safe passage home for two young girls from Howell, New Jersey who were trapped in the conflict zone, behind Russian lines; Smith also helped facilitate passage home for several other American children.
“At the same time that I saw the relief in the eyes of the girls when they were finally returned to their family – I also saw fear and despair in the eyes of the Georgians from the north of their country, driven out of their homes and villages and forced to live in camps for internally displaced persons,” Rep. Smith said.
After the war, Russia set up puppet governments in and recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – the only other countries to follow suit are Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru, and Vanuatu. Since 2008 the Russian government has systematically entrenched itself in these occupied territories.