Boris Altshuler: The right to life and territorial status quos

26 April 2022

by Boris Altshuler, chair of Right of the Child,  member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, member of the III and IV convocations (2010-2014) of the Russian Public Chamber

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group 

The right to life is one of the basic human rights. For this reason, I am once again repeating my call of 10 April of this year directed at the leadership of the Russian Federation: “I beg you, stop, enough blood!” An alternative to the merciless slaughter is a return to the territorial status quo that existed before the special operation began, but with the unequivocal recognition by Ukraine and the world community of Crimea’s annexation to Russia and the independence of the DNR [Donbas People’s Republic] and LNR [Luhansk People’s Republic] within their borders as of 23 February of this year. Is a Russia-Crimea land bridge needed along the shore of the Sea of Azov? I think that Ukraine will agree to a Russian highway stretching over its territory and a railroad given international guarantees of the route’s inviolability. The same goes for Crimea’s water supply. Everything can be negotiated without war and mass human sacrifices.

The Ukraine-Russia peace negotiations, which are stuck at zero, could get a new wind if they were given an international format, by analogy with the “Minsk format,” when in early February 2015, at Russia’s initiative, the leaders of Germany and France, as well as the United States remotely, were brought into talks. It would probably be right if in these future broad-format negotiations the Republic of Moldova also took part and Transnistria was given the status of an independent small state of Europe. There are quite a few such small states in Europe (Luxembourg, Monaco, San Marino, Malta, etc.), and this doesn’t bother anyone. Finally, we must learn to resolve dialectically chronic, seemingly unresolvable problems.

A few words about China, whose leadership, obviously, is closely following the bloody “dispute among Slavs” (Pushkin), following it and waiting. For what? Publications about “native Chinese lands”—Ussuriysk Krai and the Russian Far East—appear regularly in the Chinese media. These publications are not supported on the state level, but they are also never officially disavowed. The Russian army’s poor battle-readiness is one of the special operation’s unexpected “discoveries.” Its visible result is Russia’s loss of status as a superpower in the eyes of the whole world, including China. And a thermonuclear weapon is no panacea, inasmuch as its use is inevitably suicidal. Even if the “special operation’s second phase” proves successful (which is by no means guaranteed), and Russia, at the price of more blood and exhausting its last military resources, establishes control over the south of Ukraine, this “success” could end up being an unequal “trade”: while gaining an expanded DNR, LNR, and even KhNR, Russia might lose Siberia and the Far East.

Of course, Russia is an enormous country, with the most territory of any in the world. But Russia’s problems are also enormous. On 24 February, in my evening statement, I wrote that in the long-term economic scheme, the victims of this war will be the millions of Russian families and their children who even today are barely making ends meet—chronic child malnutrition, unbearable living conditions, lack of access to medicines, and general economic depression for most of Russia’s territories other than the cities with a million population or more and raw materials zones. Unbridled corruption, monopolism in the economy, monopolism in politics, and monopolism in healthcare structures are leading to massive violations of citizens’ constitutional rights. All this is briefly discussed, along with a list of obvious measures to solve these problems, in the August 2021 “Right to a Dignified Life” program of Right of the Child, a regional civil society organisation. It is striking, but Sakharov the politician spoke in pain about all this more than 30 years ago, during the last year of his life. I summarized these statements, which are relevant even today, in the epilog to my book Sakharov and Power, which came out a year ago, on Sakharov’s centenary.

Rejection solving territorial disputes by force and recognition of the current administrative-territorial status quo is the historical imperative of the twenty-first century, when the importance of any country is defined by its intellectual and technological potential, not its geography, and when the value of an individual human life is much higher than in previous ages. Japan would do well to reject its claims to the Kuril Islands, which have not been Japanese for more than 70 years. And China would demonstrate the greatest, truly Confucian wisdom if it recognized Taiwan’s independence and established equal, neighborly relations with Taiwan, thereby ridding the world of the real threat of a third world war. The list of current territorial status quos whose “correction” is not worth a single human life could continue.

And now for the umpteenth time in Russia’s history we are falling into the same trap, “liberating” people in other countries instead of putting our own house in order. The scale of human tragedy that has resulted from the special operation is horrifying. Speaking at the First Congress of People’s Deputies in June 1989, Sakharov spoke about the war in Afghanistan, which had taken the lives of nearly a million Afghans, as “an enormous crime for our Homeland.” How relevant this sounds on the backdrop of what has been happening in Ukraine! In the Orthodox tradition, there is the great institution of repentance. Today for Russia this is probably the sole possible salvation, both spiritual and possibly even physical.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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