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Analysis & Opinion
11.08.08 Another War, Another Media Frenzy
Comment by Greg Simons

A “frozen conflict” has now, in a spectacular way, become very much unfrozen. In the usual state of affairs, the mass media have reassumed their frenzied manner in this “side performance” of the Olympic Games in Beijing. This conflict has also resoundingly demonstrated the Western mass media’s complete failure in providing a relatively objective or at least complete picture and analysis of events, and a very short memory in terms of recent occurrences--a fact that becomes extremely obvious when reading through the headlines and stories of Swedish, British, and American newspapers. Stories lack analysis and grounding, as well as opposing viewpoints. Not to mention casting stones whilst in a glasshouse.

There seems to be a wholesale taking for granted of any information provided by the Georgian authorities, no matter how many holes can be quickly found. This shows that little is being done to verify the information sourced, let alone to balance it. The cast is set in its most predictable manner, as it has been done so many times beforehand. Russia is the villain who is to take the blame, and the other is merely an innocent party that is victim to its imperialistic intrigues. I am one person who has had enough of being spoon fed this sub-standard journalism.

Let’s look at the lack of memory issue in terms of recent events, which were covered by many of these same mass media. The occurrence that leaps to mind in terms of its obvious implications was the shooting-down of unmanned reconnaissance drones over South Ossetia. A fundamental question of reflection, made easier with the hindsight provided by recent events: what were Georgians doing, making reconnaissance sweeps of South Ossetia at this time? Some three months later, we have an answer.

Another question, which should also be raised, concerns the availability of heavy weaponry near the border zone. Georgia claims that it was obeying by the conditions of the ceasefire, and solely responded to numerous provocations coming from the South Ossetian side. Perhaps this may in part be the case. However, how were the Georgian armed forces able to bring into action such a quantity of artillery and armor so fast? It takes time and planning to move such military hardware and then bring it into action, which certainly doesn’t leave enough time if the conditions of the ceasefire were being obeyed. There have been numerous examples in the past where one country has attacked another due to some sort of border point being “attacked,” the Danzig Incident being just one case in point.

One aspect that stands out immediately in this war is the targeting of Russian peacekeepers by the Georgian armed forces. Even assuming, in the worst-case scenario, that these peacekeepers are in fact biased and aligned with the South Ossetian authorities, targeting them does not help the matter. In fact, this merely serves to give the Russian military the pretext (which might otherwise be lacking) to become actively involved. Once more, cases such as the Americans invading Grenada in 1983, were done on the pretext of defending their citizens (American medical students). In any case, attacking another country’s armed forces is a declaration of war.

There have been various reasons cited by the Georgians for the Russians’ “unprovoked” attack, both economic and political. These are, however, merely blowing smoke on the issue. It has been a declared goal of President Mikheil Saakashvili to unify Georgia and the de-facto independent regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (since 1991-92). There is even a minister of re-integration in his cabinet. There also seems to be little reflection on the use of force by the Saakashvili regime to crush political opposition and the mass media in late 2007 and early 2008, during the period of the presidential election. Once again, the same mass media that have covered these events seems to have forgotten about them in their rush to condemn.

Now that the conflict has begun, there is also little analysis done as to why it could happen in the first place. It is true that tensions have been high in the past, and mutually antagonistic positions have brought the two countries close to confrontations, but these have been averted. How did Georgia, a country not overflowing with oil money, manage to re-arm and launch such an offensive, contravening its own ceasefire? The United States has trained and equipped the Georgian military, and this, along with promises (real or perceived) of eventually joining NATO, has had a cumulative effect to embolden Georgia to make the move. It would be extremely unwise for such a nation to attack when faced with an adversary such as Russia, unless it believed that it was going to be supported. It is not my intention to support the Russian cause wholeheartedly, but to highlight the discrepancies that exist in the coverage. This is in no doubt a conflict brought about by a sense of mutual antagonism.

Political expediency seems to have won the day. Although the United States is making noises about the war, it is unlikely to go much beyond rhetoric. At the end of the day, the United States needs Russian goodwill in the UN Security Council whilst pursuing Iran and its nuclear program. Also, in light of American actions in the Middle East, such calls and declarations have a certain air of hypocrisy about them. Going back in history, one also remembers American radio stations broadcasting propaganda to Eastern and Central Europe calling on the Hungarian people to revolt and throw off the Soviet regime, promising support. It was a cruel lesson for Hungary in 1956, and it is the same in 2008.

There are winners and losers in this conflict. The United States now knows how Russia can respond to such provocations in the future in its newly resurgent and proud state. Albeit, following Kosovo’s victory, the news is not very encouraging. Russia has discovered its ability to defend its interests, and the will to protect them. Georgia is the party to lose out, or more specifically the Georgian people. They are in effect prisoners of the situation, caught between two antagonistic forces--the political ambitions of its leaders and the Russian military’s offensive.

Dr. Greg Simons is a professor at the Department of Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University in Sweden.
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