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Analysis & Opinion
20.08.08 A Black And White World
Comment by Georgy Bovt

I had the opportunity to observe how the Russian-Georgian war is interpreted and presented by the Western, first and foremost European, media. I got the impression that never since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union has the Western interpretation of events been so diametrically opposed to how this is all perceived in Russia and not just on federal television but in public opinion as well. And if today in Russia – and these sentiments are now even stronger then during the second Chechen war – the dominant viewpoint is that in relation to Georgia, on the whole, Russia is in the right and acting accordingly, despite some minor “war flaws,” then in the West, Russia’s actions appear to be a brazen and unprovoked aggression against an independent, pro-Western state headed by a democratically-elected president.

Never in the last 20 to 25 years has Russian and Western public opinion diverged so far, and never, as a whole, has the incandescence of political and diplomatic passions between Russia and the West been so strong. It appears that the enormous civilization gap, the incompatibility that optimistically disposed politicians tried to downplay and diminish over the recent years, has just now manifested itself. Alas, today the West perceives Russian actions -- exactly as in the Cold War years -- purely in a negative context, with no inclination to see any justification or motivation for these actions other than “aggressive imperialistic intentions.” Nobody wants to examine the details that complicate the customary view of the world. And the customary world view is that Russians are nothing more than “barbarians and aggressors,” and one should not expect anything else from them.

The Western media have nearly “ignored” the attack on South Ossetia by the Georgian armed forces on August 7 and 8. They “did not notice” hundreds of civilian casualties that resulted from the massive shelling of Tskhinvali by the Georgian “Grad” installations. All major events in this distant part of Georgia, which an average Western person could not locate a map, began in the second half of August 8, when regular Russian forces entered Georgian territory. At that moment, the “Russian aggression” began.

After that, the world returned to its “customary” viewpoint.

It is precisely this view that accounts for Mikheil Saakashvili’s having the greater share of time on Western television channels, which he uses more than effectively from a propagandistic standpoint. He speaks of Russian tanks that "stand at Tbilisi’s doorstep" and will enter any minute now. And this is almost always modestly left alone without clarifying commentary. With apparent sincere flare he suggests that in reality it was Russian aircraft and artillery that bombed Tskhinvali, causing mass casualties. And this is also left alone without commentary – let’s repeat that the ordinary Western person did not understand, was not given the chance to understand, that the Russian-Georgian war actually began with the intrusion of Georgian armed forces into the territory of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia.

Of course, in terms of international law, the Georgian president seemingly had authority to “restore the territorial integrity” of his country and to combat separatists by military means if necessary. But is this right of an unconditional and unlimited nature? Does it justify numerous preceding civilian casualties?

If this right bears precisely an unconditional nature, then the same opportunities must be given by the world community to the "legitimate government" of Sudan - in the fight against separatists in Darfur, and to the authorities in Beijing in the fight against supporters of Tibetan independence. Slobodan Milosevic should be posthumously pardoned, since he also struggled against "separatists" in the form of leaders of other republics comprising Yugoslavia.

Today, in fact, due to double standards in propaganda and information warfare efforts, the whole system of international law, in the shape it took after the Second World War, is disintegrating. If some can do anything they want just because they are “friends of the West and America,” then why can’t others do anything at all? If in some cases, the principles of “inviolability of borders” and “territorial integrity” of independent, sovereign, recognized nations are sacrificed for political expediency (as in the case with Kosovo), then why can’t the same “exception to the rules” be made with respect to other states and other separatist entities? Who should be the supreme and unquestioned judge in a situation where universal international standards either do not work or are discredited?

And finally, a purely "personal" question: how, exactly, in the opinion of today's most ardent critics of Russia’s actions, should Moscow have behaved in that specific situation which occurred around South Ossetia, the majority of whose residents have Russian citizenship, on August 8, 2008? And who would have the courage to act differently in this situation?
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