Monday, 10 November 2008


How long is this election campaign going to continue? I am so much looking forward to when it’s over and we can talk about issues in terms beyond the old ‘my guy is right, your guy is wrong.’

What’s that? It’s over already? You jest.

In August the most important thing about the Russian invasion of Georgia, according to Gene of Harry’s Place, was that it showed McCain was wrong. Now the most important thing about the Russian invasion of Georgia is not just that it confirms that McCain was wrong, but that it proves Gene was right. At least according to Gene’s reading of a New York Times article from last thursday.

Recalling reaction to his post of August 12th, Gene writes:

For suggesting that the government of Mikheil Saakashvili may have been at least partly responsible for the outbreak of fighting, I was righteously condemned as naive (at best) by some commenters.
. . . and he points to the opening of last week’s  New York Times report:

Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression.

Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.
Curiously, nobody wrote anything contrary to this in those comments responding to Gene back in August. I don’t think anybody on that thread whitewashed the Georgian government. What commenters did point to was the buildup of provocative acts of aggression by Russia and its South Ossetian allies against Georgia, and the well-prepared character of the Russian invasion. The New York Times article now cited by Gene is primarily concerned with events in the hours before the invasion, not the months before the invasion which were the focus for many of Gene’s critics.

I was one of those critical commenters. I was extremely surprised that he would see the invasion primarily in terms of the US election. This post of mine was written partially in response to Gene.

Back to the New York Times article, and the questions it raised regarding the Georgian government account of events on August 7th. The final paragraphs:

Interviews by The Times have found a mixed picture on the question of whether Georgian villages were shelled after Mr. Saakashvili declared the cease-fire. Residents of the village of Zemo Nigozi, one of the villages that Georgia has said was under heavy fire, said they were shelled from 6 p.m. on, supporting Georgian statements.

In two other villages, interviews did not support Georgian claims. In Avnevi, several residents said the shelling stopped before the cease-fire and did not resume until roughly the same time as the Georgian bombardment. In Tamarasheni, some residents said they were lightly shelled on the evening of Aug. 7, but felt safe enough not to retreat to their basements. Others said they were not shelled until Aug 9.

With a paucity of reliable and unbiased information available, the O.S.C.E. observations put the United States in a potentially difficult position. The United States, Mr. Saakashvili’s principal source of international support, has for years accepted the organization’s conclusions and praised its professionalism. Mr. Bryza refrained from passing judgment on the conflicting accounts.

“I wasn’t there,” he said, referring to the battle. “We didn’t have people there. But the O.S.C.E. really has been our benchmark on many things over the years.”

The O.S.C.E. itself, while refusing to discuss its internal findings, stood by the accuracy of its work but urged caution in interpreting it too broadly. “We are confident that all O.S.C.E. observations are expert, accurate and unbiased,” Martha Freeman, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail message. “However, monitoring activities in certain areas at certain times cannot be taken in isolation to provide a comprehensive account.”

UPDATE: The same article was also siezed on by Thomas PM Barnett, about whom I wrote extensively back in September. 

Here are a few other recent New York Times pieces on Georgia:

South Ossetian forces on Sunday began reinforcing a border in the village of Perevi, an ethnically Georgian community that has been absorbed into South Ossetian territory despite a Russian pledge to withdraw to the enclave’s old boundaries.
A Human Rights Watch report focusing on the  Georgian military. The report also mentions allegations of Russian use of cluster bombs.

Oct. 31st: Georgia’s Battered Face in a Separatist Republic (Profile of Dmitri Sanakoev)
For 18 months, Mr. Sanakoev was the public face of Georgia’s “hearts and minds” campaign, president of an alternative government that challenged the separatist president, Eduard Kokoity.

I also recommend reading Michael J Totten’s reports from the Caucasus region, from August, September, and October.

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