Saturday, August 8, 2009

Media Fight Over The Georgian War

Today is the one-year anniversary of the five-day conflict between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And a new battle is on, though thankfully this time it’s in the opinion pages.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili yesterday published an op-ed in the Washington Post, while Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, Presidents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia respectively, took to the UK's Guardian to make their case for their would-be countries. As you'd expect there's a fair amount of spin going on from both sides.

Saakashvili casts last year's events as nothing short of a Russian invasion of Georgia, conveniently ignoring the (now) fairly well-established fact that it was Georgia's shelling of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia that started the fighting in the first place. He also goes on to commit himself to democratic reforms - presumably the same reforms he's promised to deliver in 2003, 2007 and 2008. Not to be outdone, Bagapsh and Kokoity make the case that theirs are legitimate countries trying to escape Georgian oppression and welcome the world to take a look at what they've done so far (though they'd prefer you not ask any questions about the tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians driven from their homes, I presume).

That last part is why getting involved in affairs in the Caucasus region is such a tricky thing (hopefully you're reading this post Mr. Vice President). Georgia says they have thousands of refugees driven from their homes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Ask the other side though, and the Abkhaz and Ossetians will point to Georgian attempts at ethnic cleansing in the 1990s and 1920s when the Soviet Union grafted their territories onto the Georgian SSR. Keep talking and you're likely to get stories (like one BBC reporter did) of pogroms dating back to the 11th century, or earlier.

And, as I've stated in other posts, the United States comes off as fairly hypocritical supporting Georgia's 'territorial integrity' (keeping Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the fold) when we've argued so forcefully against Serbia's territorial integrity by recognizing the independence of their breakaway region, Kosovo.

But at least the leaders of the respective sides are doing their fighting this time with op-eds and not bullets. For now at least.
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