Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Tragedy of South Ossetia and the Western hypocrisy

Dr. Jugal Bhurtel
Professional spin doctors at CNN, BBC, Sky News, and their numerous Western counterparts clearly have a mission to give their global audience an impression that Russia is not capable of producing good news. Even after nearly two decades since the fall of the Soviet Empire, the rhetoric in the Western media remains in the best tradition of the Cold War. So, when it comes to Russian affairs, no one expects them to be particularly objective and fair. But the level of their prejudice demonstrated in recent conflicts in South Ossetia not only defies common sense, but also makes them morally responsible for misleading international community and thus indirectly encouraging the Georgian administration to commit genocide. Thanks to ‘free Western media’, the extravagant President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili has become a victim of Russian aggression, while, in fact, he is the main perpetrator of this profound humanitarian crime against the South Ossetian people committed on August 7.
On that fateful night when influential world leaders were gathered in Beijing for the Olympic, the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali was experiencing annihilation. Georgian war planes, tanks and heavy artillery relentlessly pounded the city offices and residential buildings, central republican hospital, university, electrical and communication systems. Innocent Ossetian women, old people and children were maimed and brutally killed. Replicating the successful NATO experience in Belgrade, internationally banned cluster bombs were used to bring down the city to ruins causing deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians. The only road leading to neighboring Russia was indiscriminately shelled by rocket barrage thus rendering a rescue operation impossible. Many local residents saved their lives hiding in cellars for over 24 hours without water, food or medical aid.
However, the tragedy of such scale at Tskhinvali, a city of just 100,000, was completely ignored by all leading Western media. As soon as Russia retaliated next day by bombing Georgian military installations near the town of Gori, the President of Georgia was everywhere frantically appealing the West to denounce Russia for ethnic cleansing. The Columbia University educated President always speaks in his flawless English giving a clear indication as to who his targeted audience is. Being a self-proclaimed promoter of global democracy, George Bush was obviously quick enough to extend helping hands to his political protégé and strongly warned Russia of serious consequences for using disproportionate force.
BBC and CNN were repeatedly showing the same footage of a weeping Saakashvili and a few destroyed buildings at Gori, but the ruined city of Tskhinvali did not have such honor. CNN was even charged for misinforming its audience with wrong footages. In two days, Saakashvili appeared many times live on BBC and CNN to condemn Russia for “committing genocide against the Georgian people”. This is how a case is made against any regime that Washington despises. We have seen it in Yugoslavia, Iraq and lately in Zimbabwe, Syria, Venezuela and Iran. But this time both Bush and his poster child Saakashvili clearly miscalculated the level of Russian resolve.
Several rounds of intense debates on South Ossetia crisis at the UN Security Council have given enough evidence as to who is behind this Georgian adventurism. The US Ambassador can be confused for representing Georgia. He even breached generally accepted diplomatic norms by citing a confidential conversation between the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to make a case against Russia for trying to topple the democratically-elected government of Georgia. However, he failed to mention that during the same conversation Ms. Rice requested Lavrov not to use the term ‘Genocide in South Ossetia’. She clearly knows its implications for Washington as one of the parties directly involved in this dirty war. The US Air Force has assisted Georgian soldiers return home from Iraq after the Russians started forcing out Georgian army from Tskhinvali. The military contingent in Iraq from tiny Georgia was the third largest after US and UK. That was how the Georgian soldiers were trained to use modern war technology on innocent people.
The Bush administration’s bellicose rhetoric against Moscow is a sign of sheer frustration over the humiliating collapse of all its efforts in Georgia. For the last several years it has been spending a lot of money and resources on this Caucasian country to upgrade its military equipment and infrastructure and help it look like a democracy to a standard acceptable for NATO membership. But some influential members of the organization appear to be reluctant to welcome a new entrant with territorial disputes within its border. Since his political mentor President Bush is all set to leave the Oval office in November, Saakahvili was clearly running out of time to quell the rebellion in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, he greatly underestimated the determination of a resurgent Russia, while overestimating possible US supports. After the Iraq fiasco, it is highly unlikely that US will ever fight other peoples’ war. In addition, America still needs Russia to resolve thorny issues like Iran, Sudan and North Korea, among others.
Some may find Abkhazia and South Ossetia guilty of breaking the territorial integrity of Georgia, but historically they had never been a part of the country. Prior to joining Soviet Union in 1922, they were both independent countries. They had enjoyed the status of autonomies in the Soviet Union and when the Union dissolved in 1991, they found themselves inside the international border of Georgia. The people of South Ossetia revolted against the loss of their independence. However, then ultranationalist president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia brutally suppressed it. Russia’s timely intervention prevented a possible genocide. A small contingent of Russia peacekeeping army was stationed along the border to enforce the peace accord. Since then, South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been enjoying de facto independence. They occasionally attempted to legalize it, but there was not much support from Moscow. Given a number of local ethnic problems in Russia, it was reluctant to violate international law by providing outright support to South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s independence bid.
However, the independence of Kosovo last February has created a precedent that has inspired many ethnic minorities all over the world including South Ossetia and Abkhazia, whose case is much stronger than the artificially created Kosovo on historical facts. Thanks to George Bush and co., the Pandora's Box of separatism is now wide open. Indeed “Things have changed” Ms. Rice!
Very frankly, the two terms of George Bush have been too much to bear. With his “we are all Georgian now” and “Russia must be excluded from G8 and WTO” rants, another republican hopeful John McCain has already given ample hints that Washington will keep on waging Georgia like proxy wars in the global arena. Using CNN type Goebbelia propaganda tools, the Republicans will try hard to promote Russo-phobia in order to increase McCain’s election prospects. And Barack Obama is already under pressure to match McCain’s anti-Russia tirade to prevent his opponent’s momentum. Never before the possibility of a peaceful world looked so grim!
In addition to the people of South Ossetia, there is one more significant victim of this fit of Georgian insanity. Every time when America promotes pseudo-democrats like Saakashvili, the liberal movement in Russia greatly suffers. Supporting democracy in the country becomes a risky business, because the people here have a tendency to wrongly associate democratic values with the United States. To me, that is the real tragedy!

(Dr। Bhurtel is a long time resident of Moscow)
Published in The Kathmandu Post, 19 August 2008