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The next installment of our Watching the Russia Watchers series at S/O features an interview with Peter Lavelle, the main political analyst at the Russia Today TV network, host of its CrossTalk debate show and Untimely Thoughts blogger. (He also has a Wikipedia page!) Peter is opposed to Western media hegemony, considering it neither fair nor useful, and firmly believes that global media should feature a diversity of voices from all cultural traditions; as such, the rise of alternate forums such as Al Jazeera and Russia Today are a boon for media consumers everywhere. Peter Lavelle actualizes this philosophy in his own CrossTalk program, in which controversial topics from France’s burqa ban to the collapse of Soviet Amerika are discussed: agree with him or not, one can certainly never get bored listening. The serious Russia watcher is recommended to join his “Untimely Thoughts” – Expert Discussion Group on Russia.

Peter Lavelle: In His Own Words…

What first sparked your interest in journalism and Russia, and how did the twain meet?

The reason I started to write about Russia – circa 1999 – came about for two reasons. First, having an education in Eastern European and Russian history gave me a reason to write about where I lived. I didn’t like much of what the commentariat was writing on contemporary Russia. The second reason was to earn some money, which later led to needing to make a living.

I came to Russia to live in late 1997. I was employed as an equity analyst at what was then called Alfa Capital. I was lured to Russia by my former boss (an American) I worked with in Poland. I never wanted to move to Russia – actually I must say I was rather adverse to Russia, having lived in eastern Europe for about 12 years. As a result of the financial crisis of 1998, I was given a generous severance package. This allowed me to stay in Russia for a while without worrying too much about money. In spring of 2000 I started to work for a small Russian bank. The money wasn’t great, but at least the bank organized and paid for my visa. Plus, I had time to write now and then. It was at this time I discovered the JRL – Johnson’s Russia List. I have been hooked on (even an addict to) Russia watching ever since.

So you ask “how did the twain meet?” I was furious with what some journalists passed off as serious analysis and commentary on Russia and I was given opportunities to express myself as a corrective to what I thought was awful journalism. The synthesis is me today (and not just regarding Russia).

My first stop was the Russia Journal. It wasn’t much of a newspaper, but I sure did write a lot for it and really enjoyed it. Then UPI’s former Moscow bureau chief asked me to come on board as a stringer – I was thrilled. That was the first time I called myself a journalist.

Later, I wrote for Asia Times Online and – yes! – for Radio FreeEurope/Radio Liberty. Being published in “Current History” was also a special benchmark for me as a journalist.

This was also the first time I started butting heads with the commentariat. I would like to point out that this is way before I had anything to do with Russian state (funded) media. Please remember my Untimely Thoughts newsletter was going full blast during all of this.

And for all those interested: I started to work at RIAN (2005) becauseI was tired of the “slave wages” UPI was paying and for problems associated with getting a new visa. Thus, I had very practical reasons to make this move.

It is simply not true I went to RIAN (later RT) due to “ideological” motivations. I had already settled in Russia and wanted to stay settled. My journalism in front of a camera today differs little from the journalism I practiced in print years before RT came into existence.

What were your best and worst experiences as a Russia journalist?

The highlight of my career to date in journalism, in which I include television, was covering Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia in August 2008. I was in the news studio hour after hour, day in and day out. I lived on cigarettes and coffee, and with very little sleep. Watching such a story from the start and unfold was exhilarating. I am proud to say RT did an excellent job and that we at RT got the story right from the beginning when other news outlets either got it wrong or played catch-up (following RT’s lead of course!).

Having my own television program (aired three times a week) remains a great highlight. I dreamed (or day dreamed) of having such an opportunity at a very early age watching the Sunday political chat shows in the US. So dreams can come true, I suppose.

What is my worst experience? This will surprise you: not getting paid for my work. I have lost count of the number of articles I wrote without being compensated when I was still in print journalism. Today I can write for media outlets without asking for compensation – a wonderful position to be in.

I would like to also mention that while not directly under the category of “worst experience” I can say an on-going “unpleasant experience” is being called “Putin’s mouth piece” or the “Kremlin’s tool.” I speak my mind, I have always done this. Anyone acquainted with my long lost friend – my Untimely Thoughts newsletter – knows I have changed very little over the years. Television has not changed me; it has only allowed me to amplify my worldview.

Who are the best Russia commentators? Who are the worst?

Who are the best? There are some really great ones – ones that come to mind immediately: Patrick Armstrong, Vlad Sobell, Thomas Graham, Eugene Ivanov, Dale Herspring, Stephen Cohen, Paul Sauders, Dmitry Sims, Anatol Lieven, Mary Dejevsky, and Chris Weafer (and of course you Anatoly!).

Who are the worst? I think it is pointless to answer this question. Among the commentariat there is a small cottage industry that regularly condemns me – everyone reading this interview knows who I am referring to. To this day not one aspersion said or written about me warrants my reply. These are small minded people and most of them are journalists because they lack the ability and talent to do anything else. These are the worst kind of people – they get along by going along. When it comes to writing about Russia, the majority of them don’t have the guts to stand alone and speak up.

What is your favourite place in Russia? Is there anywhere you haven’t been yet, but would love to visit?

I love and hate Moscow! Moscow is my home so I make the best of it. Because of my CrossTalk program, I very rarely travel anymore. In fact, I have seen very little of this vast country. I have visited various cities between Moscow and St Petersburg and down south as far as Chechnya. By my own admission, I should be better travelled after so many years. I am still hoping to make it to Vladivostok.

If you could recommend one book about Russia, what would it be?

Martin Malia’s “Russia under Western Eyes” [AK: Click to buy] – I can’t remember how many times I have read this great tome, but each time I do I learn something new to reflect upon.

Do you think today’s Russian media environment is better than in 1999? The late 1980′s? Are Russian journalists freer or safer than they were before?

Comparing Russian media of the 80’s to the 90s to the 00s is not very constructive. The ending of Soviet era censorship was a great moment for Russians and Russian society. Some embraced honest and professional journalism; others practiced this trade with regrettable irresponsibility.

The way I look at Russia’s media transition – and the journey is long from over – is through the prism of business models. In the 80s the state’s monopoly had to be broken and eventually was. In the 90s the oligarchs divided up among themselves huge media empires – none ofwhich had any interest in real journalism or the social good. These media empires were political tools that terribly damaged journalism as a trade, profession, the political environment and even the world of business.

Since about 2000 (circa Putin), media in Russia is very much a business and a very profitable one at that! Today media caters more to audience interests and tastes – mostly entertainment (particularly when it comes to television). Is this good? Does this make a better society? Are people well enough informed? On the whole I don’t see Russian media being all that different from other media markets in the world. Russians – like their global counterparts – are well enough informed about their environment to make rational decisions about their lives. There is plenty of diversity, though one has to make an effort to satisfy interests beyond Russia’s mainstream.

As for the safety of journalists in Russia: this is a very painful and even shameful state of affairs. The police and judiciary need to do much more for journalists. Their inability to prosecute those behind high profile murders hurts journalism as a profession and public trust in state authorities.

Also, I want to point out that journalists are killed more likely because of “kompromat” being investigated or written about someone else’s money – not politics in its normative sense. In Russia money is everything – politics is a sideshow that amuses Russia’s hopelessly retarded liberal intelligentsia.

On balance, do you think Putinism was good or bad for Russia? (Try not to sit on the fence here).

I don’t like the term “Putinism.” There is no such “ism.” Russia is going through what I call the “post-soviet purgatory” – and doing well at that by my estimation, considering the other post-soviet states.

Vladimir Putin is the best thing to happen to Russia in its modern history – he is a rational person and a true patriot. Because of Putin, Russians are freer and richer now than any time since the Russian state came into existence centuries ago. Putin saved the Russian state from thieving oligarchs and their highly paid western advisors. Putin reconstructed the Russian state, was behind the creation of a middle class, and Russia’s dignified turn to the world stage. And he rightfully fought terrorism in the Caucasus when the West hoped for the slow and painful collapse of the Russian state in the wake of the Soviet collapse.

Putin is also the indirect creation of western hubris and the gross irresponsibility of Russia’s self-hating cappuccino-drinking liberals. Russia doesn’t need to be lectured by an outrageously hypocritical West, especially American posturing. Putin is the antithesis of Western hypocrisy and history will be very kind to him. Russians give him a lot of credit and he deserves it.

How will Russia-West relations be affected by Obama’s “reset” policy and Medvedev’s new emphasis on modernization? Which was the main party responsible for their deterioration in the first place?

The so-called “re-set” is a media strategy and in a sense a fraud – it has nothing to do with reality or political facts on the ground. Washington caved to reality – the American empire is collapsing. To slow the inevitable, Washington needs Moscow’s help. Out of self-interest Russia is willing to engage Obama. Pragmatic Russia today is helping Soviet Amerika out of a mess of its own making.

Most of the world’s problems can’t be resolved without Russia’s involvement – Washington now acknowledges this. Moscow does not give a hoot about Obama or the US. What Moscow does care about is how the world will evolve as the US deals with its own and much needed, but rarely spoken about, perestroika. The US is in decline and Russia (along with the emerging world) is readying itself for the inevitable paradigm shift.

Lastly, Russia and the US are not enemies, but they are competitors at times. Competition is good for both countries – even when dealing with common problems facing the world.

If you could advise the Russian government to do one thing it isn’t already doing, what would it be?

The Russian government claims it is fighting corruption (and there are signs of this), but it is not doing nearly enough. If Russia is to modernize itself to be competitive in the global marketplace, then it must to do more to fight this cancer. If this is not done, then history will pass Russia by.

HARD Talk* with Peter Lavelle

ANATOLY KARLIN: You are a fierce critic of US policy towards the Muslim world, and its enabling of Israeli expansionism and sidelining of dissenters like Robert Fisk and Norman Finkelstein. First, could you please expound on the similarities between Russophobia and Islamophobia? Second, why are Israeli policies towards the Palestinians / Hamas worse than Russia’s towards the Chechens / Caucasus Emirate?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUz14bvK4A8&w=480&h=385]

PETER LAVELLE: First of all, I don’t like the terms Russophobia and Islamophobia – both terms are emotive and lack precision. That said, it is obvious that Russia and Islam today serve as the West’s “other” – meaning both are feared because they are different and will not submit. It is the highest form of hubris on the part of the West to believe (even demand) that everyone in the world should be like the West. The fact is many in the world simply don’t want this. They want good education, health care, prosperity, etc., but not necessarily Western values and certainly not Western (read: American) militarism. This really annoys the West, particularly poorly educated and poorly informed Americans.

Russia sees itself as its own unique civilization. This may or may not be true, but many Russians seem to think so. Islam is obviously a civilization different from the West. Islam is experiencing a resurgence and a great deal of this resurgence is the rejection that Muslims must become more like American, Europeans, etc. I blame Western mainstream media for misleading Western audiences about Islam and the Muslim world. Tragically this is part of the grossly one-sided reporting when it comes to Israel and Greater Middle East politics.

Russia is terribly misinterpreted and misunderstood in the West. Russia is presented as the loser in the Cold War and thus should act as a defeated power. Russia refuses to do this. This infuriates many in the West. The fact is Russia and Russians liberated themselves from communism! According to the Western discourse regarding history, Russia is not repenting for the past, thus it still must be the enemy. The good news is Russia is a political fact on the ground and the West has no choice but to do business with it.

You ask: why are Israeli policies towards the Palestinians / Hamas worse than Russia’s towards the Chechens / Caucasus Emirate? You are asking me to compare apples with cement bricks!

The Israelis threw the Palestinians off their land and deny them their own state. Chechens have their republic within the Russian Federation, which is generously supported by the federal government.

Palestinians are less than second class citizens in Palestine, Chechens have the same rights as any other Russian citizen. Israel is a zionist state; Russia is a secular state protecting the religious rights of all citizens. Hamas was democratically elected; the Caucasus Emirate was not elected by anyone.

I could easily go on. As you can see I don’t see there is much of a comparison.

ANATOLY KARLIN: In my question to you about Russia-US relations, you claim the “American empire is collapsing” and allude to “Soviet Amerika” (that’s even the title of one your Crosstalk programs). Now it’s no secret that the United States has its share of problems: an overstretched military, awning budget deficits, etc. Nonetheless, we need some perspective. The US economy is still much larger than that of its nearest competitor, China (which has lots of bad loans and will be devastated if it were to pull the plug on its prime export market). The Eurozone may already be on the verge of unraveling. As for Russia, its GDP is an order of magnitude smaller than America’s.

So is it then reasonable to speculate about the collapse of Pax Americana, considering its current strength and the problems afflicting potential rivals? If it does collapse, which country or bloc will take its place, if any? Finally, have you heard of Dmitry Orlov’s idea of “the Collapse Gap” between the USSR and America today?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usiu_EefUow&w=480&h=385]

PETER LAVELLE: Yes, I have come across Orlov’s work and remain skeptical – he simply wants to the US to collapse. Everything you point out in your question is correct about the US. But you left out one important issue – the current weakness of America’s democracy. There is no political will in America to live within the country’s means. No one wants to sacrifice – and so many want too much without paying for it. This cannot last much longer – a couple of decades at best. America simply cannot maintain a global empire and prosperity at home. The only card up America’s sleeve is the dollar at the moment, but there is every indication that it will be replaced by a basket of currencies by mid-century.

Who will lead in the wake of America’s inevitable retreat? Hopefully the world will truly become multi-polar. Such a world is better for all of humanity. Multipolarity is better suited to dealing with issues such as climate change, food and energy security, non-proliferation, dealing with HIV/AIDs, etc. Today the world has to wait on all these issues because the US is very often the greatest barrier to positive change in world.

ANATOLY KARLIN: You say that you’re not a paid shill because you are quite sincere in your beliefs: you’re not “the man who $old his homeland”, as alleged by Russia Today’s (RT) former Tbilisi correspondant William Dunbar**. That may be so.

Nonetheless, many observers believe you and RT are hardly free of the same biases that you claim pervade the Western MSM. Though accusing you of being a “latter-day Lord Haw Haw” is surely extreme (as well as a reductio ad hitlerum), the perception definitely exists that what you call “challenging the Western media hegemony” is really just a euphemism for pushing Kremlin spin on unwitting Westerners.

First, do you think this is a valid argument? (If you use the “whataboutism” response, e.g. but the Western media is controlled too!, explain why you think that justifies Russia doing the same.) Second, if you still insist that you’re not beholden to the Kremlin, could you make three criticisms of the Medvedev-Putin tandem?

PETER LAVELLE: I knew William Dunbar and know a few of the details connected to his departure from RT. He is entitled to his opinion, though they are not opinions I agree with. Indeed, he does claim I am “the man who $old his homeland.” This only informs me that he knows little about me and my opinions.

So I will answer my critics on the compensation issue. Yes, I live a comfortable life in Moscow as far as a journalist is concerned, but that is not saying much these days! I am compensated because my work is hard, presenting truly alternative viewpoints, and promoting the station – no different from other television professionals around the world.

What does it mean to sell out one’s homeland? I am American and proud of it. Being American allows me to dissent – and I dissent all the time! RT allows me to do this when most western media outlets could never dream of giving a journalist so much free space. My program CrossTalk is my creation and I am very thankful RT management supports me. I decide the program’s topics and approve guests. I inform my boss what I am doing; I don’t ask for permission.

I don’t care what some disgruntled RT employee has to say about me. The same applies to others in the commentariat because their lack of talent or success. How often these days do I openly attack my critics? The answer is that I don’t. I am attacked and vilified because of my employer, but not my message. That is cheap.

I do not speak for RT – I can only speak for myself and my work at the television station. And let me make it clear – I don’t alway like every story RT broadcasts. At the same time I will defend the station’s commitment to being different. Again being honest – some RT reports are a bit over the top. But this is a good thing in the end – we ask our audience one basic thing: Question More. We may not always get it right, but our intention is spot on.

As far as Kremlin spin-doctoring is concerned, all I can say that this assumption is laughable. I come across this accusation all the time, but after working at RT for almost 5 years I still don’t see the evidence. Does RT present the government’s point of view? Yes, of course it does (and many other viewpoints as well). But is this “Kremlin spin-doctoring”? Obviously Russia’s political elite views the world differently from let’s say the US. Why should anyone be surprised by this? Also, anyone who has watched RT will tell you that the station is not only about politics. How can non-political stories be “Kremlin spin-doctoring”? RT wants to be and is competitive. This is because it is consciously different from its competitors.

RT doesn’t do the same. It is part of my job to watch the competition. I watch CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera. CNN and BBC are wildly one-sided on most global issues compared to RT. Where I work you can come across opinions never heard by RT’s competitors. I give Al Jazeera very high points for its coverage of the Greater Middle East (though not its Russia coverage). Thus, I have no need to use the “whataboutism” argument.

You want me to prove that I am not the Kremlin’s slave and live to talk about it! I welcome this opportunity. You asked for 3 examples, well I will give you 10. Over the past 10 years Russia’s leading politicians haven’t done enough regarding:

  1. Corruption at all levels.
  2. Support of the older generation (pensions).
  3. Repair of and construction of new infrastructure.
  4. Support of small and medium size businesses.
  5. Development of political parties.
  6. Promotion of civil society’s role in solving social problems.
  7. Over reliance on the oil and natural gas sectors.
  8. Introduction of a volunteer-only military and military reform in general.
  9. Finding justice in so-called high-profile murders.
  10. The lack of competition in the marketplace.

I could easily go on. Russia has a lot of problems, no different from ALL OTHER countries in the world.

ANATOLY KARLIN: Global warming [deniers / skeptics] (delete as needed) like Alex Jones, Piers Corbyn and Chris Monckton – all with fairly minimal scientific credentials – get prominent coverage at RT. The entire topic of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is treated as a debate in which either side has yet to prove its case.

However, in the real world, there is a consensus: in a 2004 study, Naomi Oreskes concluded that 75% of papers backed the AGW view, while none directly dissented from it. (And the latest studies are almost always more pessimistic about the magnitude of future warming than “previously expected”.) Given the sheer amount of evidence in favor of AGW, it seems strange to put a hereditary aristocrat who calls his opponents “Hitler Youth” and organizes witch hunts on the same pedestal as climate scientists. Even though more Americans believe in creationism than in evolution, news channels don’t normally give equal weight to both sides in that “debate”, do they?

So I’m at a loss how to explain this. Does RT want to get the scoop on the Western media, even at the cost of its own credibility? Or were you guys told to spin up Climategate because global warming is expected to benefit Russia? Or do you really believe that the AGW “debate” is still far from “settled”?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAvpH-dOP5A&w=480&h=385]

PETER LAVELLE: Again you are asking me to speak for RT – I am not RT’s spokesperson. And to be frank, I find your “Or were you guys told to spin up Climategate…” insulting. The fact is many of our viewers are interested in climate change. RT follows its viewers.

Nonetheless, I am glad you ask about AGW. I have done two programs on the subject – a topic I want to learn more about. I have no problem having Piers Corbryn and Chris Monckton on my program. Could you debate them? My other guests were actually quite keen to debate them. Let me be clear about something: RT gets credibility because it gives air time to different voices. And you are right, there really is no debate on American television. That can’t be said about my CrossTalk program and RT. Speaking about different voices: I may be one of the most prominent backers of dissent in the world of television today! I am proud of that.

ANATOLY KARLIN: Thank you for answering four very HARD questions. I’ll go easy on the last one. As you told us earlier in the interview, you dreamed of having your own TV program from an early age. Your wish came true. There are many who share your dream. Some of them might even be reading this interview! What advice would you give them on becoming a made man or woman in journalism? (The mafia reference isn’t entirely whimsical: from a distance, the profession does appear distinctly cliquish.)

PETER LAVELLE: This is the hardest question of all. All I can say is if you really want to be a journalist (including a TV journalist) you have to make a huge commitment. The competition is enormous and at times talented. Be different because you really are – not because being different might sell. Start blogging and pitching your material. Be prepared for rejection – many times over before things start to happen. Stay away from attacking individuals – staying with your convictions will be enough. Don’t try to become famous, that will come with hard work and honest and fair beliefs. Be willing to learn from others. And lastly stay away from journalists – a caste of people who, for the most part, aren’t worth even having a cup of coffee with.

Back to the Future

Many Russia watchers don’t like to put their money where they mouth is. Though I’m sure you’re not the type, feel free to confirm it by making a few falsifiable predictions about Russia’s future. After a few years, we’ll see if you were worth listening to.

Ok, Peter Lavelle’s predictions:

  • The current tandem will rule for the foreseable future – which is a good thing.
  • The next election cycle will go smoothly – parliamentary and presidential. Fingers crossed Russia’s political parties will mature some.
  • Russia will continue to recover and grow during the on-going global slump. If the US and Europe experience another turn-down, Russia will be spared.
  • Over the next few years, Russia and its eastern European neighbors will continue a robust process of reconciliation.
  • Russia will have to step in to play a greater role in the Greater Middle East as Washington is anything but a fair broker.
  • Russia will not continue down the path of pressuring Iran regarding Tehran’s nuclear program – Russia-US relations again will be strained (though nothing like during the Bush years).
  • Russia will continue to expand its influence in the Western Hemisphere, though not as a direct competitor to the US.
  • NATO will start to seriously listen to Russia (as most European capitals will pretend they have never heard of Saak!).
  • Mainstream western media will continue to get Russia wrong — that is an easy preduction!
  • Eventually, Putin will be blamed for the oil spill in the Gulf and creating the HIV/AIDS virus.

Do you plan to revive your Untimely Thoughts blog? Could you throw us a bone about any other projects you may have in the works?

What about the future? I am having a new website created to mirror my CrossTalk program. There, I intend to return to blogging in a big way in September.

Anatoly, thanks for the interview!

And thank you too, Peter, for a brilliant interview that gives fans and critics alike a lot to chew on!

If you wish me to interview you or another Russia watcher, feel free to contact me.

* A note on HARD Talk: My job as an interviewer is be a contrarian and even a “devil’s advocate” of sorts; to air common, common-sense or germane criticisms of the interviewee’s arguments and worldview, REGARDLESS of what my opinions might or might not be. (For instance, though I criticized Peter Lavelle’s views on the collapse of “Soviet Amerika”, I’ve made the same arguments on this very site: e.g. see here, here). I hope this clarifies things for the angry person who wrote me the email accusing me of Russophobia (LOL) in my HARD Talk with A Good Treaty.

** UPDATE August 14, 2010: William Dunbar has since deleted his only comment at that Facebook Group, which is reproduced below:

William Dunbar: hi, i just resigned from RT because i was being censored about georgia, i was the tbilisi correspondent. i have to say this is among the best groups i have ever seen on facebook. peter used to have a profile, i guess he left because it was another example of the double standards of the biased western media… or maybe putin prefers myspace

After I contacted him, Dunbar said that 1) he never alleged that Peter Lavelle is ““the man who $old his homeland” and that he left the Facebook group after reading this interview, 2) the last sentence is an inside joke between Dunbar and Lavelle that is “light hearted and not had absolutely nothing to do with how much Peter may or may not be paid”, and 3) he thinks that Peter Lavelle “is a true believer”, albeit his “commentary is objectionable, prejudiced and misleading.”

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Putin gave an interview to CNN, logically and comprehensively explaining the Russian view on the South Ossetian War. What did CNN do? They censored most of the interview (in stark contrast, Saakashvili’s frequent deranged rantings bouts got prime attention during the conflict), leaving only the stuff that makes Putin look like a loon to the average Joe.

Don’t let those craven neocon shills win. Watch the full interview.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwC5q-zMQnw&w=425&h=344]
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMKNmW_9C5o&w=425&h=344]
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VsNFEZKmgo&w=425&h=344]

Part 1

Matthew Chance: Many people around the world, even though you’re not the president of Russia anymore, see you as the main decision maker in this country. Wasn’t you that ordered Russian forces into Georgia and you who should take responsibility for the consequences?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, that’s not the case. In accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the issues of foreign policy and defense are fully in the hands of the president. The president of the Russian Federation was acting within his powers.

As is known, yours truly was at that time at the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing. This alone made it impossible for me to take part in preparing that decision, although of course, President Medvedev was aware of my opinion on that issue. I’ll be frank with you, and actually there is no secret about it, we had of course considered all the possible scenarios of events, including direct aggression by the Georgian leadership.

We had to think beforehand about how to provide for the security of our peace-keepers and of the citizens of the Russian Federation who are residents of South Ossetia. But, I repeat, such a decision could only be taken by the president of the Russian Federation, the commander in chief of the armed forces, Mr. Medvedev. It’s his decision.

Matthew Chance: But it’s been no secret either that for years you’ve been urging the West to take more seriously Russia’s concerns about international issues. For instance, about NATO’s expansion, about deployment of missile defense systems in eastern Europe. Wasn’t this conflict a way of demonstrating that in this region, it’s Russia that’s the power, not NATO and certainly not the United States?

Vladimir Putin: Of course not. What is more, we did not seek such conflicts and do not want them in the future.

That this conflict has taken place — that it broke out nevertheless — is only due to the fact that no one had heeded our concerns.

More generally, Matthew, I will say this: We must take a broader view of this conflict.

I think both you and your — our — viewers today will be interested to learn a little more about the history of relations between the peoples and ethnic groups in this regions of the world. Because people know little or nothing about it.

If you think that this is unimportant, you may cut it from the program. Don’t hesitate, I wouldn’t mind.

First mistake. Never, ever give the media permission to do anything. They have extremely liberal interpretations.

But I would like to recall that all these state entities, each in its own time, voluntarily integrated into the Russian Empire. Back in the mid-18th century, in 1745-1747, Ossetia was the first to become part of the Russian Empire. At that time, it was a united entity; North and South Ossetia were one state.

In 1801, if my memory serves me, Georgia itself, which was under some pressure from the Ottoman Empire, voluntarily became part of the Russian Empire.

It was only 12 years later, in 1812, that Abkhazia became part of the Russian Empire. Until that time, it had remained an independent state, an independent principality.

It was only in the mid-19th century that the decision was taken to incorporate South Ossetia into the Tiflis province. Within a common state, the matter was regarded as not very important. But I can assure you that subsequent years showed that the Ossetians did not much like it. However, de facto they were put by the tsar’s central government under the jurisdiction of what is now Georgia.

When, after World War I, the Russian Empire broke up, Georgia declared its own state while Ossetia opted for staying within Russia; this happened right after the events of 1917.

In 1918, as a result of this, Georgia conducted a rather brutal punitive operation there, and in 1921, it repeated it.

When the Soviet Union was formed, these territories, by Stalin’s decision, were definitively given to Georgia. As you know, Stalin was ethnically Georgian.

Therefore, those who insist that those territories must continue to belong to Georgia are Stalinists: They defend the decision of Josef Vissarionovich Stalin.

Yet, whatever has been happening recently and whatever the motives of those involved in the conflict, there is no doubt that all that we are witnessing now is a tragedy.

For us, it is a special tragedy, because during the many years that we were living together the Georgian culture — the Georgian people being a nation of ancient culture — became, without a doubt, a part of the multinational culture of Russia.

There is even a tinge of civil war in this for us, though of course Georgia is an independent state, no doubt about it. We have never infringed on the sovereignty of Georgia and have no intention of doing so in the future. And yet, considering the fact that almost a million, even more than a million Georgians have moved here, we have special spiritual links with that country and its people. For us, this is a special tragedy.

And, I assure you, while mourning the Russian soldiers who died, and above all the innocent civilians, many here in Russia are also mourning the Georgians who died.

The responsibility for the loss of life rests squarely with the present Georgian leadership, which dared to take these criminal actions.

I apologize for the long monologue; I felt it would be of interest.

Matthew Chance: It is very interesting that you are talking about Russia’s imperial history in this region because one of the effects of Russian intervention in Georgia is that other countries in the former Soviet Union are now deeply concerned that they could be next, that they could be part of a resurgent Russian empire … particularly countries like Ukraine, that have a big ethnic Russian populations, but also Moldova, the central Asian states and even some of the Baltic states. Can you guarantee to us that Russia will never again use its militarily forces against a neighboring state?

Vladimir Putin: I strongly object to the way this question is formulated. It is not for us to guarantee that we will not attack someone. We have not attacked anyone. It is we who are demanding guarantees from others, to make sure that no one attacks us anymore and that no one kills our citizens. We are being portrayed as the aggressor.

I have here the chronology of the events that took place on August 7, 8 and 9. On the 7th, at 2:42 p.m., the Georgian officers who were at the headquarters of the joint peacekeeping forces left the headquarters, walked away from the headquarters — where there were our servicemen, as well as Georgian and Ossetian servicemen — saying that had been ordered to do so by their commanders. They left their place of service and left our servicemen there alone and never returned during the period preceding the beginning of hostilities. An hour later, heavy artillery shelling started.

At 10:35 p.m., a massive shelling of the city of Tskhinvali began. At 10:50 p.m., ground force units of the Georgian armed forces started to deploy to the combat zone. At the same time, Georgian military hospitals were deployed in the immediate vicinity. And at 11:30 p.m., Mr. Kruashvili, brigadier general and commander of the Georgian peacekeeping forces in the region, announced that Georgia had decided to declare war on South Ossetia. They announced it directly and publicly, looking right into the TV cameras.

At that time, we tried to contact the Georgian leadership, but they all refused to respond. At 0:45 a.m. on August 8, Kruashvili repeated it once again. At 5:20 a.m., tank columns of the Georgian forces launched an attack on Tskhinvali, preceded by massive fire from GRAD systems, and we began to sustain casualties among our personnel.

At that time, as you know, I was in Beijing, and I was able to talk briefly with the president of the United States. I said to him directly that we had not been able to contact the Georgian leadership but that one of the commanders of the Georgian armed forces had declared that they had started a war with South Ossetia.

George replied to me — and I have already mentioned it publicly — that no one wanted a war. We were hoping that the U.S. administration would intervene in the conflict and stop the aggressive actions of the Georgian leadership. Nothing of the kind happened.

What is more, already at 12 noon local time, the units of the Georgian armed forces seized the peacekeepers’ camp in the south of Tskhinvali — it is called Yuzhni, or Southern — and our soldiers had to withdraw to the city centre, being outnumbered by the Georgians one to six. Also, our peacekeepers did not have heavy weapons, and what weapons they had had been destroyed by the first artillery strikes. One of those strikes had killed 10 people at once.

Then the attack was launched on the peacekeeping forces’ northern camp. Here, let me read you the report of the General Staff: “As of 12:30 p.m., the battalion of the Russian Federation peacekeeping forces deployed in the north of the city had beaten off five attacks and was continuing combat.”

At that same time, Georgian aviation bombed the city of Dzhava, which was outside the zone of hostilities, in the central part of South Ossetia.

So who was the attacker, and who was attacked? We have no intention of attacking anyone, and we have no intention of going to war with anyone.

During my eight years as president, I often heard the same question: What place does Russia reserve for itself in the world; how does it see itself; what is its place? We are a peace-loving state and we want to cooperate with all of our neighbors and with all of our partners. But if anyone thinks that they can come and kill us, that our place is at the cemetery, they should think what consequences such a policy will have for them.

Matthew Chance: You’ve always enjoyed over your period as president of Russia, and still now, a very close personal relationship with the U.S. President George W. Bush. Do you think that his failure to restrain the Georgian forces on this occasion has damaged that relationship?

Vladimir Putin: This has certainly done damage to our relations, above all government-to-government relations.

But it is not just a matter of the U.S. administration being unable to restrain the Georgian leadership from this criminal action; the U.S. side had in effect armed and trained the Georgian army.

Why spend many years in difficult negotiations to find comprehensive compromise solutions to inter-ethnic conflicts? It is easier to arm one of the parties and push it to kill the other and have it done with. What an easy solution, apparently. In fact, however, that is not always the case.

I have some other thoughts, too. What I am going to say is hypothetical, just some suppositions, and will take time to properly sort out. But I think there is food for thought here.

Even during the years of the Cold War, the intense confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, we always avoided any direct clash between our civilians and, most certainly, between our military.

We have serious reasons to believe that there were U.S. citizens right in the combat zone. If that is the case, if that is confirmed, it is very bad. It is very dangerous; it is misguided policy.

But, if that is so, these events could also have a U.S. domestic politics dimension.

If my suppositions are confirmed, then there are grounds to suspect that some people in the United States created this conflict deliberately in order to aggravate the situation and create a competitive advantage for one of the candidates for the U.S. presidency. And if that is the case, this is nothing but the use of the called administrative resource in domestic politics, in the worst possible way, one that leads to bloodshed.

Matthew Chance: These are quite astounding claims, but just to be clear, Mr. Prime Minister, are you suggesting that there were U.S. operatives on the ground assisting Georgian forces, perhaps even provoking a conflict in order to give a presidential candidate in the United States some kind of talking point?

Vladimir Putin: Let me explain.

Matthew Chance: And if you are suggesting that, what evidence do you have?

Vladimir Putin: I have said to you that if the presence of U.S. citizens in the zone of hostilities is confirmed, it would mean only one thing: that they could be there only at the direct instruction of their leaders. And if that is so, it means that in the combat zone there are U.S. citizens who are fulfilling their duties there. They can only do that under orders from their superiors, not on their own initiative.

Ordinary specialists, even if they train military personnel, must do it in training centers or on training grounds rather than in a combat zone.

I repeat: This requires further confirmation. I am quoting to you the reports of our military. Of course, I will seek further evidence from them.

Based on this, the “stories” that Putin claimed the US purposefully instigated the war to help McCain win, despite that he explicitly said it was a possibility that ought to be considered. Mistake number 2.

Why are you surprised at my hypothesis, after all? There are problems in the Middle East; reconciliation there is elusive. In Afghanistan, things are not getting any better; what is more, the Taliban have launched a fall offensive, and dozens of NATO servicemen are being killed.

In Iraq, after the euphoria of the first victories, there are problems everywhere, and the number of those killed has reached 4,000.

There are problems in the economy, as we know only too well. There are financial problems, the mortgage crisis. Even we are concerned about it, and we want it to end soon, but it is there.

A little victorious war is needed. And if it doesn’t work, then one can lay the blame on us, use us to create an enemy image, and against the backdrop of this kind of jingoism once again rally the country around certain political forces.

I am surprised that you are surprised at what I’m saying. It’s as clear as day.

Part 2

Matthew Chance: It sounds a little farfetched, but I am interested because I was in Georgia in the time of the conflict, and the country was swirling with rumors. One of the rumors was that U.S. personnel had been captured in combat areas. Is there any truth to that rumor?

Vladimir Putin: I have no such information. I think it is not correct.

I repeat: I will ask our military to provide additional information to confirm the presence of U.S. citizens in the conflict zone during the hostilities.

Matthew Chance: Let’s get back to the diplomatic fallout of this conflict, because one of the consequences is that action is being threatened at least against Russia by many countries in the world. It could be kicked out of the G-8 group of industrialized nations. There are threats it could have its contacts with the NATO militarily alliance suspended. What will Russia’s response be if the country is diplomatically isolated as a result of this tension between Russia and the West?

Vladimir Putin: First of all, if my hypothesis about the U.S. domestic political dimension of this conflict is correct, then I don’t see why United States allies should support one U.S. political party against the other in the election campaign. This is a position that is not honest vis-à-vis the American people as a whole. But we do not rule out the possibility that, as happened before, the administration will once again be able to subordinate its allies to its will.

So what’s to be done? What choice do we have? On one hand, should we agree to being killed in order to remain, say, in the G-8? And who will remain in the G-8 if all of us are killed?

Mistake number 3. You’re beginning to sound like a psycho, when quoted out of context (as you inevitably will be).

You have mentioned a possible threat from Russia. You and I are sitting here now, having a quiet conversation in the city of Sochi. Within a few hundred kilometers from here, U.S. Navy ships have approached, carrying missiles whose range is precisely several hundred kilometers. It is not our ships that have approached your shores; it’s your ships that have approached ours. So what’s our choice?

We don’t want any complications; we don’t want to quarrel with anyone; we don’t want to fight anyone. We want normal cooperation and a respectful attitude toward us and our interests. Is that too much?

You have mentioned the G-8. But in its present form, the G-8 already doesn’t carry enough weight. Without inviting the Chinese People’s Republic or India, without consulting them, without influencing their decisions, normal development of the world economy is impossible.

Or take the fight against drugs, combating infectious disease, fighting terrorism, working on non-proliferation. OK, if someone wants to do it without any involvement of Russia, how effective will that work be?

That’s not what we should be thinking about, and it’s pointless to try to intimidate anyone. We are not afraid, not at all. What’s needed is a realistic analysis of the situation, looking to the future so as to develop a normal relationship, with due regard for each other’s interests.

Matthew Chance: The raw as you’ve mentioned areas of cooperation still between the United States and Russia, particularly for instance over the issue of Iran’s very controversial nuclear program.

Are you suggesting that you may withdraw your cooperation with the United Nations in tackling that problem from the United States if the diplomatic pressure were to be ruptured up between Russian and the West?

Vladimir Putin: Russia has been working very consistently and in good faith with its partners on all problems, those that I’ve mentioned and those that you added. We do so not because someone asks us and we want to look good to them. We are doing it because this is consistent with our national interests, because in these areas, our national interests coincide with those of many European countries and of the United States. If no one wants to talk to us about these problems and cooperation with Russia becomes unnecessary, God bless, do this work yourself.

Matthew Chance: And what about the issue of energy supply, because obviously European countries in particular are increasingly dependent on Russian gas and on Russian oil. Would Russia ever use the supply of energy to western Europe as a leaver to apply pressure should the diplomatic tensions be ratcheted up?

Vladimir Putin: We have never done it. Construction of the first gas pipeline system was started during the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, and for all those years, from the 1960s until this day, Russia has been fulfilling its contract obligations in a very consistent and reliable way, regardless of the political situation.

We never politicize economic relations, and we are quite astonished at the position of some U.S. administration officials who travel to European capitals trying to persuade the Europeans not to buy our products, natural gas for example, in a truly amazing effort to politicize the economic sphere. In fact, it’s quite pernicious.

It’s true that the Europeans depend on our supplies but we too depend on whoever buys our gas. That’s interdependence; that’s precisely the guarantee of stability.

And since we are already talking about economic matters, I would like to inform you about a decision that will be taken in the near future. Let me say right from the start that it is in no way related to any crisis, not to the situation in Abkhazia nor in South Ossetia; those are purely economic matters. Let me tell you what it’s about.

For some time, we have had a debate about supplies of various products from different countries, including the United States. And of course the debate is particularly intense, as a rule, as regards agricultural products.

In July and August, our sanitation services conducted inspections of U.S. plants that supply poultry meat to our market. It was a spot-check inspection. It revealed that 19 of those plants ignored the concerns that our specialists had raised back in 2007. These plants will be removed from the list of poultry exporters to the Russian Federation.

Twenty-nine plants were given warnings that they must, in the near future, rectify the situation that our sanitation specialists find unacceptable. We hope the response will be rapid and that they will be able to continue supplying their products to the Russian market.

That information has just been reported to me by the minister of Agriculture.

Let me say once again that I would hate these things to be lumped together: the problems caused by conflict situations, politics, economics, meat. They all have their own dimension and are unrelated.

Matthew Chance: Prime Minister Putin, this appears or may be interpreted in the United States as tantamount to economic sanctions. Specifically, one of these 19 agricultural enterprises been importing to Russia that you’ve found to be flawed?

Vladimir Putin: Well, I am not an agricultural expert. This morning, the minister of agriculture gave me the following information.

I have already said it and want to repeat it. In July and August of this year, spot checks were made at U.S. plants that supply poultry to the Russian market. It was found that some of the concerns raised by our specialists earlier, in 2007, had been ignored and that the plants had done nothing to correct the deficiencies identified during the previous inspections. For that reason, the Ministry of Agriculture decided to remove them from the list of exporters.

At 29 other plants, certain problems have been found. They have been properly documented, with instructions as to what needs to be changed in order for the previous agreements on deliveries from those plants to Russia to remain in effect. We hope that they will quickly rectify the problems identified during those checks.

It has been found that their products contain excessive amounts of some substances that are subject to certain controls in our country. They contain excessive amounts of antibiotics and perhaps some other substances such as arsenic. I don’t know; it’s for the agricultural experts to consider. This has noting to do with politics. These are not some kind of sanctions. Such measures were taken here on several occasions in the past. There is nothing catastrophic here. It just means that we should work on this together.

What’s more, when the minister called me, he said, “Frankly, we don’t know what to do. It’ll look like sanctions, but we need to take a decision. Of course, we could take a pause, too.”

I think they said it’s arsenic. But we have our rules. If you want to export to our market, you must adjust to our rules. They know all about it. They were told about it back in 2007.

Matthew Chance: The U.S. won’t like it.

Vladimir Putin: We too do not like some of the things being done. They need to work closer together with our Ministry of Agriculture. Such things have happened before.

We closed it, and then we allowed them in again. It happened not only with regard to U.S. suppliers but Brazilian, too.

Matthew Chance: To conclude –

Vladimir Putin: We could go on. I am in no hurry.

Part 3

Matthew Chance: Prime Minister Putin, perhaps more than anyone else, you’re credited with restoring a degree of international prestige to this country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, after the chaos of 1990s, are you concerned that you’re squandering that international prestige by your actions over Georgia, by actions like these banning of bird meat imports from the United States? Is that something the concerns you?

Note how Matthew goes on about these same topics with the same gusto, just at a slightly different angle, no doubt hoping Putin would get frustrated and make more slip-ups that could the headlines.

Vladimir Putin: Well, I have told you that there is no ban on U.S. poultry. It’s a ban on some plants that did not respond to our concerns for a whole year.

We have to protect our domestic market and our consumers, as is done by all countries, including the United States.

As for Russia’s prestige: We don’t like what’s been happening, but we did not provoke this situation. Speaking of prestige, some countries’ prestige has been severely damaged in recent years. In effect, in recent years our U.S. partners have been cultivating the rule of force instead of the rule of international law. When we tried to stop the decision on Kosovo; no one listened to us. We said, don’t do it, wait; you are putting us in a terrible position in the Caucasus. What shall we say to the small nations of the Caucasus as to why independence can be gained in Kosovo but not here? You are putting us in a ridiculous position. At that time, no one was talking about international law; we alone did. Now, they have all remembered it. Now, for some reason, everyone is talking about international law.

But who opened Pandora’s box? Did we do it? No, we didn’t do it. It was not our decision, and it was not our policy.

There are both things in international law: the principle of territorial integrity and right to self-determination. What’s needed is simply to reach agreement on the ground rules. I would think that the time has finally come to do it.

As for the public perception of the events that are taking place, of course this in large part depends not only on the politicians but also on how cleverly they manipulate the media, on how they influence world public opinion. Our U.S. colleagues are of course much better at it than we are. We have much to learn. But is it always done in a proper, democratic way, is the information always fair and objective?

Mistake number 4. The average Westerner who thinks his/her media are the epogee of free, objective reporting and that their civilization is the very best thing since sliced white bread is going to dismiss this as the rabid ranting of a conspiracist lunatic. Typically truth is a very blunt weapon in infowars.

Let’s recall, for example, the interview with that 12-year-old girl and her aunt, who, as I understand, live in the United States and who witnessed the events in South Ossetia. [Amanda Kokoeva] The interviewer at one of the leading channels, Fox News, was interrupting her all the time. All the time, he interrupted her. As soon as he didn’t like what she was saying, he started to interrupt her, he coughed, wheezed and screeched. All that remained for him to do was to soil his pants, in such a graphic way as to stop them. That’s the only thing he didn’t do, but, figuratively speaking, he was in that kind of state. Well, is that an honest and objective way to give information? Is that the way to inform the people of your own country? No, that is disinformation.

We want to live in peace and agreement; we want normal trade; we want to work in all areas: to assure international security, to work on problems of disarmament, on fighting terrorism and drugs, on the Iranian nuclear problem, on the North Korean problem which is now showing a somewhat alarming tendency. We are ready for all that, but we want this work to be honest, open and done in partnership, rather than selfishly.

It is wrong to make anyone into an enemy; it is wrong to scare the people of one’s own country with that enemy and try to rally some allies on that basis. What we need is to work openly and honestly on solutions to the problem. We want that and we are ready for that.

Matthew Chance: Let’s go back to the assertion that the U.S. provoked the war. Diplomats in the United States accuse Russia of provoking the war by supporting the separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia by arming them, by increasing forces in the territories and by recognizing their institutions … basically giving them the green light to go ahead and operate de facto. Wasn’t it Russia that really caused this conflict?

Vladimir Putin: I can easily reply to this question. Since the 1990s, as soon as this conflict started, and it started in recent history because of the decision of the Georgian side to deprive Abkhazia and South Ossetia of the rights of autonomy. In 1990 and 1991, the Georgian leadership deprived Abkhazia and South Ossetia of the autonomous rights that they enjoyed as part of the Soviet Union, as part of Soviet Georgia, and as soon as that decision was taken, ethnic strife and armed hostilities began. At that time, Russia signed a number of international agreements, and we complied with all those agreements. We had in the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia only those peacekeeping forces that were stipulated in those agreements and never exceeded the quota.

The other side — I am referring to the Georgian side — with the support of the United States, violated all the agreements in the most brazen way.

Under the guise of units of the Ministry of the Interior, they secretly moved into the conflict zone their troops, regular army, special units and heavy equipment. In fact, they surrounded Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, with that heavy equipment and tanks. They surrounded our peacekeepers with tanks and started shooting at them point blank.

It was only after that, after our first casualties and after their number considerably increased, after tens of them had been killed — I think 15 or 20 peacekeepers were killed, and there was heavy loss of life among the civilian population, with hundreds killed — it was only after all that that President Medvedev decided to introduce a military contingent to save the lives of our peacekeepers and innocent civilians.

What is more, when our troops began moving in the direction of Tskhinvali, they came across a fortified area that had been secretly prepared by the Georgian military. In effect, tanks and heavy artillery had been dug into ground there, and they started shelling our soldiers as they moved.

All of it was done in violation of previous international agreements.

It is of course conceivable that our U.S. partners were unaware of all that, but it’s very unlikely.

A totally neutral person, the former Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms. Zurabishvili, who is I think a French citizen and is now in Paris, has said publicly, and it was broadcast, that there was an enormous number of U.S. advisers and that of course they knew everything.

And if our supposition that there were U.S. citizens in the combat zone is confirmed — and I repeat, we need further information from our military — then these suspicions are quite justified.

Those who pursue such a policy toward Russia, what do they think? Will they like us only when we die?

Matthew Chance: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

Save your breath, Putin. The Annals of Western Hypocrisy Go On and On, World and Time Without End.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Georgia’s glorius leader will surely go down in the annals of history alongside other great men of his calibre like Dubya…

Aug 13 (Reuters) – Following are some of the various statements made on Wednesday by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili:

TO CBS TELEVISION

“In Georgia’s far region of South Ossetia… Russian tanks are going through villages inhabited by the Georgian population and throwing people out of the houses, pushing people into concentration camps that they are setting up in those villages and separating men and women and doing worse kind of atrocities I’ve heard of since the Balkans or the war in Chechnya.” “…Several hundred kilometres or miles removed from south Ossetia, where (villages) are again inhabited by Georgians, they are throwing out every single Georgian man or woman and children.”

“…They moved into the town of Gori and they ransacked the town, looted the town. These are regular Russian troops, they go into houses, they destroy houses, there is all this documentary footage around that can prove it….they are taking things like furniture, toilet seats, killing people, terrorising people.”

He compared the situation with the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia and appeasement.

“This is freedom in general at stake. This is not about some far away remote country about which we know little.”

TO CNN TELEVISION

Saakashvili lashed out at a suggestion that Georgia started the conflict by entering South Ossetia last week.

“I’m sickened, sickened of this cynical and absolutely unfounded allegation.”

“We only responded after 150 Russian tanks moved into Georgian territory and started open aggression.”

“You know what? Germany told the world they were attacked by Poland in 1939. The Soviet Union was attacked by Finland in 1939. Soviet Union was attacked by Afghanistan in 1979.”

“Didn’t the world learn enough? I am really sickened that there are people in the West asking these questions because that’s exactly what the Russians want. It’s our territory for God’s sake. They’re killing our people.”

ON THE CEASEFIRE

“The Russians never meant any ceasefire. This is a kind of ceasefire that I don’t know they had with Afghanistan in 1979 or that Germany had with Poland in 1939. There is no ceasefire. They are moving.”

ON WASHINGTON REACTION

“Frankly, some of the first statements from Washington were perceived by the Russians almost as a green light for doing this because they were too soft.”

“Everything the Americans had achieved from the Cold War is being undermined and destroyed right now.”

“America is losing the whole region.”

“I know America is overstretched. I know there are many other things. But realise what we are heading toward now. Russians have been very brutal, very deliberate, and they been showing everybody, ‘We don’t give a damn.’”

(He said Russian bombs bear inscriptions that say “This is for President Bush, this is for the United States, this is for NATO”).

“They are by proxy trying to fight war with the West.”

ON PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE MCCAIN COMMENTS

“Yesterday I heard Senator McCain say we are all Georgians. Well very nice … but of course it’s time to pass from words to deeds.”

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: CNN, Georgia, Humor, John McCain 
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I noted in my first post, Flare-Up in the Caucasus,

Even normally Russophobic media outlets, from what I’ve seen, cannot quite manage to spin this in an anti-Russian way (although I may have to retract this point, when the Op-Ed’s have been written up).

Well, I’m retracting it now. The propaganda model has been kicked into high gear in the West and turned squarely against Russia. Although it is acceptable for Georgia to attack Ossetia, with callous disregard for the lives of Russian citizens and UN-mandated peacekeepers (not to mention rumors of genocide), Russia cannot put a single plane over the territory of Georgia without inciting a chorus of condemnation from the Western hypocrites. (It’s totally OK in Kosovo’s case, but let’s not dwell on this uncomfortable comparison, at least for now).

Of course, expanding the conflict beyond South Ossetia is not only fully justified from a moral perspective, but it is also a military necessity. It would be stupid to allow Georgian armed forces to maintain perfect logistics and arrive fully-equipped, battle ready and full of morale, into South Ossetia. The fact Russia has limited itself to spoiling strikes against military and infrastructural targets and a naval arms embargo speaks of tremendous restraint, which can only be applauded.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning, to see just how well the Western media meets its ideals of transparency and objectivity, which it constantly tries to push down Russia’s throat.

The Settings

Georgia is an ethnically heterogenous country. Ossetians are a separate minority, culturally, ethnically and linguistically, from the dominant ethnic group in the country. They were arbitrarily divided into two separate regions by Stalin. When the Soviet Union began to crumble, Georgia started asserting its authority, establishing Georgian as the national language in 1989 and barring regional parties in 1990. The Ossetians didn’t much like these Georgian nationalist tendencies and declared an independent republic. The Georgian President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia (much-admired by Saakashvili) responded by abolishing South Ossetia’s autonomous status and sending in troops Tskhinvali in January 1991. Atrocities were committed on both sides and the bitter fighting left a thousand Ossetians dead and 100,000 displaced. Many of the Georgians living there were also cleansed in retaliation. To prevent the conflict escalating further, Russia pressed a ceasefire upon Georgia and an OSCE peacekeeping force was stationed in South Ossetia. Its composition was Russian since at the time the UN was short of troops.

Map of Georgia with its ethno-political divisions (note: Ajaria was
reabsorbed into Georgia’s fold)

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the old passports were no longer legitimate and as such South Ossetians had the choice between a Georgian or a Russian one. Since Russia is a federation which affords its regions significant autonomies, whereas Georgia is a traditional nation-state set on imposing its cultural standards on all within its borders and which showed no compunctions about attacking the Ossetians, it is no wonder that the vast majority of Ossetians opted for Russian passports. (The policy of giving out Russian passports is not particularly sinister. Romania had a similar scheme with Moldova, and few accused Bucharest of wishing to annex their northern neighbors. The South Ossetians, on the other hand, themselves want to get into Russia for protection against Georgian imperialist pretensions.)

Prelude

Mikhael Saakashvili got a scholarship from the US State Department, studied at American universities and worked at a New York law firm. Meanwhile, his Presidency after the Rose Revolution has been characterized by a highly nationalistic, Russophobic policy. It is thus no surprise that relations between Washington and Tbilisi have been extremely cordial since then, while ties with Russia fell into a deep freeze. (This is not to say that his predecessor, Shevardnadze, followed a pro-Russian course; however, he was much more cautious in his actions).

Georgian military spending has exploded to nearly 10% of GDP, while it has received military supplies and training from the US, Israel, Turkey and a few other NATO countries. Saakashvili’s reign has come to be dominated by militarism, aggressive nationalism and authoritarianism (explained away as necessary to thwart nefarious Russian plans to undermine his regime).

Outbreak

In early August, there were minor skirmishes between Ossetian and Georgian forces on their bordes. They always were depressingly common, and as always it’s hard to say who was responsible. Around 20:00 on 7 August, after an intensification, Saakashvili went on air and offered an immediate ceasefire and talks.

However, only a short time after, around 23:00, Georgian forces were moved into position around Tskhinvali. Russian peacekeepers noted this and requested an explanation, and were told they were drawn off. During the night and early morning, just hours before the Olympics, attacks by Georgia on villages in South Ossetia intensified, where Grad MLRS launchers where used. Georgia began a unilateral military offensive into South Ossetia, to ‘restore constitutional order in the region’, despite all its pledges to the contrary. Tskhinvali was shelled by heavy artillery, including the route along which refugees were being moved, before being stormed by Georgian troops. The continuous murderous bombardment has resulted in the utter destruction of Tskhinvali and as many as 2000 civilian deaths, as well as 12 dead and 50 wounded amongst Russian peacekeepers directly targeted by Georgian tank fire.

These casualties were pre-meditated, as the Grad (“hail”) MLRS system is designed for complete annihilation of unarmored area targets. Turning them against a city, especially the dense apartment blocks typical of Soviet urban planning that prevailed in Tskhinvali, would inevitably result in massive civilian casualties.

Georgian 122 mm multiple-launch rocket systems Grad firing at Tskhinvali

At around 3:00 on 8 August, a tank- and APC-backed land attack on Tskinvali was launched by Georgia, which met weak Ossetian resistance. Soon after, Russia called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, to no avail thanks to the efforts of France, the UK and the US. At noon, Russia committed land forces to South Ossetia and seized the air space above Tskinvali. Georgian troops retreated to the forested hills around the city and continued bombarding it intermittently.

Georgian Info-War

Georgia launched a war of agression. It committed area bombing of civilian areas and has ethnically cleansed around half the Ossetian population (at the beginning, there were around 70,000 Ossetians in South Ossetia; now, 30,000 have fled to Russia and a further 2,000 have been killed). No Ossetians, no problems for Georgian nationalism.

The war is also not necessarily bad for the Pentagon. While I still believe they did not expect this outburst, they will nonetheless get to observe Russian military tactics on the field. Meanwhile, initially more or less objective reporting in the Western media is getting swamped by outright anti-Russian propaganda in the ‘free’ Western press, above all on TV (for which the vast majority of the population rely on their news).

Because what do you get on Western TV? Saakashvili, with an EU flag behind him (Georgia is not in the EU) and in perfect English, spewing the crudest propagandistic bilge imaginable – along the lines of…

Russia is bombing Georgia, specifically targetting the civilian population.

Pot calls kettle black. Georgian troops massacred thousands of Ossetians on purpose via area bombardment. Russia limits itself to precision strikes against military assets and key war-related infrastructure. It is regrettable that some will miss their targets and kill civilians, but the key difference is that Russia did not intend to kill civilians; unlike Georgia.

Putin has told me that not only is my love for the West unacceptable, but also the path of freedom and democracy Georgia has chosen.

Actually what is unacceptable Mr. Saakashvili is your attempts to spread Western values of area bombardment, killing legally sanctioned peacekeepers, etc, to Russia. And if hospitalizing 500 protestors in brutal crackdowns and taking down TV stations is your idea of freedom and democracy, feel free to have it, just don’t push it down our throats.

We are a bastion of freedom in the world and this is why we are being invaded and annihilated by the totalitarian monster from the north. Stand up for your values, men of the West, and save us!

And I suppose killing thousands of Russian civilians had nothing to do with it.

This is a pre-meditated Russian provocation, look at the timing, the Olympic Games when humanity must come together, the Americans have upcoming elections, diplomats are on vacation – it’s the best time to attack a small defenceless country!

This sounds just about right. Except for one small point. Replace Russia with Georgia. Brilliant! For once, Misha, we totally agree!

We are fighting not only to defend our country, we are also fighting for the future of world peace and world order!

No comment.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VIkDk10X-w&w=425&h=344]
Video of Saakashvili’s pathetic propagandistic bluster.

And so the Annals of Western Hypocrisy Go On and On, World and Time Without End

At the beginning, the Western media typically noted Georgia’s underhanded aggression against South Ossetia, but did not raise a furor over its bombardment of civilian areas. As soon as Russia intervened, however, it whipped itself up into a frenzy and declared all out info-war on Russia. The true cause of the war has been buried underneath newer texts sponsored by the Western elite and pushed on the mass media.

CNN: Headlines along the lines of “Georgia under attack as Russian tanks invade”. Saakashvili is the first commentator, whining in English about being a victim of Russian aggression, while showing Georgian Grad rockets being fired at Tskhinvali! Lots of interviews with Russophobic neocons. Say ’1600 killed in South Ossetia fighting’, without clarifying that those killed were mostly Russian citizens in Tskhinvali killed by Georgian artillery! Followed by Saakashvili talking about pre-meditated Russian attacks on Georgian civilians, to give the impression that it is actually Russia behind the huge civilian death toll! No ‘point of view’ appears from the Ossetian and Russian sides except their ominous-sounding announcements about intentions to “punish” Georgia, which is quoted out of context and serves to further confirm their sinister intentions to Western sheeple.

BBC: Russian warplanes bombing Gori and focusing on stray missile hitting apartment block (main target was military base). Headline is “Russian tanks enter South Ossetia”, sub-headline is “Georgia is fighting with separatists backed by Russia”.

British Sky News: Video of Georgian Grads firing on Tskhinvali under caption “Georgian side states that 7 of its citizens have been wounded in Russian strikes”. Followed by footage of T-90′s rolling into South Ossetia, ignoring that Tskhinvali is destroyed with thousands of Ossetians killed by Georgians.

The print media, unlike TV, at least has some golden nuggets of truth amidst the bilge (more intelligent people read newspapers, while the masses get their info from the box, which is more visceral and open to manipulation). This is far from universal, however, as the examples below demonstrate.

Times: Russia turns might of its war machine on rebel neighbour Georgia

Washington Post: Stopping Russia: The U.S. and its allies must unite against Moscow’s war on Georgia

The Guardian: Russian tanks roll into Georgia as cities burn, Standing up to Russia

Interestingly, the Western info-war against Russia has been noticed and remarked upon on Russian TV.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcrOcSTQZpA&w=425&h=344]
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVJ27tYaQlI&w=425&h=344]

No wonder Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in a news conference on 10 August said that the silence of Western nations during Georgia’s initial incursion into South Ossetia “raises very serious questions about sincerity and their attitude towards our country”, and also accused the foreign media of pro-Georgian bias in their coverage of the ongoing conflict between Georgia and Russia over breakaway South Ossetia.

“We want television screens in the West to be showing not only Russian tanks, and texts saying Russia is at war in South Ossetia and with Georgia, but also to be showing the suffering of the Ossetian people, the murdered elderly people and children, the destroyed towns of South Ossetia, and [regional capital] Tskhinvali. This would be an objective way of presenting the material,” Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said. Current Western media coverage of the events in the separatist republic is “a politically motivated version, to put it mildly,” he said.

Conclusions

Control is all about imposing your view of reality on the minds of others. Since overt political persecution is no longer widely accepted, the elites have resorted to fighting wars over hearts and minds. Western media manipulation is not readily noticeable, since if that were the case the simulation’s plausibility would fall apart immediately (as was the case in the Soviet Union). Hence, they fight via other, far more sophisticated means. This makes them far more insidious and dangerous to freedom than any repressive dictatorship; for in the latter one knows one is a slave, while too many Westerners continue to be believe they are free, whereas in fact they are also slaves, like the rest of us.

As things stand, today the Western media are nothing more than craven shills for their neocon masters. Western freedom is slavery, as foretold by Orwell; the system itself is nihilistic, a reality that has become a simulation, as Baudrillard told us.

It is only through tireless exposition of their lies and hypocrisy that more truth and freedom can be attained.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.