Russia called for an emergency session of the Security Council, but no consensus was reached because, according to Council diplomats, the US, Britain, and some others rejected a phrase that called on both sides “to renounce the use of force.”
The typical reactions recall Orwell’s observations on the “indifference to reality” of the “nationalist,” who “not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but … has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”
The basic facts are not seriously in dispute. South Ossetia, along with the much more significant region of Abkhazia, were assigned by Stalin to his native Georgia. Western leaders sternly admonish that Stalin’s directives must be respected, despite the strong opposition of Ossetians and Abkhazians. The provinces enjoyed relative autonomy until the collapse of the USSR. In 1990, Georgia’s ultranationalist president Zviad Gamsakhurdia abolished autonomous regions and invaded South Ossetia. The bitter war that followed left 1000 dead and tens of thousands of refugees, with the capital city of Tskhinvali “battered and depopulated” (New York Times).
A small Russian force then supervised an uneasy truce, broken decisively on August 7, 2008, when Georgian president Saakashvili ordered his forces to invade. According to “an extensive set of witnesses,” the Times reports, Georgia’s military at once “began pounding civilian sections of the city of Tskhinvali, as well as a Russian peacekeeping base there, with heavy barrages of rocket and artillery fire.” The predictable Russian response drove Georgian forces out of South Ossetia, and Russia went on to conquer parts of Georgia, then partially withdrawing to the vicinity of South Ossetia. There were many casualties and atrocities. As is normal, the innocent suffered severely.
Russia reported at first that ten Russian peacekeepers were killed by Georgian shelling. The West took little notice. That too is normal. There was, for example, no reaction when Aviation Week reported that 200 Russians were killed in an Israeli air raid in Lebanon in 1982 during a US-backed invasion that left some 15-20,000 dead, with no credible pretext beyond strengthening Israeli control over the occupied West Bank.
Among Ossetians who fled north, the “prevailing view,” according to the London Financial Times, “is that Georgia’s pro-western leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, tried to wipe out their breakaway enclave.” Ossetian militias, under Russian eyes, then brutally drove out Georgians, in areas beyond Ossetia as well. “Georgia said its attack had been necessary to stop a Russian attack that already had been under way,” the New York Times reports, but weeks later “there has been no independent evidence, beyond Georgia’s insistence that its version is true, that Russian forces were attacking before the Georgian barrages.”
In Russia, the Wall Street Journal reports, “legislators, officials and local analysts have embraced the theory that the Bush administration encouraged Georgia, its ally, to start the war in order to precipitate an international crisis that would play up the national-security experience of Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate.” In contrast, French author Bernard-Henri Levy, writing in the New Republic, proclaims that “no one can ignore the fact that President Saakashvili only decided to act when he no longer had a choice, and war had already come. In spite of this accumulation of facts that should have been blindingly obvious to all scrupulous, good-faith observers, many in the media rushed as one man toward the thesis of the Georgians as instigators, as irresponsible provocateurs of the war.”
The Russian propaganda system made the mistake of presenting evidence, which was easily refuted. Its Western counterparts, more wisely, keep to authoritative pronouncements, like Levy’s denunciation of the major Western media for ignoring what is “blindingly obvious to all scrupulous, good-faith observers” for whom loyalty to the state suffices to establish The Truth – which, perhaps, is even true, serious analysts might conclude.