How War Began in Georgia

Senator McCain is doing everything in his power right now to resurrect the Cold War with Russia as a campaign issue. With Russia’s invasion of Georgia, McCain now has the “double bubble” benefits of two war fronts in the same region — with the Muslim nations of Iraq and Iran in one category and with Russia in the second. International relations have once again become a major challenge to the presidency, so only a candidate experienced in hard-ball diplomacy should be elected to the highest office in the land — or so his argument goes.

However, McCain himself has serious difficulties in his grasp of foreign relations–forgetful that Iraq and Afghanistan do not share a boundary but are separated by is the entire nation of Iran, unaware that Shiite Iranians aren’t particularly friendly with Sunni al Qaeda, etc. All that Obama needs to neutralize McCain’s claims to superior experience in foreign policy would be to nominate Senator Biden as his Vice President, somebody who both supercedes McCain in the Senate’s foreign policy establishment and effectively avoids the numerous lapses in both memory and foreign policy knowledge that McCain repeatedly displays.

Nevertheless, the image of McCain’s steely aspect as he exhorts America to man the barricades against yet another threat against our nation’s cherished freedom has great appeal among low-information voters, and his effort should be confronted with the facts. For example, it should be clarified that the current Georgia debacle has resulted not from a Russian invasion of Georgia, but from Georgia’s surprise attack on South Ossetia (at the time occupied by 9,000 Russian peacekeepers described as such by all parties involved) [see the 8-18 NYT Schwirtz article, p. A10]. This was followed by a massive counterattack by Russian troops who went on to occupy additional portions of greater Georgia that they seem unwilling to leave for the present.

The NYT and other U.S. publications have ignored the actual timing of these two invasions as much as possible, undoubtedly, whether they realize it or not, to obscure the responsibility of Georgia for launching an attack that produced such a devastating counterattack. Amazingly, there has been no specific reference to this sequence of events in the NYT to clarify the fact that Georgia’s attack began in the evening of August 6. Readers are led to think that the two attacks were somehow concurrent, with the bigger Russian army obviously taking advantage of its size. However, a close examination of the press reports from the region over the two days during which the attack occurred suggests otherwise.

An Aug. 6 UPI report dated 1:17 P.M. makes no mention of warfare beyond an escalation the previous weekend when Georgian forces shelled Tskhinvali, killing six South Ossetians. Emphasized, however, is the optimistic announcement that a top Georgian government official has said his country would hold direct talks on August 7 with South Ossetian leaders “within the context of Russian peacekeeping efforts in the region, known as the Joint Control Commission.”

An Aug. 7 Voice of America News report cited the confirmation by Russian officials that talks between Georgians and South Ossetian separatists would be held, but on Friday, August 8, and it reported that Georgian President Saakashvili called for an immediate ceasefire. The report also mentioned the offer of Saakashvili to give the separatists full autonomy within Georgia with Russia helping to guarantee that status. Also, the report indicates the U.S. called for both Russian and Georgian officials to halt the violence and begin talks. South Ossetian were cited for having insisted on their struggle to gain independence from Georgia since the 1990s, and Georgians were cited as having accused the [Russian] peacekeepers of backing and aiding the separatists.

An Aug. 7 UPI report suddenly indicated an entirely new and different state of affairs: an attack by Georgian troops on late Thursday (Aug. 6), that engulfed Tshkhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. According to the BBC, “Georgia began moving troops toward Tshkhinvali a few hours after the South Ossetians agreed to a Russian-mediated cease-fire.” “The storming of Tshkhinvali has started,” South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity told the Russian news agency Interfax. A British newspaper, The Independent, reporting from Moscow, specifically quoted a South Ossetian web site that the “assault is coming from all directions.” Georgian officials tried to excuse themselves with the argument that they were trying to restore legal order. However, Iakobashvili, Georgia’s minister for Reintegration, said the government wants “to finish a criminal regime.” Significantly, Russian officials predicted mounting violence and requested an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting. Russian news agencies indicated that men from Russia and Abkhazia were rushing to join in South Ossetia’s defense and couldn’t be stopped. These seem to have been individuals rather than organized contingents.

An August 7 AP report indicated that Tskhinvali came under heavy fire early Friday, “just hours after Georgia’s president declared a cease fire.” The fact that the Thursday UPI report said the attack occurred during the late evening of Aug. 7 while the Thursday AP report said it occurred during the early morning hours the next day suggests the invasion was conducted throughout the night. If so, this could only have been a surprise attack! According to the AP report, “South Ossetia’s leader accused Georgia of treachery, but the Georgian government claimed its troops were responding to rebel attacks on Georgian villages.”

It is important to note that 9,000 Russian troops employed as peacekeepers at the same time Georgia seems to have been trying to incorporate South Ossetia into its borders as it had already done with Ajaria in 2004. This was an obvious challenge to the Russians, an effort to “steal” Ossetia’s capital in a nighttime blitzkrieg right under the noses of Russian troops. According to an Aug. 7 Radio Free Europe report cited by the AP report, Eduard Kokoity, the leader of the Russian-backed region, specifically accused Georgian forces of starting the fighting. “Russian peacekeepers did everything to make the Georgian side stop firing mortars, grenade launchers, and large-caliber weapons on the city of Tskhinvali,” Kokoity said. “But the firing didn’t cease, and we were forced to return fire. We will now do our best to suppress this.” On the other hand, Temur IIakobashvili, Georgia’s Reintegration Minister, was reported as having blamed South Ossetia for initiating hostilities: “They came up with a new method. They shoot at us from civilian objects, from schools and hospitals, so that in case of return fire that causes damages, they can present it as a barbarian act by the Georgians.” What Iakobashvili described, however, would seem a tactic that was in play preceding the sequence of events that happened in the thirty-hour span between Aug. 6 and 7.

All in all, news reports for these two days (all of those included in Lexus-Nexis cited here) indicate no concerted large-scale effort of this sort. According to a NYT report of August 18 by Helena Cooper, Georgians later claimed separatists of having fired on several Georgian villages, while Russian Defense Ministry and South Ossetian officials said that Georgians provoked this escalation by shelling Russian peacekeeping positions in the region of Tasakhinvali as well as civilian areas. However, there was no indication of these activities in any of the press reports from South Ossetia on this particular day. Instead, what seems to have occurred was a feigned agreement to begin negotiations followed almost immediately by a major nighttime surprise attack. It should also be noted that neither Cooper nor any of the daily reports indicated that an even bigger Russian counterattack was in the works at least until the following day The 9,000 Russian troops in South Ossetia undoubtedly played a major role in mounting this attack, supported by additional troops from North Ossetia as well as air power that totally dominated the skies.

Significantly, Cooper’s final paragraph in her NYT report illustrates the extreme confusion in the western media about what actually happened during the Georgian invasion. Cooper seems to have advanced events a full day from what actually happened as explained in all the local reports cited above: According to Cooper, “Georgians said the separatists shelled them [Georgian villages] all day on the 7th,” so its Foreign Minister Eka Tkeselashvili called the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Fried, to tell him her country was under attack and had to protect its people. Fried supposedly replied, “not to go into South Ossetia,” In a totally inaccurate kicker Cooper laments, “The Georgians moved in on August 8.” Not true. Everything happened on the night of August 6-7, with Georgians promising negotiations, then launching a surprise attack that apparently lasted the entire night. The mortar attacks on the 7th mentioned by Tkeselashvili were undoubtedly counterattacks in response to the invasion that had already taken place.

What Saakashvili apparently sought was a fait accompli, a quick, almost instantaneous victory that incorporated South Ossetia into Georgia before the Russians could take the needed steps to prevent it. Of course Russian troops posed a major threat to the operation, but Saakasvili seems to have felt that the timing was perfect. Putin (and indeed the entire world) was distracted by the Olympics in China, and U.S. and NATO pressure could soon be brought to bear to prevent the major counterattack that would be needed by Russian troops in order to deprive him of his victory. Condaleeza Rice might have warned him privately not to launch a major attack, but all her public statements were fully supportive, and his communications with his Washington lobbyist, Randy Schoenemann, McCain’s top foreign policy advisor, seem to have confirmed his sense that such an attack would succeed if carried out with blitzkrieg precision. Western Europe’s cautious leadership of Brown, Merkel and Sarkozy would pose no difficulties, and all the emancipated Soviet states could be counted on for enthusiastic knee-jerk support. It turns out Saakashvili was wrong. His only major accomplishment was in having given McCain his warmed-over Cold-War campaign strategy that just might win him the November election. This would be a world-class disaster, setting the stage for comparable scenarios justified by skewed misinformation in Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela, and god knows how many other countries once McCain gets situated in the White House. We would have four more years to go.

American citizens were gravely misled into a devastating war in Iraq by the Bush administration’s incessant use of misinformation. This should not be allowed to happen again with McCain’s use of Georgia as a campaign issue.

Edward Jayne is a retired English professor with experience as a '60s activist. He can be contacted at: edward.jayne@wmich.edu. Visit his website at: www.edwardjayne.com. Copyright © 2008 by Edward Jayne Read other articles by Edward, or visit Edward's website.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on August 27th, 2008 at 8:03am #

    A couple of amusing notes: over at NRO, David Frum claimed that the Russian attack (sic!) was “premeditated”, although, since it was the Georgians who attacked, it is hard to see how, as a matter of common sense, the Russians could have “premeditated” an attack on themselves by someone else! The same website claimed that a whole series of East European presidents went to Tblisi and addressed a rally in support of the principle of territorial equality (oddly, the president of Serbia wasn’t among them!). If that ever actually happened, and the mainstream media has been totally silent about it, the amusing thought is that the only language in which East European presidents could address a Georgian crowd is … Russian!

    As for the effect on your presidential election, I think that’s another screw-up by Saakashvili’s Israeli minders. If all this had happened two months later, it might have precipitated McCain into the White House. Now, it happened early enough to allow Obama to choose Biden and more to the point, between now and November, the shouting will have died down, it will be clear that Europe is going to do nothing and US voters will be able to think calmly about whether they really want a confrontation with Russia, which I would guess they don’t. Georgia in October would have helped McCain, Georgia in August helps Obama.

  2. Lloyd Rowsey said on August 27th, 2008 at 9:06am #

    American voters “will be able to think calmly”? Mike, you give us good stuff from the European and borderlands Asian fronts, but have you ever BEEN in America?

  3. Giorgio said on August 27th, 2008 at 12:25pm #

    Vincent Bugliosi is prosecuting GW Bush for murder. He bases his case, inter alia, that Bush lied to the nation. The media which are the most influencial opinion formers in a country have been lying, distorting facts, etc. and getting away scot-free. Surely there must be a way to put these media moguls on the dock and make them accountable, as well.

    In August, 2006, two producers working for Fox News in Amman, Jordan resigned in protest of the network’s coverage. In their resignation letter, Serene Sabbagh and Jomana Karadsheh wrote “We can no longer work with a news organization that claims to be fair and balanced when you are so far from that.”

    They went on to write “Not only are you an instrument of the Bush White House, and Israeli propaganda, you are war mongers with no sense of decency, nor professionalism.”

    And here is what Serene Sabbagh had to say on her decision to resign:
    “From the onset of the war in Lebanon, I was devastated at the way that Fox was handling the coverage from Lebanon in the U.S., and I felt there was bias, the slant, the racist remarks, the use of the word “we” meaning Israel, and it was just unbearable up until basically the massacre at Qana. And as a mother of three, watching the images, the raw images of children being pulled out of the rubble, and then I switched to Fox News to hear some of their anchors claiming that these little kids that were killed, these innocent victims that were killed, were human shields used by Hezbollah. And one of the anchors went as far as saying they were planted there by Hezbollah to win support in this war. And it was unbelievable. For me, that was the breaking point, and this is when I decided, me and my colleague Jomana, to hand in our resignation.”

    What they should have done, if they could, was to take Fox News and their bosses to court. A society that condones and abets such falsities is no better than beasts in a jungle. The vemin and lice thriving in such a jungle have a far better code of conduct.

  4. Edward Jayne said on August 27th, 2008 at 12:50pm #

    Michael Kenny:

    You’re absolutely right. If Georgia’s surprise invasion of South Ossetia were scheduled in late October, it would have been entirely beneficial to the McCain campaign. However, it came two months early, giving plenty of time for Obama to settle on Biden for his VP candidate with ample foreign policy experience and for at least some of the American public to realize that McCain is a dangerous candidate for the White House, ready to take action on everything that comes along, including events very probably encouraged by his own emissaries (in this instance his top foreign policy expert Randy Schoenemann, who also served as Georgia’s lobbyist in Washington).

    Interestingly, U.S. outrage about Russia’s seemingly inexplicable attack against Georgia led to a quick settlement in the U.S.-Polish missile defense agreement that included the unanticipated provision that some of the missile batteries at the Russian border would be pointed directly into Russia and that they would be manned by a crew of about 100 American military personnel [see U.S. ad Poland in Missile Deal," by Thom Shanker and Nicholas Kulish on the front page of the August 15 NYT]. Blowback came with Russia’s pledge of more sophisticated anti-missile weaponry to Syria, the promise of similar benefits to Iran, and Israel’s quick effort to remove itself from the fray obviously in the effort to avoid provoking Russia into giving more generous such benefits to Iran. See Peter Baker’s August 22 NYT piece, “U.S. Sees Much to Fear in a Hostile Russia.”

    So exactly when our economy is beset with the consequences of a double bubble in housing and finance, we verge on a double bubble in international warfare–both a 21st century crusade against infidel Muslims and a renewed Cold War against Russia. Obviously the coming election is of crucial importance in determining whether this is going to happen.

    Edward Jayne

  5. HR said on August 27th, 2008 at 12:59pm #

    Vote McCain! Purge the planet of the homo sapiens pestilence, and let evolution take its course once again, maybe producing of value next time around.

  6. John Hatch said on August 27th, 2008 at 2:48pm #

    Only in an America that would tolerate the double (s)election of George W. Bush would such a malevolent non-entity as John McCain be considered a war hero (for dropping bombs on whomever from 30,000 feet), a maverick (he supports torture and always votes for war, and supports a draft), a foreign policy ‘expert’ (he doesn’t know basic geography or the difference between Sunni and Shia). And so on. Only in bloody America would this fool be considered a credible candidate for president. And he’ll probably be elected, because his opponent is black. Unbelievable!

  7. Lloyd Rowsey said on August 27th, 2008 at 3:50pm #

    “…Russia’s seemingly inexplicable attack against Georgia led to a quick settlement in the U.S.-Polish missile defense agreement….Blowback came with Russia’s pledge of more sophisticated anti-missile weaponry to Syria, the promise of similar benefits to Iran…” – Edward Jayne.

    There was some prior blowback too, Edward, but it flashed across the media screen in the U.S. (in fact, in BBC instant headlines) and vanished into our Great Historical Black Hole, evidently to be forever little known or at all remembered in the Land of Brie.

    About three weeks ago, Russia and China agreed to condemn the U.S. Shield, which as I noted in a comment to Dissident Voice at the time, represented a TRULY historic achievement by The Chipmunk. To wit, getting Russia and China together in opposition to the United States about anything of worldwide importance.

  8. Susan. said on August 27th, 2008 at 6:09pm #

    In creating of these conflicts we have to know that who gets benefits, and of course economic benefits. To go to the root cause, check out this:
    http://democracyandsocialism.com/Articles/FinanceMilitaryComplex.html

  9. Tony S. said on August 28th, 2008 at 5:57am #

    The Bush administration appears intent in turning Georgia into another Iraq or Afghanistan. Georgians would do well to get rid of the Bush syncophant Saakashvili and get a leader.

  10. Diana G. said on August 28th, 2008 at 11:26am #

    Anytime the citizens of a small country begin seeing massive shipments of weaponry coming into their country accompanied by an increasing number of Americans on the ground, they should be afraid, very afraid. What’s about to follow won’t be good for them. And this is exactly what happened in Georgia in 2002-3 and with increasing intensity in 2008. Pray for the Georgians, the Abkhazians and the Ossetians. They need it.

  11. Edward Jayne said on August 29th, 2008 at 6:54am #

    In today’s NYT (of August 29), Clifford Levy’s article, “Putin Suggests U.S. Provocation in Georgia Clash,” tells of Putin’s suspicion that Americans were involved in Georgia’s surprise attack on South Ossetia earlier in the month. As much as anything, according to the NYT, Putin bases his suspicion on the presence of U.S. citizens in Georgia at the time, in particular Michael Lee White of Texas, whose damaged passport was discovered in a ruined building near Tshkhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Putin and others in Russia also mention approximately 100 American trainers who continue to serve in Georgia and the boast of Saakashvili that he has been in frequent contact with American officials, including John McCain through Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s chief foreign policy advisor as well as Georgia’s principal lobbyist in Washington. Elsewhere Saakashvili has also boasted of sustained contact with both Condaleeza Rice and Vice President Cheney. Regarding the latter, see http://www.almanar.com.lb/NewsSite/NewsDetails.aspx?id=53309&language=en.

    According to Putin, as quoted by Levy from Putin’s interview with CNN, “The suspicion would arise that someone in the United States created this conflict on purpose to stir up the situation and to create an advantage for one of the candidates in the competitive race for the presidency in the United States.” And more specifically, “They needed a small victorious war.”

    What my piece, “How War Began in Georgia” demonstrates based on initial press reports in the region is the high probability that Georgia’s attack was carefully planned–perhaps too carefully for it to have been entirely the responsibility of Saakashvili and his military staff without any input from the American and Israeli advisors. These indicators may be listed as follows:

    1. On August 6, Saakashvili announced Georgia’s acceptance of peace negotiations within the next day or so. This was exactly the day before the attack was launched. Saakashvili’s proposal was mentioned in a couple of the press reports published on Aug. 6 and 7, but has yet to be acknowledged by the NYT. In light of what later happened, it seems best explained as a diversionary tactic to diminish the anticipation of the attack that began just hours later.

    2. The whole world’s attention at the time was on the Chinese Olympics that were just beginning to take place. Significantly, Putin was in attendance at these Olympics, so Russia’s leadership would be entirely in the hands of Dmitri Medyadev, who could be expected to be less likely to take effective counter steps against the attack.

    3. The attack occurred throughout the night, when the 9,000 Russian troops used as peacekeepers in South Ossetia were undoubtedly confined to their quarters. These troops were stationed in South Ossetia with full international support in order to minimize conflict between Georgians and South Ossetians, so the only conceivable way to neutralize their active resistance was to launch the attack at night, when they had no idea a major operation had been undertaken.

    4. The attack focused on the total destruction of the city of Tshkhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, very possibly in the effort to present its elimination as a fait accompli before the Russian troops could be mobilized. Presumably, the elimination of South Ossetia’s capital city was calculated to automatically win the war the day it began, thereby restoring South Ossetia to Georgian control before Russia could take steps to prevent this from happening.

    And 5. The American response was almost instantaneous, almost as if planned. McCain gave aggressive press conferences from the very beginning, and the U.S. media excluded from consideration everything described above in items 1 to 4. The NYT, for example, has yet to admit that the attack began on the night of August 6 rather than a day later, thus obscuring the responsibility of Georgia instead of South Ossetia and the 9,000 Russian troops for what happened.

    It is hard to believe that Saakashvili and his military leadership could have come up with such an intricate strategy on their own without Washington’s active complicity in planning the operation, not simply taking Georgia’s part once it was obvious the operation totally failed. American and Israeli advisors were present in Georgia at the time, and Saakashvili has repeatedly boasted of having had sustained contact with the top Republican leadership in Washington. Connect the dots, and conspiracy become most likely indeed. In other words, Putin is very probably telling the truth.

    Edward Jayne