The U.S. Government and News Media Are Lying, Again

I lost all faith in the American democratic system and its media when President Bush initiated a false war against Iraq and got away with it. This time, the U.S. media and Bush Administration are lying about a different war — the one between Georgia and Russia. To understand the complex nature of this conflict, a brief review of history is necessary.

Throughout its long history, Georgia, the country, has had difficult relations with Russia and its other neighbors, including the ethnically different Ossetians. Georgians and Ossetians did not always get along. In one instance, Georgian leaders asked the Russian tsar for permission to enslave the Ossetians. The answer was no. During the Russian Revolution, Georgia seceded from the Russian Empire and sided with Mensheviks (tsarists), thereby starting a conflict with the Ossetians and killing about 5,000 of them until Bolsheviks intervened and forcefully returned Georgia under Russia’s control. During Stalin’s rule, Georgia (Stalin’s homeland) was assigned some of the Ossetian and Abkhazian territory together with their historic inhabitants. As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate in the early 1990s, Georgia declared its independence without any resistance from Russia. However, when South Ossetia and Abkhazia tried to declare their independence from Georgia, they were greeted by a brutal military campaign aimed at keeping these tiny regions under Georgian control. Unfortunately for Georgia, it had to live with their de-facto independence due to strong resistance from these breakaway regions and Russia’s intervention. Long story short, Russia became the only third party peacekeeper, albeit a biased one, in this conflict until now.

In 2008, the United States and Europe recognized Kosovo’s independence from Serbia despite Russian and Serbian opposition. Russia warned the United States that this is a dangerous precedent that could ignite the old conflict between Georgians and Ossetians, who might seek independence according to the Kosovo’s scenario. Meanwhile, Georgia being lead by charismatic, pro-Western president Mr. Saakashvilli sought to join NATO and the EU. However, Georgia’s unresolved territorial disputes with South Ossetia and Abkhazia formally precluded its membership in NATO. Mr. Saakashvilli could resolve this conflict in two ways: (a) officially recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s de-facto independence from Georgia or (b) drive out or physically exterminate all Ossetians and Abkhazians because they would never again want to live peacefully under Georgia’s control.

On August 8 of this year, Mr. Saakashvilli, probably inspired by his famous countrymen, Joseph Stalin (who allegedly said “no people, no problem”) chose plan (b) by secretly launching the blitzkrieg-styled, all-out offensive on South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers. The date of the attack was chosen strategically — right before the Olympic Games. Judging by captured Georgian military maps, Saakashvilli hoped to capture most of South Ossetia in one day and make Russia’s military response (if any followed) look contrary to the peaceful spirit of the Olympiad. According to numerous Georgian statements quoted even in the U.S. media, they were assured to receive American military support in the case of Russian military retaliation. This raises an important question. What did Bush promise to Saakashvilli so as to embolden him to carry out a military attack that would likely provoke a retaliatory response from a giant, nuclear-armed, Russian military?

As we learned from the Iraq debacle, the U.S. news media is not interested in asking uneasy questions. On the contrary, U.S. news channels neglect to mention that the Georgian attack has cost over 1,600 Ossetian lives and prefer to give the bulk of attention to Georgian claims without checking them for accuracy. The Ossetian accounts of Georgian atrocities, such as carpet bombing of the Ossetian capital, raping, execution of civilians by running them over with tanks, and throwing grenades in the basements where civilians were hiding, failed to make it in to the U.S. news reports as well. The fact that Mr. Saakashvilli has a spotty democratic record and that the U.S. government has spent over $40 million of American taxpayers’ money on arming and training Georgia’s military has also escaped the American news reports. On the contrary, Russia’s military response to Georgia’s initial offensive on the South Ossetian population is instead portrayed as an aggression against a small, democratic, and piece loving nation of Georgia that also happens to be an American ally. Even worse, a statue of Joseph Stalin still proudly stands in the main square of the city of Gori in Georgia, reminding all of us whose bloody legacy Presidents Saakashvilli and Bush are really carrying out. While the American media acts as the propaganda tool for the U.S. and Georgian presidents known for their dishonesty, the regular people of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Georgia, Russia, and the United States have much to lose from this conflict.

It would be nice if the violence in Georgia ended as soon as possible, but it will not end until the United States puts pressure on Georgia to recognize South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence from Georgia as the United States did for Kosovo. Until then, the Russians are forced to defend Abkhazians and Ossetians militarily by weakening Georgia as much as possible in order to preempt any future attacks from Georgians. Any attempt by the U.S. government to back Georgia militarily may provoke a war between nuclear armed Russia and the United States. So, how many of you are willing to die in a nuclear holocaust for yet another blunder committed by the Bush Administration and left unquestioned by the American media?

Pavel Yakovlev, Ph.D. is in the Department of Economics and Quantitative Sciences at Duquesne University in Pittsburg. Read other articles by Pavel, or visit Pavel's website.

26 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Eric Patton said on August 12th, 2008 at 6:29am #

    Pavel Yakovlev writes:
    > I lost all faith in the American democratic system and its media
    > when President Bush initiated a false war against Iraq and got
    > away with it.

    Obviously you’ve never read Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent.”

  2. bozhidar balkas said on August 12th, 2008 at 8:31am #

    well, pavel has lost any respect for american form of rule.
    i did not. i never had it. all one needed to know in order to call american governance a dictatorship was to keep in mind that there was slavery along with ‘sacred’ constitution.
    but aren’t they all ‘sacred’?
    add to that some 160 wars waged by US, and lynchings, and what more does one need to make proper conclusion?

  3. Michael Kenny said on August 12th, 2008 at 8:48am #

    The thing that strikes me is the amount of barefaced lying coming from both sides. Saakashvili is claiming Russia wants to occupy all of Georgia and the Russians seem to be trying to exaggerate the seriousness of the fighting. As far as the US and US-inspired media is concerned, I’m actually surprised at how little lying there has been. I would guess that the whole thing is just too absurd to be “spun”. The dashing Prince of Ruritania springing forth from his mountain redoubt to free his long-suffering subjects from the dark forces of Grand Duke Dimitri! A great film script but lousy news!

  4. heike said on August 12th, 2008 at 9:57am #

    The “we were only responding to the murderous treachery and genocide of the Saakashvili clique” is the official Russian/Soviet version of events. It’s put out in the state-controlled media, which is the overwhelming majority of media in Russia. If the Russians had confidence in the truth of their own tale, they would not be engaging in cyber wars against Georgian information outlets. Quite frankly, whether MS’s response was called for or not, the fact remains that the events of last week were preceded by a large number of provocations. When you have a military operation launched as it was from the Russian side, you can’t say it was spontaneous. It was as “spontaneous” as the Israeli operation in Lebanon 2 years ago — a military operation that was planned in advance and waiting for a catalyst to set it in operation.

    I found especially telling were two pieces of information from “Ekho Moskvy,” one of the few remaining relatively independent media outlets in Russia. They did a poll of listeners as to who was responsible for the outbreak in Georgia: 33% said it was the work of the “siloviki,” whereas about 30% said it was the U.S (19% — aggressive policy of MS, 9% provocations from the south Ossetian side, rest were single digits). They were evenly divided over the wisdom of taking the fight beyond the separatist areas. Curiously, 22% said that Medvedev showed himself as president, whereas more than 57% disagreed. A colonel who had served in Georgia and who was interviewed today and was to have an audience with Medvedev (trying to get him to haul MS to prison), said that “even if only 30 Ossetians were killed by the Georgians, for me, that’s genocide.”

  5. pavel yakovlev said on August 12th, 2008 at 6:09pm #

    heike, yes russian tv media is not independent by any means and i would not trust it any more than i would trust the us. that’s why i read mostly internet based media. however, if i compare the us tv news coverage to russian tv news coverage, i feel so disgusted by the circus or theater that the us news has become relative to the russian counterpart. saakashvilli is a clown. yet he is paraded on cnn, for instance, as a messiah of some sort.

    as for Ekho Moskvy, i think we have a sample selection bias with those polled results. ekho moskvy, by the way is not the most objective source either. yes, it’s largely anti putin, but being in the opposition does not always make you objective (or correct) by default.

  6. cg said on August 12th, 2008 at 7:57pm #

    Here’s a fairly straight forward analysis.

    http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/russo_georgian_war_and_balance_power

  7. alex t said on August 12th, 2008 at 9:31pm #

    heike, as that “Russians own tale” allegation was left unexplained in your comment, it seems that you are just advocating genocide of Ossetians. That’s very sad.

  8. Joshua said on August 12th, 2008 at 11:13pm #

    Why is the left defending Russia? Georgia is the democratic country here. Russia is an autocracy that invades its neighbours, poisons pro western journalists and pro western presidential candidates. Russia opposes freedom for chechens, kosovo albanians and its own people but demands it for tiny ( 2%) ethnic minorities in pro western countries with oil pipe lines. We have NO idea how many south ossetians died when Georgia sought to assert its control in the province, but this article is repeating the Russian state media line that 1,600 died as though it were fact and Russia ignores the fact that Georgians were being attacked by Russian backed ossetian separatist forces up to 10 days ago. Russia planned this, NO WAY they could launch an all out invasion just 5 days after Georgia moved into South Ossetia.

  9. Andres Kargar said on August 12th, 2008 at 11:38pm #

    The corporate media in the US have always been a tool of the owning classes and even more so with the ongoing consolidation. If they used to hide the truth or speak in half-truths before, they openly lie in desperation now, and such is the case with the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia.

    If the media wanted to tell the truth, they would be talking about Saakashvilli’s war crimes in attacking and murdering 2000 Ossetian civilians.

    And while we’re at it, let us not forget the dirty hands of the Israeli government in arming and training the Georgian army, the same Zionists that had close relations with the former regimes of apartheid in South Africa and Latin American dictatorships.

  10. heike said on August 13th, 2008 at 5:08am #

    Pavel: EM also did phone polls, to reduce if not eliminate the self-selection bias. The colonel they interviewed hardly qualifies as anti-Putin. Alex: the point I was trying to make is that the Russians are able to make wild claims about genocide, with the said colonel claiming that even killing of 30 people is genocide. By that score, the Russian Army is committing genocide daily, even after their supposed cease-fire. The 2000 killed figure has never been confirmed; one doctor interviewed in Tskhinvali said that some 220 people were brought to his hospital for treatment.

  11. Number 6 said on August 13th, 2008 at 11:39am #

    Actually from my understanding the Georgian attack on the breakaway areas was provoked or possibly encouraged by the US and Israel. I think the Neocons/Zionists are behind this in a big way. According to Infowars.com two of the Georgian ministers (interior and defense) are Israeli citizens and one is a former Mossad agent. Could we be seeing the extension of the PNAC plan being carried out? Is this a “trial balloon” to see how Russia might react if the US attacks Iran in the upcoming months.

  12. Dave Silver said on August 13th, 2008 at 12:57pm #

    Using anti-communism in Left disguise just like those equated Hitler and Stalin, Yakovlev does the same thing with a comparison to imperialism’s little puppet using the Gerorgian leader Shakashvilli whose country is being courted to join NATO and has the third largest
    number of troops in the “Coalition Forces” in Iraq. The cutting edge word of these anti-communist types was the Soviet Union to be now replaced by Stalinism.
    Dave Silver

  13. Dave Silver said on August 13th, 2008 at 12:57pm #

    Using anti-communism in Left disguise just like those equated Hitler and Stalin, Yakovlev does the same thing with a comparison to imperialism’s little puppet using the Gerorgian leader Shakashvilli whose country is being courted to join NATO and has the third largest
    number of troops in the “Coalition Forces” in Iraq. The cutting edge word of these anti-communist types was the Soviet Union to be now replaced by Stalinism.
    Dave Silver

  14. pavel yakovlev said on August 13th, 2008 at 2:36pm #

    heike, if i were you i would not take the words of some russian colonel as representative of the russian official position. obviously, both sides of the conflict will try to exaggerate their civilian losses for propaganda reasons. that’s why we need some unbiased third party (obviously, usa and nato countries are out of the question) to estimate the civilian losses in ossetia and georgia. nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the georgians would not be able to live peacefully with the ossetians on the occupied territory after what they’ve done to ossetians in 1991-92. hence, the recent georgian attack would have to completely pacify the ossetians in the ‘final solution’ style.

    but i did find your ekho moskvi numbers interesting. i wonder if they have something to do with the russian favorite (arguably) pass time – making self deprecating jokes/anecdotes. heike, i assume that you know russian and american cultures pretty well. would you agree with me that americans rarely (if ever) have self-deprecating international jokes, while russians do it very often? what i am getting is that everyday americans tend to be less critical about their foreign policy compared to the russians and this might be reflected in the american media, in my humble opinion.

  15. heike said on August 13th, 2008 at 8:30pm #

    HRW sent someone into Tskhinvali and the best estimate they were able to come up with for the dead was 100. The colonel they interviewed on EM certainly represents the extreme nationalist view of affairs in Russia; the fact that he was calling on Medvedyev suggests that he’s “within swimming distance of the official mainstream.” What I did find interesting about the EM poll was that the plurality of respondents blamed the siloviki for events; other polls quoted in such places as Pravda show a much more pronounced pro-government bias. I assume EM used scientific polling methods in their phone polls, as the self-selected sample of people answering online (even I could put in my two kopecks worth) doesn’t necessarily fit the whole population.

    The question of jokes is an interesting one. Americans traditionally have an isolationist culture, so the question of interactions with other cultures doesn’t go that deep. East Europeans, on the other hand, are a real powerhouse of that kind of humor. The American ethos is connected with a “we can do it” attitude, along with the “we’re Number 1.” An interesting question is how the electorate will react to these events. McCain has taken a harder line rhetorically, but the question is whether in the last analysis it will make any difference. Americans traditionally are on the side of the underdog, although you will probably reply that their definition of the underdog is subjective. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that perceptions differ between us and people of other nationalities. The question is how you bridge these differences and promote dialogue and the principle of peaceful resolution of disputes. If we can do that, we all will be winners.

  16. heike said on August 13th, 2008 at 9:34pm #

    Pavel: you might find instructive the attached reader’s dialogue with Jaromír Štětina, Czech senator(Green Party) and long-time journalist who has covered the conflict regions of the former USSR. He’s on the scene and is really quite critical of Russian behavior. You should be able to make out most of what he says.

    http://www.lidovky.cz/odpovedi.asp?t=STETINA4

    “Informacni valka se stava standardni casti modernich konfliktu a Ruska federace v soupereni s Gruzii vitez”
    (The information war is becoming a standard part of modern conflicts and the Russian Federation is winning in competition with Georgia)

  17. polack in idaho said on August 13th, 2008 at 9:35pm #

    one little historical detail to the discussion. Stalin, usually described as Georgian, was actually an Ossetian. In the words of Josif Mandelsztam, a russian poet sent to a labor camp to die, from a sad poem about Stalin

    [...] just like honey drips every new death
    on a broad, ossetinian chest.

    Russian speakers in Ossetia are Russians, not Ossetians. During 60 years of soviet rule, Russians spread to all republics of USSR. What is the percentage of native inhabitants in Ossetia? Anybody knows?

  18. pavel yakovlev said on August 14th, 2008 at 10:37am #

    polack in idaho, stalin was indeed georgian, not an ossetian. georgia’s city of gori (stalin’s hometown) has a prominent statue of stalin to remind people of their country’s most famous son. stalin’s dirty right hand was also a georgian by the name of beriya, who was in charge of nkvd.

    russian speakers in ossetia are russian? do you mean russian citizens, russian ethnically? from what i’ve read, many of the south ossetians after becoming russian citizens moved to moscow or other big cities in russia due to poverty and fear of georgian attacks in their breakaway region.

  19. pavel yakovlev said on August 14th, 2008 at 10:48am #

    heyke, you asked how we can bridge the gap in public opinion? not letting your media become a propoganda platform for mr. saakashvilli or anyone else is a good way to start. the news media should report factual stuff, not theater. did you see cnn coverage of this conflict? it looked like theater with saakashvilli palying the main role. by the way, he is a good actor. his place is more appropriate in hollywood than georgia’s government. cnn and other networks also gave bush green light on his claims of iraq wmds, etc.

  20. heike said on August 14th, 2008 at 11:07am #

    Izvinite, Pavel, but frankly the Russian media coverage is censored and highly biased, starting with the “2000 victims” of the Georgians. If our media isn’t buying the Russian/Soviet line, who’s to blame them? MS, whatever his personal quirks, is the freely elected president of his country, and that’s a lot more than P or M could say about themselves. The Russian media blitz is highly and skillfully coordinated, including their own page on You Tube for the propaganda outlet “Russia Today.” Instead of making cheap sniping at the U.S. media, you should show a little civic courage and remind your own people as to the shortcomings in the view of the world THEY are obtaining from their own propaganda.

  21. pavel yakovlev said on August 14th, 2008 at 12:29pm #

    well, that is exactly my point. pretending that american/georgian news media is any more objective than the russian, while it’s not, does not say much about democracy here or in georgia. speaking of democracy in georgia… it is not as democratic as you might think (look up european election observers’ opinions).

    but why don’t we just reason with facts? here they are: south ossetians and abhasians hate the georgians for what they did to them in 1991-92 and would never want to live under georgian leadership again. on august 7, 2008 georgians launched an all out offensive on south ossetia (using tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launch systems, and jet bombers) taking south ossetian capital of tsinhvali. that is a very brutal offensive!

    russians claim that 1,4000 south ossetian civilians were killed by the georgians on the first day of their attack! moreover, the georgians have deliberately targeted the schools, hospitals, and other public buildings. these claims need to be independently checked, of course. but what does the us media do? instead of giving both sides of the conflict equal coverage, the american news media is a propaganda outlet for saakashvilli. what if russian claims about georgian atrocities turn out to be true, heike? how would feel about supporting genocidal maniac, mr. saakashvilli? and please, don’t give that crap about democracy. the bush administration has done so much damage to the concept of democracy that whenever i hear that argument, i want to gag.

  22. pavel yakovlev said on August 14th, 2008 at 12:45pm #

    for all of you fans of georgia and the bush administration, read this:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/14/russia.georgia

  23. heike said on August 14th, 2008 at 2:17pm #

    That’s your version of the facts. Hey, did you read the latest about what the “heroic liberators” are liberating? Like a couple of SUVs belonging to UNHCR? Genocidal maniacs? Their address is “Kreml'”

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121869590082940169.html?mod=hps_us_whats_news

    Pavel, you swallow the Russian/Soviet party line too quickly. Is this how you are teaching your students to do an in-depth analysis of what you teach them? Remember Pavel, the last person in Russia who tried to do an objective analysis of events in the region wound up with a bullet in her forehead for her troubles. Despite all your gagging about the concept of democracy, the only censorship of DV I have found is that which comes from its editors.

    Who did what to whom? How many Georgians were ethnically cleansed from these regions? The same UNHCR, now minus its SUVs, can enlighten you with the statistics. I don’t suppose “Russia Today” will tell you any of that stuff.

    So, your concept of democracy is that you are better qualified than the people of Georgia to decide whom they choose as their president?
    Do you not understand the implications of the Putin/Medvedyev doctrine: wherever there are Russian citizens in danger (and we define what that means), it is our right and duty to defend them. That’s why people in those target countries are embracing NATO like it was going out of style.

    Did your Russian media tell you that in the last week there has been a sea change in such places as Bohemia over the issue of missile placements? Or that the same thing has happened in Finland with regard to the question of that country’s membership in NATO?

    Who is kdo and who is kovo?
    our Czech reporter on the scene:

    Already August 4, four days before the opening of the Olympics, heavy military technology passed through the Rokoski tunnel and three full days before the Georgian attack, the Ossetian forces right in front of the closed eyes of the Russian “peacekeepers” fired into Georgian villages. The military forces of the Russian federal army work in close contact with the secret service of the Russian Security Service, which is the offshoot of the KGB. Overthrowing Saakashvili is a medium-term goal, and the long-term goal is the takeover of the pipeline across Georgia and the reestablishment of control over the Caspian fields. Russia is today generating the greatest pressure on the Baltic states. But don’t forget either that today’s regime in Tadjikistan was installed by the allied forces of Russian tanks of the 201st division, who to this very day sit in Dushanbe. The imperial interest in the Czechs is traditional, and it doesn’t end in Uzhhorod but in Ash.

    Uz ctvrteho srpna, ctyri dny pred zahajenim olympiady stala tezka vojenska technika u severniho usti Rokskeho tunelu a cele tri dny pred gruzinskym utokem osetinske sily pri zavrenych ocich ruskych “mirotvorcu” strilely do gruzinskych vesnic. Vojenske sily ruske federalni armady pracuji v uzkem kontaktu s tajnou sluzbou Federalni sluzba bezpecnosti, coz je pokracovatelka KGB. Svrhnout Saakasviliho je cil strednedoby, dlouhodoby pak ovladnuti energovodu pres gruzii a nasledne znovuovladnuti kaspickych lozisek. Nejvetsi tlak dnes Rusko vyviji na baltske republiky. Ale nezapomente ani na fakt, ze dnesni tadzikistansky rezim byl dosazen spojenymi silami ruskych tanku 201.divize, ktera dodnes sedi v Dusanbe. Imperialni zajem o Cesko je tradicni a nekonci u Uzhorodu ale u Ase.

    The OSCE in general evaluated the January presidential election positively, although it mentioned there were a few issues that need to be addressed:
    http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/2008/01/29182_en.pdf

    Of course, the OSCE couldn’t even monitor the Russian elections because it was blocked from doing so.

    Finally, how do you decide who really “hates” whom. Russia has moved a lot of its nationals and officials into South Ossetia in the last decade, so it’s something like saying that the good people of Gibraltar don’t want to be reunited with Spain. Where are these good people from anyway? Look at other cases of local conflict such as Cyprus. There was really ethnic cleansing on both sides but now they are in negotiations under UN auspices to reconstruct their country on a federal basis.

    Is Kokoity your idea of a democrat? (“he may be a scoundrel, but he’s our scoundrel”)

  24. pavel yakovlev said on August 14th, 2008 at 8:10pm #

    I remember reading about Saakashvilli’s admiration of Stalin and Beria (arguably, the world’ most talented murderers). Here are the statements from Saakashvilli’s wife:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/apr/01/georgia.oil

    That’s right, the beloved champion of democracy, the recent darling of the us media, and and an avid freedom fighter against the ‘evil empire’ adores Stalin. And EU and US want this guy to join NATO? I smell WWIII. Do you?

  25. cg said on August 15th, 2008 at 10:29am #

    Perhaps one day, if there is a future with free speech, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn’s “TWO HUNDRED YEARS TOGETHER” will actually be published in the English language so half the human race may read it and know the truth.

  26. Tony Lee said on August 19th, 2008 at 11:25am #

    As an American I am ashamed of the role that my country has played and continues to play in the aggressive actions of the Georgian president that started this whole thing.

    I have to get information from the internet because of the lies and misinformation of my media. Russia should not back down. Russia needs to get the truth to my people. They are being told lies about this incident by Bush and our media. My sons will never fight in an unjust war.

    Please Russia, stand your ground.