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article imageOp-Ed: Georgia 'coverage' faces clumsy propaganda from all sides, lousy choreography

By Paul Wallis     Aug 16, 2008 in World
In the last week, I’ve seen some the healthiest, most knowledgeable, most talkative refugees from both sides I’ve ever seen in any war zone. Georgia has proved Western media couldn’t call a meat raffle. The locals knew far more than the reporters.
The Georgian region could be more accurately considered as more like Yugoslavia than some sort of suburb of Moscow. The people in the region are an ethnic/national mix of ancient rivalries which date back to the Golden Horde days. Before Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, Russia was a patchwork.
The Czars weren’t too interested in the local disputes and wars. They enforced peace at gunpoint. The Soviet era did the same. The end of the Soviet Union and the creation of the breakaway republics awakened the old nationalism, and the local land grabs did the rest to set off brush wars and separatist movements.
Ossetia is a case in point.
Nobody outside the region gave a damn about Ossetia, its claim for independence, or anything else about the place, until this incident. The West certainly wasn’t clamoring for independence for Ossetia, the removal of Russian forces, or anything resembling those things.
Quite the opposite. Georgia wanted to join NATO, so that was all anyone needed to know about their local issues. A few days after the fighting, Georgia, Ossetia, and anything to do with them have dropped out of the headlines. Their names live on as political footballs, but not as anything anyone is supposed to do much about.
The New York Times today provides a refreshing glimpse of ongoing objectivity at work:
Russia’s military offensive into Georgia has shattered, perhaps irrevocably, the strategy of three successive presidential administrations to coax Russia into alliance with the West and integration into its institutions.
From Russia’s point of view, those efforts were never truly sincere or respectful of its own legitimate political and security interests. Those interests, it is now clear, are at odds with those of Europe and the United States.
Yep, and until someone decided to start firing 152mm high explosive birthday cards into Ossetia, that wasn’t the case, obviously. Vlad and George and Dmitri and everyone were going to bake cupcakes, and everything.
The same old formula, “Polarize the audience”, “find a good guy and a bad guy”, drones on.
Let’s start with the basics of the military “coverage”. Georgia and Russia use similar, Soviet-type vehicles. The tanks are a bit different, Georgia apparently has some older models, but the most modern tank I saw looked like a T80, which is also two generations behind the current Russian tanks. The explosive reactive armor (the boxes on the front of the tanks) is used on older model T62s and T72s.
The APCs, which are BRDM and BMP types, are wheeled and tracked vehicles respectively, used by both sides. Towed rocket launchers and truck mounted 240mm rockets date from the late 70s, when they were in the Soviet inventory. The truck transports from memory are also antiques.
I saw a clip of a BMP on a road into Ossetia, which was assumed to be Russian. It was on its own, there were no troops with it, it wasn’t firing, and nor was anyone else. There may or may not have been anyone in it. It may have been an abandoned Georgian vehicle. That was enough reason for the reporter to turn around, and that was the footage. The message of the article? “The Russians are coming!”
Presumably the Russian tanks were wearing ballet shoes. The most obvious thing about that bit of news was the total silence in terms of military activity. Unless they were actually being attacked by the Bolshoi, not too plausible.
I’m surprised there weren’t any allegations of Swan Lake being used in defiance of the Geneva Convention.
From the look of the Russian visual material, the units involved in the filming, if not in the combat, were basically second line troops, on the ground. The combat work was done by paratroops, air to ground attack, and some armor. There’s no visuals for the paratroops, and not much than file footage of the Russian air units like helicopters, no Sukhois. Like the US, the Russians don’t do documentaries on their special forces in action.
The Western media didn’t question any of the visual information, and most of the news copy came from sources nowhere near the action, full of "statesmanship". Russia (like everyone else on Earth) blacked out any specific information on its side, and whoever was on the ground doing the journalism had to try to piece it together and tack on bits as required.
Georgia, meanwhile, was conducting a diplomatic offensive, with some spluttering noises from Washington providing the accompaniment.
Standard format:
1. Picture of knocked out vehicles.
2. Damage to buildings. Lots of damage to buildings. Meaning someone was spraying fire all over the place, and not necessarily on the targets. If the town had come under sustained Russian artillery fire, it’d look like Chechnya.
3. Distraught villagers.
4. Interviews with someone usually clean shaven, and wearing remarkably clean clothes. Both sides produced civilians who were dressed for a vacation, not a combat zone. There were no younger guys of military age to be seen out of uniform, from either side.
5. Melodrama from people who were behaving normally until the camera hit them.
6. Narrative making allegations of atrocities by either side, but no details. Allegations of ethnic cleansing, but no details from either side. Strange, when you think what useful propaganda it’d be, and that both sides have literally hundreds, if not thousands of people on camera talking about it.
7. Occasional mentions of the Ossetian partisans were made, usually in connection with atrocities.
8. Not much effort went into identifying which units were which, in terms of trying to find out who was killing who. At no point were Ossetian forces ever identified.
Meanwhile the US media, which obviously still has the Cold War macros, cranked out stuff about the awful Russians. The initial Georgian artillery attack on the Ossetian capital was soon lost in the crowd. So was the original, useful, and correct journalistic format explaining the origins of the conflict. French President Sarkozy’s mission to Moscow to try to stop the fighting barely received a mention. Negative comments regarding Georgia never happened at all after day one. Gorbachev’s interview on CNN was largely ignored.
Also on CNN today:
International rights body Human Rights Watch on Friday accused Russia of dropping cluster bombs -- outlawed by more than 100 nations -- on Georgia, killing civilians. The claim was denied by Russian officials.
The US in the very recent past has used cluster bombs. So has NATO. Not a word was said at the time, apart from a few pieces about US attempts to inform Afghan kids that they were dangerous if they were found lying around.
Which leads us to this pleasant situation, which some may find familiar. NYT:
The United Nations Security Council has reverted to a cold-war-like stalemate, with American and Russian vetoes blocking meaningful action over Georgia and other issues. While the United States and Russia will continue to negotiate out of necessity, as the old superpowers did, cooperation and collaboration — however limited in the past few years — now appear even more remote over such issues as Iran’s nuclear program.
People tend to forget that the entire global nuclear arsenal is still very much intact, and has been ever since the end of the Soviet Union. It can still wipe out all life on Earth four times over.
It’s still in the hands of the same gigantic IQ levels which have achieved so much in the last 40 years. At least the Russians aren’t polishing their haloes while they’re doing it.
The next big surprise will be Mutual Assured Destruction 2, the long awaited sequel to the smash disco hit by Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev.
So everything’s back to normal for 1972, according to the ever-vigilant Orwellian skank factory the West tries to pass off as plausible news media.
Happy, jerks?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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