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By Gordon M. Hahn

Seven years ago “Russia invaded” Georgia. Left out of the picture was that an American-backed Georgian regime intensely antagonistic to Moscow bombed the capitol of South Ossetiya killing tens of civilians and 19 Russia peacekeepers the night before. Georgian President Mikheil Saakasvili unleashed an aggressive propaganda campaign consisting of lies and wild exaggerations. A year later an EU commission’s investigation into the war revealed that the one-sided, pro-Georgian interpretation of the war’s origins and course adopted in Washington and Brussels was largely false. Wikileaks’ revelations disclosed that the US embassy in Tbilisi passed on Saakashvili’s fabrications to Washington as fact. A few years later Saakashvili was run out oh his country where he is wanted for human rights violations to this day.

Today we hear much of “Putin’s war” in Ukraine — in negation of its real, complex origins — and of Russia’s “powerful propaganda machine.” In fact, the West and Kiev are equally responsible for the war, and all sides have very active active propaganda or strategic communications efforts. As I have been writing for well over a decade Putin’s Russia is an authoritarian regime, but it is far from the worst of such regimes. Indeed, the U.S. and the West have far more authoritarian allies. The difference is that the U.S. and the West expanded world history’s most powerful military alliance only to Russia’s borders and have encouraged and supported color revolutions almost exclusively among Russia’s neighbors and allies.

Just as seven years ago, the Western narrative regarding Ukraine is slowly being eroded. It is now apparent that the “Yanukovich’s snipers” were in fact the Maidan revolution’s crucial, neo-fascist element. Other ‘stratcomm’ versions of events have been proven dubious here (https://gordonhahn.com/2015/03/21/violence-coercion-and-escalation-in-the-ukrainian-crisis-parts-1-3-november-25-and-30-2013-and-january-21-22-2014/).

The article below on the Georgian war was fully vindicated by the much later EU commission and other revelations, while the claims of those who comprise the Washington consensus and are making claims about Ukraine were completely discredited by the same commission and subsequent revelations. Thus, the article below is a harbinger of the inevitable unmasking of the pro-Ukrainian propaganda war and its grossly one-sided interpretation of events. “Georgia’s Propaganda War”, which exposed Georgia’s lies regarding the 2008 war, was first published on October 17, 2008 at Russia – Other Points of View (http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/gordon-hahns-underground-.html).

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Georgia’s Propaganda War

by Gordon M. Hahn

The five-day Georgian-Russian saw Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and other Georgian officials waging an aggressive propaganda campaign and, in many ways, a disinformation war in the Western mass media. This media offensive was the result either of a carefully planned disinformation war or a rush by Western governments, mainstream media, and think tanks to get the Georgians’ side of the story and their side only. Either way, the Georgians were able to wage an effective and constant barrage of propaganda and disinformation against the Russians.

In some 40 appearances in the Western media and at Western think tanks, President Saakasahvili and his ministers made numerous false statements in their effort to convince the West that it was obliged to defend Tbilisi from Russia’s incursion. The following is a review of Georgia’s official version of events and a comparison of their claims with the facts as we know them as of late August and early September 2008.

THE RUSSIAN PLANNED FOR WAR AND WHO ATTACKED FIRST

Georgian officials were careful in all cases to avoid mention of the fact that it began escalated tit-for-tat sniper and artillery exchanges to the level of all-out war by undertaking an offensive to seize South Ossetia’s capitol of Tskhinval. After seizing South Ossetia the Georgian army’s blitzkrieg likely would have moved on to Abkhazia. President Saakashvili and other Georgian officials repeatedly accused Russia of undertaking a “well-planned invasion” of Georgia designed to size the country and remove him from power. Saakashvili told CNN on 8 August: “Russian troops have been stationed near the border for a few, three or four months. They were claiming that they were staging exercises there, and as soon as a suitable pretext was found yesterday they moved in.”

[CNN interview with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, CNN News, 8 Aug, 2008, http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2008/08/08/intv.saakashvili.cnn?iref=videosearch.%5D

In other words, Russian forces were ready to pounce once Ossetian forces prompted by Moscow began firing on Georgian villages.

Saakashvili further claims that on August 7 Georgian settlements were fired upon by Russian-backed Ossetian forces first after he declared a ceasefire and that as Georgian forces moved in to move on Tskhinvali in response to Ossetian attacks, Russian forces were already entering Georgia through the Roki tunnel. Saakashvili laid out this argument in his August 14 Washington Post article “Russia’s War Is the West’s Challenge” in these words:

Russia, using its separatist proxies, attacked several peaceful, Georgian-controlled villages in South Ossetia, killing innocent civilians and damaging infrastructure.

On Aug. 6, just hours after a senior Georgian official traveled to South Ossetia to attempt negotiations, a massive assault was launched on Georgian settlements. Even as we came under attack, I declared a unilateral cease-fire in hopes of avoiding escalation and announced our willingness to talk to the separatists in any format.

But the separatists and their Russian masters were deaf to our calls for peace. Our government then learned that columns of Russian tanks and troops had crossed Georgia’s sovereign borders. The thousands of troops, tanks and artillery amassed on our border are evidence of how long Russia had been planning this aggression.

[Mikheil Saakashvili, “Russia’s War Is The West’s Challenge,” Washington Post, August 14, 2008.]

What is perhaps most striking about this article is that the Georgian president has the very date for these events wrong – they occurred on August 7, not August 6. Indeed, Saakashvili himself (like all other reports) indicated this in his August 7 televised address on the crisis. [See “Sakashvili’s Televised Address on S. Ossetia,” Civil Georgia, 7 August 2008, 21:45, www.civil.ge.] Saakashvili’s article has the earmarks of one written in haste by someone with a loose attitude toward the facts. Aside from this, Saakashvili’s version of events is at odds with every account of the events leading up to the war.

First, Saakashvili omits from his account that Georgian forces began to occupy the hills surrounding Tskhainvali days earlier and were trying to do so for weeks since June. [See Kavkaz-uzel.ru, for example, http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1223412.html, http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1223638.html.%5D Saakashvili was moving his troops and artillery into position to invade Tskhinvali throughout the first week of August. Georgian forces renewed lower-intensity military operations around Tskhinvali on August 1, including moving into position for the offensive. Georgian snipers were firing at Ossetian villages. [See the report on the liberal-oriented Russian human rights website Kavak uzel “V Yuzhnoi Osetii zayavlyayut, chto Gruzia pazmestila artilleriyu bliz zony konflikta,” Kavkaz uzel, 4 August 2008, www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext.newsid/1226489.html.] This was one of the main reasons for the escalating in tit-for-tat machine-gun, sniper, and mortar fire that preceeded the outbreak of general hostilities in the weeks prior to August 7.

Second, the location of Russia’s 58th Army on the eve of the war could have represented contingency planning based on good intelligence rather than on intent to invade. The fact is that Russia’s 58th army, from which the troops and equipment for the incursion came, is based in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, just across the border from South Ossetia. It is the nucleus of Russia’s military presence in its jhadi-plagued North Caucasus. In late July Russia’s North Caucasus Military District carried out military exercises involving the core of Russia’s military presence in the North Caucasus, the noted 58th Army. Some units could easily have been put on alert and moved near the border as the tit-for-tat fighting escalated between Georgians and Ossetians. Surely any competent military would have had contingency plans in the event that Saakashvili invaded one or both of the breakaway republics; a danger which remained real as long as he refused to sign an agreement rejecting to solve the frozen conflict by force of arms as proposed by Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Third, Georgia’s official version of the events, as stated in his Washington Post article and elsewhere, is gravely at odds with what has been reported in virtually every non-Georgian source on the war as well as with Georgian officials’ statements on specifics regarding mobilization of reinforcemnts. In an August 8 CNN interview Saakashvili specified the time of the Russian invasion: “At 24am last night Russian APCs started to cross into Georgian territory, and there we had to act.”  CNN interview with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, CNN News, 8 August 2008, http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2008/08/08/intv.saakashvili.cnn?iref=videosearch.

However, five days later in a conference call with journalists he moved the time of the Russian invasion up in another attempt to claim the Russians moved first: “We clerarly responded to the Russians…The point here is that around 11 o’clock Russian tanks started to move into Georgian territory, 150 at first. And that was a clear-cut invasion.” [“Countdown in the Caucasus: Seven days that brought Russia and Georgia to war,” Financial Times, August 27m 2008.] Georgia’s deputy defense minister Batu Kutelia also said Russia began to move heavy armour through the Roki tunnel from North Ossetia before Georgian forces opened up its artillery barrage and attacked South Ossetia around midnight August 7-8, but gave no evidence to back this up. In fact, he also said that Georgian war planners did not believe Russia would respond to Tbilisi’s offensive in South Ossetia, leaving readers to wonder how he could claim both that Russians had responded to Georgian operations and that they intiated the war by crossing Roki first. [Jan Cienski, “Tbilisi admits it miscalculated Russian reaction,” Financial Times, August 22, 2008.]

There is no mention of Georgia’s mobilization for war – a mobilization that began hours and even days before Saakashvili’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire at 7:10pm local time on August 7 – either in Saakashvili’s or most other Georgian officials’ version of events. The OSCE monitoring mission reported that Georgia moved 3,000 special forces into the hills and villages surrounding Tskhinvali on August 6 in complete violation of the ceasefire agreement before flagrantly violating it by unleashing GRAD missiles on August 7. Georgian Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili has revealed that already hours before the August 7 ceasefire announcement an additional 800 Georgian forces of Georgia’s 4th Battalion began to move out from their base in Tbilisi. Other units equipped with Grad rocket launchers moved out from the base near Gori towards the conflict zone. Russia forces massed on the Russian side of the North Ossetian-South Ossetian border, tipped off about the Georgians’ preparations by intelligence surveillance. [Peter Finn “A Two-Sided Descent into Full-Scale War,” The Washington Post, August 17, 2008, p. A1.]

Moreover, once these reinforcements arrived, Tbilisi informed commander of the Russian peacekeepers, General Marat Kulakhmetova, that the ceasefire has been cancelled. At 11:05pm, about the time Saakashvili claims Russian tanks were moving into Georgia, Mamuka Kurashvili, chief of peacekeeping operations at the Georgian defence ministry, announced in a nationwide television broadcast an end to the ceasefire and the beginning of a Georgian military operation. He did not mention any Russian invasion in his speech. Rather, he claimed the offensive was targeting the South Ossetian separatists who “continued the shelling of Georgian villages.” In an indication that Saakashvili may not have had complete control over Georgia’s armed forces, Kurashvili asserted that “Georgian power-wielding bodies decided to restore constitutional order throughout the whole region.” [“Countdown in the Caucasus,” Financial Times, August 27, 2008 citing BBC Monitoring.] At 11:30pm, Russian peacekeeping forces and all other sources corroborate that Georgian forces initiated a massive artillery barrage on a sleepy residential Tskhinval. [“Countdown in the Caucasus,” Financial Times, August 27, 2008.]

In the weeks before the war, Saakashvili increased the contingent of Georgian forces near Georgia’s other breakaway republic, Abkhazia in violation of the ceasefire agreements. Foreign Minister Abkhazia Sergei Shamba states that on eve of conflict Georgia had 3,000 troops in Abkhazia’s Kodori Gorge. [Sergei Markedonov, “Abkhazia 16 let spustya,” Politcom.ru, 14 August 2008, http://www.politcom.ru/print.php?id=6690.%5D This explains the Russian force that entered Abkhazia on August 8 and suggests that Saakashvili was not simply the victim of Ossetian-Russian provocations but appears to have been gearing up for a gambit to seize back both breakaway republics, hoping U.S. support would cover him.

Thus, as Saakashvili’s troops around Tskhinvali were loading ammunition into their guns, mortars and cannons in early evening of August 7, Saakashvili told the world he was implementing a unilateral ceasefire. [See “Sakashvili’s Televised Address on S. Ossetia,” Civil Georgia, 7 August 2008, 21:45, http://www.civil.ge.] Hours later, the Georgian artillery began to pound Tskhinvali. The Georgian side had significantly escalated the tit-for-tat attacks by initiating a major military offensive against South Ossetia, prompting the Russians’ readied response. Remember that an attack on Ossetians in South Ossetia would inevitably have provoked a mass mobilization of volunteers among Ossetians in Russia’s republic of North Ossetia without Moscow’s intervention.

Georgia’s fourteen-hour barrage destroyed large parts of the city and included attacks on the hospital and ambulances. [See Larisa Sotieva, “Eyewitnesses: Carnage in Tskhinvali,” Caucasus Reporting Service, Institute of War and Peace Reporting, 12 August 2008, http://www.iwpr.net and Sara Rainsford, “S. Ossetia’s Ruins Seethe with Anger,” BBC News, 13 August 2008.] Human Rights Watch concluded after a visit to Tskhinvali that the evidence suggested that the bulk of the damage to the city was caused by Georgian forces. [SOURCES] Thus, Saakashvili inflicted many, perhaps hundreds of casualties, including killing 15 and wounding tens of Russian peacekeepers, even before Russian crossed the Roki Tunnel.

Perhaps more importantly, Georgian military officials have in advertently revealed that Tbilisi had brought heavy artillery into the conflict zone very early on. If civilian and Russian peacekeeping force reports that heavy artillery was bombing Tskhinvali from approximately midnight on August 7-8, then perhaps the comments of Georgian Artillery Brigade Commander Maj-Gen Devi Chankotadze will impress. He told a Georgian newspaper: “Georgian artillery made an impact during the August 2008 conflict in Tskhinvali and delivered a heavy blow on the enemy. We destroyed several Russian columns on their way to Tskhinvali. The Russians are concealing the fact that they suffered heavy losses.” Col Arsen Tsukhishvili, chief of staff of the Artillery Brigade, added. “We had four observation points in strategically important areas near Tskhinvali and Java districts.” The Georgian reporter added: “At least 300 gun barrels of Georgian artillery were firing at the enemy simultaneously! These included the 203-mm Pion systems, the 160-mm Israeli-made GRADLAR multiple rocket launchers, the 152-mm Akatsiya, Giatsint and Dana self-propelled guns, the 122-mm Grad and RM-70 multiple rocket launchers, as well as the D-30 and Msta howitzers of the infantry brigades.” [“Georgian artillery inflicted ‘heavy losses’ on Russians,” BBC Monitoring, August 25, 2008 translating Georgian weekly Kviris Palitra, August 25, 2008.]

It takes many days if not weeks to bring in the kind of heavy artillery the commander is talking about through the mountainous terrain around South Ossetia from Georgian army bases in Tbilisi, Senaki or Gori. If they were not on their bases, then they were located just outside the conflict zone ready to be brought in as hostilities became imminent. In that case, the Georgians were doing no less than what the Russians are being accused of doing in North Ossetia. If the artillery was already in the zone, they Georgian forces were in violation of the previous ceasefire agreement and were exceeding Russian efforts on South ossetian territory to ‘provoke war.’

As Russian and Ossetian forces engaged the Georgian army on August 8, Saakashvili claimed: “The Georgian government’s forces, according to information as of 21:00, completely control the entire territory of South Ossetia except the highland settlements of Dzhava.” [“Saakashvili: voiska Gruzii kontroliruet vsyu territoriyu Yuzhnoi Ossetii,” KavkazMemo.ru, 8 August 2008, www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/printnews/news/id/1226844.html.] In fact, Georgian troops never even controlled all of Tskhinvali and began withdrawing from there at 8:30pm and held a small slice of the city in the south as Russian troops began to enter it. [Timeline for the Georgian Foreign Ministry, accessed August 28, 2008, www.mfa.gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&sec_id=461&info_id=7484p.] The Russian entry into Tskhinvali came over 20 hours after the beginning of ‘pre-planned invasion’ during the initial stages of which Russian president was in Samara, not Moscow, premier Putin was in China, and the head of the Russian Security Council and the commander of the 58th army were on vacation.

 

CONTACTS WITH RUSSIAN AUTHORITIES

In his August 14 Washington Post article, Saakashvilit stated: “Our repeated attempts to contact senior Russian leaders were rebuffed. Russia’s foreign ministry even denied receiving our notice of cease-fire hours after it was officially — and very publicly — delivered. This was just one of many cynical ploys to deceive the world and justify further attacks.” [Saakashvili, “Russia’s War Is The West’s Challenge”] The Georgian president was reiterating a claim he made in his televised address to the Georgian people on August 7, when he Saakashvili stated that the Georgian authorities had not been in touch with Vladimir Putin or other Russian authorities “for days.” [CNN interview with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, CNN News, 8 August 2008, www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2008/08/08/intv.saakashvili.cnn?iref=videosearch.]

However, on the next day in his television address to the Georgian people Saakashvili said: “We have been in constant contact with the leadership of the local Russian peacekeeping forces. Several hours ago, they told us that they have completely lost control over the actions of the separatists.… We are in constant contact with the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the ministry tells us Russia is trying to stop the separatists from engaging in armed action, but without any success.” [“Sakashvili’s Televised Address on S. Ossetia,” Civil Georgia, 7 August 2008, 21:45, www.civil.ge.]

HOW MANY RUSSIAN TANKS AND ARMORED VEHICLES?

Concomitant to the Georgian claim that Russia planned an invasion and then provoked Georgia into attacking so it could ‘respond’ was the claim that the initial Russian invasion involved 1,200 tanks or 1,200 tanks and armored personnel carriers combined. Saakashvili and other Georgian officials made this claims, respectively. However, during a conference call with journalists on August 11, Saakashvili said that Georgian towns were “extensively being bombed” but that only 500 Russian tanks were on Georgian territory. [Henry Meyer and Lucian Kim, “Russia Bombs Georgia as EU Mounts Peace Mission to Moscow,” Bloomberg, August 11, 2008.] Saakashvili again revised his figures upwards, this time radically so, in a speech at a August 24 meeting with some Georgian parliamentarians at the State Chancellery broadcast live on Georgian television. He claimed that the Russian military operation “planned for many months” brought “80,000 servicemen and mercenaries” and “about 3,000 armored vehicles” into Georgia. [“President says 80,000 Russian soldiers, 3,000 armored vehicles invaded Georgia,” BBC Monitoring, August 24, 2008 citing Channel 1, Tbilisi, August 24, 2008, 1600 GMT.] Such a deployment of equipment would mean that Russia’s entire 58th Army was deployed from its jihad-plagued North Caucasus to South Ossetia.

On August 18, 2008 the Heritage Foundation convened a conference ‘The Russia-Georgian War: A Challenge to the U.S. and the World’ chaired by the foundation’s Eurasia specialist Ariel Cohen, which served as another forum for the Georgians to spin their web of disinformation. The conference speakers included the Georgian Ambassador to the US Vasil Sikharulidze and, by video phone, the Georgian Minister for Reintegration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia Temuri Yakobashvili but no one from the Russian government or the embassy down the street. All of the conference speakers, with the exception of Johns Hopkins University Professor Frederick Starr, focused exclusively on presenting or supporting the Georgian side of the story ((See the transcript of a Heritage Foundation Forum on the Russian-Georgian War “A Challenge for the U.S. and the World,” Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, August 18, 2008, Federal News Service, August 18, 2008). Ambassador Sikhuralidze told the conference that “1,200 tanks and 15,000 soldiers” entered Georgia “within 12 hours” bringing the number of Russian troops in all of Georgia to 25,000 as of August 18. His colleague Minister for Reintegration Yakobashvili stated there were 1,200 tanks and armored personnel carriers when asked how many troops and how much equipment entered Georgia in the first 48 hours of the Russian incursion. [Transcript of a Heritage Foundation Forum on the Russian-Georgian War “A Challenge for the U.S. and the World,” Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, August 18, 2008, Federal News Service, August 18, 2008.] Three weeks after the war Yakobashvili also escalated his figures to “2,000 tanks.” [Nikolaus von Twickel, “Theories Swirl About War’s Beginning,” The Moscow Times, August 28, 2008.]

In fact, the Russian force appears to have been much smaller. The respected Janes’ Defence Weekly reported that in fact the “invasion force consisted of 15,000 and 150 tanks and heavy self-propelled artillery pieces.” [Giragosian, “Georgian planning flaws led to campaign failure.”] No independent source has confirmed the figures for the number of Russian forces on Georgian territory claimed by Georgian officials.

RUSSIAN ATROCITIES

Georgian pronouncements on the conduct of Russian forces in Georgia grossly exaggerated and appeared to conjure fabricated lies about their conduct on Georgian territory in an attempt to tag them with war crimes and gain the world’s sympathy. In his August 18 Washington Post article, Saakashvili characterized Russian forces as a “brutal invading army, whose violence was ripping Georgia apart.” Specifically, he charged them with committing wanton destruction and war atrocities against the civilian population: Oddly, he adds: “(I)n response to which his government “decided to withdraw from South Ossetia, declare a cease-fire and seek negotiations. Yet Moscow ignored our appeal for peace.” He also wrote in the same article: “Within 24 hours of Russia agreeing to a cease-fire, its forces were rampaging through Gori; blocking the port of Poti; sinking Georgian vessels; and — worst of all — brutally purging Georgian villages in South Ossetia, raping women and executing men.” [Saakashvili, “Russia’s War Is The West’s Challenge”] On the same day as well, Saakashvili stated in a CNN interview that Russian planes were “specifically targeting the civilian population, and we have scores of wounded and dead among the civilian population all around the country, not so much in the conflict area.” [CNN interview with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, CNN News, 8 August 2008, www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2008/08/08/intv.saakashvili.cnn?iref=videosearch.] Four days later, at an August 12 press conference, Saakashvili asserted that despite a ceasefire, the Russians continued to attack “purely civilian targets.” [“’Georgian Will Never Surrender’,” CNN News, 12 August 2008, http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2008/08/12/sot.georgia.saakashvili.surrender.itn?iref=videosearch.%5D Also, in his August 13 press conference, Saakashvili stated:

“Russian tanks are attacking the town of Gori and rampaging through the town. There is marauding. There is destruction of buildings. There is marauding to the level that even toilet seats are taken from the buildings…computers, furniture. The worst kind of marauding I ever could imagine. There was a rampage through Georgian-controlled villages of South Ossetia and through upper Abkhazia – Kodori, and scores of people, according to the reports which we cannot totally confirm, were killed as well as the camps were set (up), women and men were separated from each other. Internment camps were set up, and we are getting reports of large-scale violation of human rights of the worst case (kind). … The town of Tskhinvali was turned into Grozny II by Russian carpet bombardment… I have been hearing accusations that this was Georgian bombardment, and this is not true. The leveling of the town of Tskhinvali was done by Russian air force…. What we are seeing in the area is classical Balkan-type and World war II-type ethnic cleasning and purification campaigns. …(T)he worst kind of atrocities are being committed in my country against my people of all ethnic groups.” [“Tensions Still High in Georgia,” CNN News, 13 August 2008, www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2008/08/13/sot.georgia.presser.saakashvili.ap?iref=videosearch.]

Saakashvili’s ministers, like their leader, repeatedly asserted that Russians were routinely destroying residences, infrastructure, and ethnic Georgian civilians. Not unlike the Russians’ disinformation regarding Georgia’s ‘genocide’ of Ossetians, President Saakashvili and other top Geiorgian officials accused Russian forces of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Minister Yakobashvili told the Heritage Foundation that Russian forces had engaged in “ethnic cleansing” and inflicted “enormous atrocities, unbelievable suffering” on the Georgian population. In the following exchange, he went further by implying that no civilians had been killed by Georgian forces:

MR. COHEN: Can I ask you a question about what happened in Ossetia? We are exposed here to the Russian position that the Georgian operation in South Ossetia on the 8th of August resulted in, quote, unquote, “genocide of the Ossetians” and “2,000 victims of the Georgian military operation.” Human Rights Watch, on the other hand, is saying that 45 South Ossetians, presumably civilians, died in that operation. What are the Georgian government figures on that?

MIN. YAKOBASHVILI: Okay, let me clarify a couple of things. First of all, Human Rights Watch is talking about 45, but not civilian, but militants, because they were wearing the military uniform. [Transcript of a Heritage Foundation Forum on the Russian-Georgian War “A Challenge for the U.S. and the World,” Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, August 18, 2008, Federal News Service, August 18, 2008.]

As of two weeks after hostilities ended no campaign of ethnic cleansing or atrocities and no internment camps have been found. There have been no reports of Russians “raping women and executing men,” as Saakashvili claimed. There were later reports of destruction and perhaps a few murders committed by Chechen battalions (irresponsibly sent by Moscow to fight on its behalf) and Ossetian militiamen. The alleged large scale killing, raping and internment camps have not been mentioned again by Saakashvili or any other Georgian official since the new ceasefire was established and Russia withdrew its troops from Georgia proper (excluding arounf the port of Poti). In terms of intentional bombing of civilian populations and ‘collateral damage,’ Human Rights Watch has concluded that evidence suggests most of the damage to residential Tskhinvali came from Georgian bombardment. HRW has reported one occasion in which Russian air forces appear to have used of cluster bombs, banned by international convention. However, the Georgian side’s official civilian death toll among Georgians as of August 25 was 69 as of August 25 with several hundred civilians wounded. [“Senior MP: 215 Killed in Conflict,” Civil.ge, 19 August 2008, 23:05 www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=19215&search=civilians%20killed.] This hardly amounts to the massive Russian atrocities being claimed by Tbilisi. Georgian exaggeration and disinformation regarding the conduct of Russian troops and claims of massive and unprecedented atrocities led the Western mainstream media’s coverage. Thus in the first hours of the war on August 8, Sky News was reporting that invading Russian troops were “killing thousands.” The final death toll was approximately 400 plus on each side.

RUSSIAN DESTRUCTION OF GEORGIA’S CIVILIAN INFRASTRUCTURE

Saakashvili and his ministers repeatedly claimed that Russian forces were systematically destroying Georgia’s civilian infrastructure. At the Heritage Foundation Ambassador  Sikhuralidze stated Russia troops were “invading new towns, pillaging our villages and burning our national parks.” Minister Yakobashvili said: “They (the Russians) are, you know, throwing, firing bombs into Georgian forests and enflaming there and then sending helicopters to, you know, aggravate the flame and to use the helicopters as a front to inflict more damage…. (T)hey are building — blowing up bridges that connect Georgia — two parts of Georgia, and they have (blocked the line that ?) also connects Armenia to the rest of the world. So by blowing up these bridges and blockading the seaport at Poti, they have put Armenia in complete blockade, in complete blockade….(T)hey are going to the villages, looting villages, you know, and abusing people who are not complying with their demands, you know, taking furniture from their houses, lots of barbarian behavior….(P)ipelines were bombarded….by ballistic missiles….long-range, you know, 200-kilometer ballistic missiles. So Russia used these ballistic missiles to bomb international — (inaudible). And only by force of that, they were not able to hit this pipeline. But they definitely were targeting it….By blowing up the railroad bridge, they also disrupted the oil system from Azerbaijan. Lots of oil was going from Azerbaijan by the railroad.” [Transcript of a Heritage Foundation Forum on the Russian-Georgian War.]

Reporters on the scene have reported a very different story regarding territories other than those attacked by the Georgians themselves. Borzou Daraghi wrote in the August 19 Los Angeles Times after visiting western Georgia on a tour organized by the Georgian government: “In west Georgia, few signs of damage by Russia” shows, the Russians in fact “used force minimally” and “avoided any inadvertent high-profile attacks on civilian targets.” “Early in the conflict, Georgian officials in Tbilisi warned of an impending disaster as Russian tanks from Abkhazia massed at Zugdidi’s edge. But residents said there had been little or no damage to their town.” [Borzou Daraghi, “In west Georgia, few signs of damage by Russia,” Los Angeles Times, August19, 2008.] Human rights organizations have reported no abuses by Russian troops, and some reports indicate rather exemplary behavior on the part of Russian soldiers. [See Saba Tsitsikhashvili, “The Ramifications of the Ten-Day Blockade of Georgia,” HumanRights.ge, 27 August 2008, http://www.humanrights.ge/index.php?a=article&id=3057&lang=en.%5D

Regarding the charge that the Russian military was set on burning Georegia’s forests, a Georgian newspaper noted that the Russian military set fire to forests during the occupation of Kartli because it was searching for Georgian artillery weapons that Georgian artillerymen hid there during the Georgian army’s retreat; a fact left out Minister Yakobashvili’s comments. [“Georgian artillery inflicted ‘heavy losses’ on Russians,” BBC Monitoring, August 25, 2008 translating Georgian weekly Kviris Palitra, August 25, 2008.]

Russia did carry out a concerted bombing campaign to destroy Georgia’s military infrastructure in order to prevent Georgian forces from undertaking a counteroffensive and the resupply of the Georgian army by outside forces that might have chosen to support Tbilisi if the war dragged on.Even Russia’s air attacks on the port of Poti destroyed the military side of the port but left the civilian side intact. [Borzou Daraghi, “In west Georgia, few signs of damage by Russia,” Los Angeles Times, August19, 2008.]  Moreover, as the respected military studies journal Janes’ Defence Weekly reported on August 15, it was the Georgian army that targeted the residential capitol of South Ossetia with an indiscriminate, all night artillery barrage on 7-8 August with “notoriously imprecise” truck-borne GRAD missiles. [Richard Giragosian, “Georgian planning flaws led to campaign failure,” Janes’ Defence Weekly, August 15, 2008 in Johnson’s Russia List, #152, August 19, 2008, http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnsonwww.org%5D

RUSSIAN TROOPS ENCIRCLING TBILISI

“On Wednesday, August 13, Saakashvili said in an interview on CNN that Russian troops were ‘closing on the capital, circling,’ and planning to install their own government in Tbilisi. Associated Press journalists in the area reported “no sign of an impending coup.” An AP reporter did see dozens of Russian trucks and armored vehicles heading south from the central city of Gori in the direction of Tbilisi, but they later turned away. [See Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili, “Georgian president’s Russia claims raise eyebrows,” Associated Press, 13 August 2008, 8:12.] The Russians undertook no military operations against the Georgian capitol throughout the five-day war.

U.S. IS TAKING OVER GEORGIA’S PORT AND AIRPORTS

Saakashvili claimed on Georgian national television that the arrival of U.S. military cargo plane carrying humanitarian aid “means that Georgia’s ports and airports will be taken under the control of the U.S. Defense Department.” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell immediately refuted this: “We have no need, nor do we intend to take over any Georgian air or seaport to deliver humanitarian aid. … We have no designs on taking control of any Georgian facility.” [Dzhindzhikhashvili, “Georgian president’s Russia claims raise eyebrows.”]

RUSSIA HAS LOST MORE PLANES THAN IN ANY CONFLICT IN ITS HISTORY

In his Wednesday, August 13 television address, he said, “Russia has lost more airplanes than in any conflict of this scale since 1939.” The entire Soviet air force was destroyed in the first days of Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, and in the present war Russia is claiming the loss of four airplanes. [Dzhindzhikhashvili, “Georgian president’s Russia claims raise eyebrows.”]

RUSSIA WILL BOMB TBILISI DEMONSTRATION

Saakashvili also mentioned supposed rumors that Russia would bomb the August 12 rally in Tbilisi, but there was no bombing. [Dzhindzhikhashvili, “Georgian president’s Russia claims raise eyebrows”]. It never happened.

GEORGIAN PROPOSING AUTONOMY TO SOUTH OSSETIA AND ABKHAZIA

Saakashvili claimed: “Georgia has been proposing 21st-century, European solutions for South Ossetia, including full autonomy guaranteed by the international community. Russia has responded with crude, 19th-century methods” [Saakashvili, “Russia’s War Is The West’s Challenge”]. Saakhashvili’s representation is gravely overstated. Throughout most of the some twenty years since South Ossetia and Abkhazia demanded first internal autonomy in Georgia and then independence from it, Georgia rejected internal autonomy. The crisis began when ultra-nationalist Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia repealed these breakaway republics’ former status as autonomous republics within the Georgian SSR. After Georgians inflicted violence on the two republics and they achieved de facto independence did Georgia make tentative offers of internal autonomy. For most of Saakashvili’s term, he emphasized reintegrating the republics without offering a plan but refusing the rejection of the use of force. Only early this year did he propose a plan for internal autonomy for the republics as Georgian forces continued to break the ceasefire agreement by placing heavy artillery in the conflict zone and to refuse to reject the use of force.

RUSSIA BOMBING OIL BTC OIL PIPELINE

Yakobashvili’s cleverly piqued the conference’s American fears that Russian forces sought to interdict the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline by saying that the Russians had repeatedly tried to bomb it. Westerners are to believe here that a Russian force, including sophisiticated fighter jets and 1,200-3,000 tanks and armored personnel carriers, was unable in the course of five days to bomb an oil pipeline. [Transcript of a Heritage Foundation Forum on the Russian-Georgian War.]

CYBER WAR

Minister Yakobashvili and other Georgian officials claimed that Russian authorities initiated a large-scale cyber-attack on Georgian government websites before and during the war. [Transcript of a Heritage Foundation Forum on the Russian-Georgian War.] Experts on cyber warfare have cast grave doubt over the Georgian authorities’ claims that the Russian military or intelligence agencies conducted cyber warfare in the run-up to Moscow’s incursion. Rather, independent hacker networks attacked Georgian websites earlier this month previously targeted pornography and gambling sites as part of an extortion racket. Moreover, these attacks were only launched after Georgian forces engaged Russia forces broke out. [Shaun Waterman, “Analysis: Russia-Georgia cyberwar doubted,” United Press International, Aug. 18, 2008.] Moreover, two days before Georgia’s August 7 assault on Tskhinvali, Georgian hackers and perhaps Georgian cyber-war targeted South Ossetia. Following a report on South Ossetian television that 29 Georgian authorities were covering up the killing of 29 Georgian servicemen during the exchange of fire between Ossetian and Georgian forces on August 1-2 that marked a sharp escalation in the tit-for-tat attacks, sites of the analytical publication ‘Ossetian Radio and Television’ were subverted by hackers. [Osetinskie saity atakovany khakerami posle publikatsii o tainykh pokhoronakh gruzinskikh soldat,” Regnum.ru, 5 August 2008, http://www.regnum.ru-news/1036460.html.%5D

CONCLUSION

American support for Georgia in the present crisis is based in part on the belief that Russia is to be blame for instigating this war. Much of this belief is founded on Saakashvili’s and other Geoergian officials’ statements to American officials like the State Department’s Matthew Bryza. Western publics and decisionmakers should not take the statements of Georgian officials regarding this war or much of anything else at face value. They should think twice and then thrice about whether backing President Saakashvili, his aspirations for Georgian membership in NATO, and the resulting ‘hot peace’ with Moscow are in the West’s interests.

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Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.