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Countering Russian disinformation about Georgia

One of the blogosphere’s brightest lights, Michael Totten, once again finds himself up the sharp end and brings some interesting reportage from Georgia. If you are interested in the real chronology of events and understanding why Russia, not Georgia, is the prime mover of this regional tragedy, check out his article.

28 comments to Countering Russian disinformation about Georgia

  • ClockworkOrange

    I’m afraid your brightest bulb, Michael Totten, is being seriously misinformed.

    “Goltz experienced these three Caucasus republics at their absolute worst, and he knows the players and the events better than just about anyone.”

    A guy from university of Montana knows players and events better than … say, people that actually lived there and participated in those events? I don’t care how many books he wrote, I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan and my father is Armenian, so my family have actually lived (and survived) through the Armenian-Azeri conflict since its beginning and I can tell you outright that this quote:

    “But when the Soviet Union collapsed it became an essential Russian policy to weaken the states on its periphery by activating the ethnic fuses they planted … They tried it
    in Armenia and Azerbaijan and it went beyond their wildest dreams and we ended up with a massive, massive war. ”

    is complete and utter bullshit. The Azeri-Armenian conflict was a product of 2 things: pure nationalism and history of hatred going back at least a couple of hundred years. If anything, Soviet powers, however crude and ruthless they were, probably prevented these 2 ethnicities from being at each other’s throats for most of 20th century. The following 2 articles describe pretty well the history and the origins of conflict(s) between Azeris and Armenians:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagorno-Karabakh_War
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Nagorno-Karabakh

    In fact my father, who obviously lived in Azerbaijan a lot longer than me (duh :) and hated Soviets with passion his whole life, said that the Wiki article about the war is one of the best written, and reflects the events very well.

    The conflict started brewing well before dissolution of USSR – in 1988, and although Soviet, and later Russian involvement was unavoidable to some extent (and thank god for that – my father was evacuated on Russian military ship after hiding for 3 days in a cellar, when the $hit hit the fan in 1990 and Soviet army finally decided to take action and stop the killings) – the blame on this particular conflict lies directly with main participants – Armenia and Azerbaijan, and their corresponding nationalist movements. Armenia even more so, since it was their “pairlament” that unilaterally decided to declare Karabakh an Armenian territory in 1988.

    In fact, many people, including myself, agree that Azeri-Armenian conflict was the final straw that broke the camel’s back, and was the largest contributor towards eventual dissolution of Soviet Union, because it opened Pandora box of enormous proportions and led to multitude of other ethnic and territorial conflicts flaring up inside USSR.

    To claim that Moscow somehow devilishly planned the whole thing is quite preposterous, not to mention ignorant. If Totten’s so called “experts” on Caucasus can’t even get the basic facts straight, what can we expect from them on current crisis in Georgia?

    This:

    “Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district
    of South Ossetia.”

    is also patently false.

    The dominating narrative among Western media since the beginning of the conflict was Russia attacking Georgia. There were very little or no reports of Georgian military shelling Tskhinvali and killing many people (1492 at latest count) the night of Aug 7. You would be very hard pressed to find news reports acknowledging that fact.

    So who is going to counter disinformation by the likes of you and M Totten?

  • RRS

    Clockwork:

    There does not appear to be discrepancy between what you report and the Golz interpretation of past events and probable motivations.

    However, none of what you write offsets the pungency of Totten’s report of another’s current observations, e.g., the civilian evacuations to N. O., the increase in mortar calibre, missile placements, armored infantry assembly, and the related time-lines.

  • ClockworkOrange

    >> There does not appear to be discrepancy between what you report and the Golz interpretation of past events and probable motivations.

    Then you clearly have some reading comprehension. If Golz can’t even correctly assess the past, well documented conflicts and blames everything on some mythical Soviet/Russian manipulation – how much trust can we put into his current reporting?

    Among the gushing commenters after Totten’s report I found this interesting blog entry:

    http://www.registan.net/index.php/2008/08/26/why-bother-researching-pt-ii/

    Now, I never heard of this guy before, but he makes exactly the same points about N Karabakh conflict as I did earlier today. Totten is not only poorly informed about the region, but he’s getting his info from paid media advisor for Georgian government. Jesus, talk about biased point of view.

  • A guy from university of Montana knows players and events better than … say, people that actually lived there and participated in those events?

    i.e people with an axe to grind? I tend to prefer my experts not having a dog in the fight they are commenting on.

  • Perry,
    people who have personal knowledge (first hand) of events should’nt be dissmissed like you do “having a dog in the fight”. Their testimony can be valuable.
    Think of your experience in the Balkans.

  • ClockworkOrange

    >> I tend to prefer my experts not having a dog in the fight they are commenting on.

    There is a world of difference between not having a dog in a fight and not knowing that there is a fight to begin with. Or who’s fighting whom. Moreover, a media advisor paid by Georgian gov’ment clearly has other motivations than impartial observation.

    And FYI I don’t have any axes to grind, personally – I bear absolutely no ill will towards either Azerbaijan, Armenia or Russia (or Georgia for that matter), and neither does my father, simply because we know and understand fairly well, due to being first hand witnesses to all these events back in the day, the underlying motives and reasons for what is happened before and what is happening now.

    But to dismiss it all in one swipe, ignoring historical facts, and blame Big Bad Russian Bear for everything that happened centuries ago, is happening now and will happen in this region (and everywhere else) in the future, is the pinnacle of simpleton thinking and pure jingoism, of which you seem to be the champion around here.

    But hey, you can believe whatever you want to believe.

  • But to dismiss it all in one swipe, ignoring historical facts, and blame Big Bad Russian Bear for everything that happened centuries ago, is happening now and will happen in this region (and everywhere else) in the future, is the pinnacle of simpleton thinking and pure jingoism, of which you seem to be the champion around here.

    That is because people like you try to ‘nuance’ the truth out of existence. Understanding Russian is really not that difficult. I blame Russia for most things involving Russia because that’s the way I see it. It is a socially dysfunctional quasi-fascist authoritarian police state whose political class openly expresses their affinity for ‘national greatness’, cheered on by large numbers of Russians-in-the-street… how hard is that to understand? Your apologias are hollow.

  • Your apologias are hollow.

    He’s not apologizing for Russia. He’s pointing out that there are elements in the region that like violence and killing just as much as Russia does, and that they are often to blame.

    Frankly, your commentary record on international issues is hilariously lousy, and you would do well to stick to complaining about things you understand.

  • He’s not apologizing for Russia

    You clearly have either not read a lot of his comments or you are a bit credulous.

    Frankly, your commentary record on international issues is hilariously lousy, and you would do well to stick to complaining about things you understand.

    Coming from you that means nothing, particularly as you fail to say where I have got things wrong.

  • Perry de Havilland wrote:

    Your apologias are hollow.

    Joshua Holmes responded:

    He’s not apologizing for Russia.

    Re-read Perry’s comment. Apologia != apology.

  • George Atkisson

    My view from across the pond (admittedly bitter) is that most of what is driving the ‘Georgia started it’ meme is the fear that maybe the Cold War is returning. Those who took pride in dismissing the unsophisticated and unnuanced Americans are not intellectually willing to consider that Russia is changing the status quo. They might have to divert euros from social programs and actually rebuild their miltaries. Much easier to blame Georgia and continue to hold the moral high ground from their cafes.

  • ClockworkOrange

    >> I blame Russia for most things involving Russia because that’s the way I see it.

    Thank you for admitting that you have a pre-existing bias, based not on reality but on your own personal poorly informed views and opinions.

    The charges of me being apologist for Russia are hilarious in the extreme. I have left FSU in 1991 and haven’t looked back. I have not visited since, have no family or friends to return to and quite franky don’t care for the most part what they do and how they do it. I am extremely disappointed with its past and current leadership, for obvious reasons, and I do think that Russian people deserve better after centuries of authoritarian rule. But that’s neither here nor there.

    You posted some blather based on hearsay from someone who claims to be a Caucasus “expert” of 20 years. Some of the stuff the so-called “expert” claimed was outrageosly false, as witnessed by myself and my family/friends and many others as well as documented elsewhere. That puts serious dents in credibility of the “expert” (not to mention his ties with Georgian gov’ment), as well as the man who took his words for granted (Totten) and yours, because you look for boogie man where is none.

    Joshua put it well – stick to commenting on things you actually understand.

  • Paul Marks

    It should be remembered that many of Putin’s victims have been Russian.

    It is also the Russian legal system (which was becomming real again under Yeltsin) that he subverted. And mostly Russian companies that he has stolen.

    However, thanks partly to the profits of oil (and other natural resources) and partly to the control of the media, most Russians are kept from the truth about what Putin has done to Russia.

    The power of misinformation (and the getting rid of dissenting sources of information) is much more developed now than it was in crude Soviet times.

    Marxists within the West itself understand this – even if some people, who think their election to high office would be unimportant, do not.

    And these Marxists are real Marxists – not just pragmatic thugs trained in some Marxist tactics, which is all Putin is.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Clockwork’s endless defence of Russia’s annexation of part of Georgia is grimly hilarious. No doubt we can look forward to more “nuanced” analysis once tanks start to roll into Latvia, the Ukraine, etc.

  • >> I blame Russia for most things involving Russia because that’s the way I see it.

    Thank you for admitting that you have a pre-existing bias, based not on reality but on your own personal poorly informed views and opinions.

    Interesting how you think disagreement must mean I am poorly informed, as if your take on the issue is inescapable if only some set of suitable facts are known. Quite funny really.

    I think no such thing about you. I am sure you are quite well informed, I just assume that as you are so reluctant to see critical remarks about the actions of the Russian state, you are in favour of a more authoritarian order of things than I am, perhaps from some misguided atavistic ethnic loyalty. I do not think you are misinformed (as far as I can tell), I think you proceed from different premises because you seem to have what I see as a rather ‘pro-evil’ world view.

    Moreover yes, I do indeed have a pre-existing bias against authoritarian police states (such as Russia for example) and thus I accord them very little legitimacy at all, ergo it is rare for me to see their actions as either legitimate or justified because their political order itself is neither.

  • ClockworkOrange

    JP >> Clockwork’s endless defence of Russia’s annexation of part of Georgia is grimly hilarious.

    Strawman …

    JP >> No doubt we can look forward to more “nuanced” analysis once tanks start to roll into Latvia, the Ukraine, etc.

    … and slippery slope all in one. You have outdone yourself today JP. I’m eagerly waiting until that day arrives when you grow a brain and start thinking critically instead of flailing around like a 6 year old.

    PdH>> if only some set of suitable facts

    I didn’t realise that it’s possible for more than one set of facts or evidence to exist (regarding the same issue, ofc). Now, interpretation of said facts can be a different matter, but since you have admitted in advance that your interpretation will always be anti-Russian, no matter what the facts are, I suppose we can close this debate. Your position is clear and I’ll keep that in mind for future reference.

    Regards

  • tdh

    Media coverage in the US began with Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia, giving vague or no coverage to what might have brought it about. Only after that was coverage of the Russian invasion and conquest of additional Georgian territory covered.

    Even now it would help to hear a clear report on the Russian preparations for the war from the Bush administration, in a steady drumbeat. Instead they remain engaged, in public, in the verbal equivalent of pointless shock-and-awe.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Clockwork, I actually think there might be a risk that the Ukraine or the Baltic states – which have numbers of Russian-speakers, remember – could be vulnerable if Russia starts to whip up nationalistic disaffection in such places. It has happened before, and can happen again.

    Far from being a “slippery slope” argument, it is a perfectly valid point. Given Russia’s recent muscle-flexing and annexation of part of a neighbouring sovereign state (a democratic one, remember), it pays to be cautious.

  • I didn’t realise that it’s possible for more than one set of facts or evidence to exist (regarding the same issue, ofc).

    Then you are a fool. Facts as presented by the Russian state (or any state) are only not a lie when it suits them, so judging the source presenting the ‘facts’ matters a great deal. And as you said yourself in a rare lucid moment, it is actually interpretation that really matters, which is why your earlier remark about ignorance reflects so badly on you. I know the facts at least as well as you do but what they mean is where we differ.

    …Now, interpretation of said facts can be a different matter

    And as you now admit as much yourself, you dishonesty in spinning my remarks to mean anything other than that really has no excuse.

    …but since you have admitted in advance that your interpretation will always be anti-Russian

    Anti the Russian state, not all things Russian…but to someone who I assume is probably an ethno-fascist, I doubt the distinction is clear to you.

    …no matter what the facts are, I suppose we can close this debate.

    Are you aware how circular your statements are?

    Your position is clear and I’ll keep that in mind for future reference.

    Actually I now regard you as a dishonest person wilfully misinterpreting what I wrote. Being a fascist jackanpes would not get you banned in and of itself but that will. Banned.

  • Aija Bruveris

    Moreover yes, I do indeed have a pre-existing bias against authoritarian police states (such as Russia for example) and thus I accord them very little legitimacy at all, ergo it is rare for me to see their actions as either legitimate or justified because their political order itself is neither.

    Well yeah, that is like saying “I’m biased against the Mafia and don’t need to judge each of their actions to know they are in the wrong before they’re criminal by their very nature”.

    The Russian state, and many other states, are institutionally criminal by nature and it’s pointless to pretend otherwise.

  • Jonathan Pearce wrote:

    Clockwork, I actually think there might be a risk that the Ukraine or the Baltic states – which have numbers of Russian-speakers, remember – could be vulnerable if Russia starts to whip up nationalistic disaffection in such places. It has happened before, and can happen again.

    Russia started a cyberattack on Estonia when all Estonia did was to move a Stalinist-era statue from a central square in Tallinn to the more appropriate site of the war cemetery.

  • Robert Speirs

    Also, there seems to have been zero coverage of the TransDniester situation in Moldova. The Russians appear to have issued passports to the locals there, as they did in Georgia. So the slope is quite slippery. Russia, as in chess, is playing the long game.

    See the wikipedia article here:

    (Link)

  • Perry,
    I think your reaction isn’t warranted.
    Without denying Russia’s flaws and imperialist tendencies, it’s perfectly ok, and also correct, I think, to point out that the Caucasians have a long history of inter-tribal feuds, wars and mutual cruelty, that has nothing to do with Russia. Maybe Russia’s intervention isn’t disinterested, but the conflicts in the zone are pretty nasty, and not all Russia’s doing.

  • I think your reaction isn’t warranted

    Then maybe you do not understand what I am reacting to. It has nothing to do with his opinions of Russian policy and actions.

  • Eamon Brennan

    Then maybe you do not understand what I am reacting to. It has nothing to do with his opinions of Russian policy and actions.

    Oh I think we all know what you are objecting to, comrade De Havilland. Try not over egg the moral outrage there. I doubt anyone seriously believes that you could stretch clockworkorange’s words to the point where he was accusing you of racism against Russians per se.

    But it’s almost plausible enough for you to ban him and not come across as thoroughly unable to tolerate a differing point of view.

    Samizdata is not what it was. Sclerosis is setting in.

  • Trofim

    The power of misinformation (and the getting rid of dissenting sources of information) is much more developed now than it was in crude Soviet times.

    I cannot let the remarks of Paul Marks go unchallenged. I am a Russian speaker, and lived in the USSR for a year in the Brezhnev era. Contacts between westerners and Russians were negligible everywhere. All radio transmissions were jammed. There was no access to western newspapers or magazines. Most importantly there was no internet.
    There was rigid control of all media. Any reportage of western mass media or other sources of information unfavourable to the USSR was reported at second-hand and coloured in crude anti-westernism, in its attempts to undermine any credence a soviet person might have. There was heavy use of sarcastic and derogatory language, liberal use of quotes and “so-called”s, as in for example “the free world” “so-called free speech”

    Now, the internet has changed all this. A very substantial number of Russians have enough English to be able to understand western sources of information, and if not, can freely listen to western radio broadcasts and look at western sources on the internet in Russian translation.

    I could cite numerous examples of anti-Putin and anti-government information, but will just give you a couple.

    This is a impartial and neutrally worded report:

    http://www.rb.ru/topstory/politics/2008/08/28/154655.html

    (Dmitriy Medvedev did not get the support of the members of SCO [for recognition of Abkhazian and South Ossetian indendence])
    “Experts say that the east supported the west rather than Medvedev”.
    If this had been soviet times the story would either not have appeared, or would have been dressed up to look like an anti-soviet aberration, and would have been couched in the crude terminology I mentioned above.

    This is Moscow Echo, an interview with the former speaker of the Georgian parliament Nino Burjanadze explaining why she is going to the Democratic convention in Denver:

    http://www.echo.msk.ru/programs/beseda/536691-echo/

    “I believe that we will now use all diplomatic mechanisms in order to ensure that the world adequately and objectively knows that Russia wants to redesign the world in the 21st century. That Russia wants to resurrect the Soviet Union. And this is a threat not only for Georgia, but for the whole world. Do you relish the role of world gendarme? Let’s hope to God not”.

    On the right you will see links for other interviews. One is entitled “Medvedev will not keep his word”. This is the editor of New Times who is highly critical of the Russian leadership and amongst other things alleges that a primary motivating factor in the recent events was Putin’s pure personal hatred for Saakashvili rather than objective reasons. Below this is another link entitled “An escalation of madness on the part of Russia.
    If you doubt me, get a Russian speaker to check them out.
    Is this evidence of “crushing dissent”? Certainly, there is misinformation aplenty in the Russian media, but unlike Soviet times, it’s monopoly has gone.

    Is it possible to say anything at all positive about Russia on this forum without being regarded as a Russian stooge? Let’s try this:

    http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=2483226

  • Paul Marks

    Trofim

    I was pointing out the level of sophistication of the disinformation.

    I am not a Russian speaker – but I remember Radio Moscow and it was not very convincing.

    The modern Putin media reach out to the people better than the old media did – partly because the modern media are not tied to Marxist ideology (Putin being a pragmatic type of thug).

    Most Russians do not watch or listen to overseas broadcasters – and listening to a mess like the modern B.B.C. is not going to do them much good anyway.

    Even Fox News did not cover Putin’s (I wish people would stop saying “Russia” and “Russian policy” it is PUTIN and his thugs) preperations for war with Georgia well at all – there was nothing on the violations of Georgian airspace (Georgia “proper” not just the puppet “break away” areas) or the shelling, or the movement of troops – nothing at all.

    And I doubt many Russians watch Fox News anyway.

    And certainly no other television network is going to present any real attack on Putin’s pragmatic collectivism.

    The B.B.C. and N.B.C. (and so on) are mostly not Marxists (although they do have Marxists working for them) – but they are pragmatic collectivists, like Putin himself.

    So they are not really in a position to undermine Russian faith in Putin – as they do not represent an alternative philosophical point of view.

    Putin has, of course, eleminated all dissenting radio and television stations.

    Just as a “President Obama” will do – although I am NOT saying that Putin is a Marxist (as Senator Obama is). As I have stated before – Putin is a pragmatic thug who learned so Marxist tactics.

    Nothing more.

  • I am a Russian speaker too, and I agree with Paul. Quantitatively, Putin may (yet) have a lesser control of the media, but his methods are subtler than those of the Soviets. That, and the fact that the environment in which he operates is quite different, makes this control much more effective in some ways.

    I wish people would stop saying “Russia” and “Russian policy” it is PUTIN and his thugs

    True in principle, but in reality it seems like Putin and his tactics enjoy a much greater support (not just among ordinary Russians, but among the “intelligentsia” as well) than would justify much optimism about the future of Russia.