Saakashvili’s media onslaught: Is he losing the war?

August 13, 2008

saakashvili.jpgEver since Russia launched a massive counter-offensive in response to Georgia’s attempt to retake the pro-Russian, breakaway region of South Ossetia, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has been omnipresent in Western media. He has appeared on CBS, CNN, BBC and pretty much every other English-language TV channel to accuse Russia of penetrating Georgia far beyond Ossetia, planning an assault on the capital and plotting his overthrow. 

On Aug 11 he wrote an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal warning Georgia’s fall would mean the fall of the West.

At the start of the conflict the verdict was unequivocal. Saakashvili was winning the media war hands down. While the Kremlin’s press operation was largely silent, Saakashvili, an urbane, U.S.-educated lawyer, was assured in putting Georgia’s case. The world’s media and many political leaders swung behind him (in words if not deeds).

But is the tide turning? Saakashvili’s wall-to-wall media coverage may be starting to work against him and the Russians have become more nimble in dealing with the media and countering Saakashvili’s accusations.

Even close ally the United States has reined him in, knocking down his assertion that U.S. forces would take control of Georgia’s airports and ports.
Is Saakashvili’s well-oiled public relations machine starting to work against him? Is he losing sympathy internationally?


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The Hezbollah attacked Israeli positions in Lebanon proper, Israel responded with a full force: bombing airports, Beirut civilians and so on. The US, UK and EU did not murmur a word about it. Now, the same thing happened to Russia and Georgia, and look at the hypocrisy of the West. No one even cared to thing of thousands of civilians living in Tshinvalli who were shelled overnight by the Georgians.

Posted by Jeffim | Report as abusive

Georgia get caught in the poker game between Russia and USA. Russia won the check, US will probably get another shot but need to be extremly careful how it plays its cards in the future, especialy if the game takes place in Russia’s backyard, while the card dealer (Georgia) is dead. Not insignificant information is that Israel had its share of guilt by its involvment in the game. Since poker game between Israel and Iran is to take place, will see how Russia returns the favour to Israel?

Posted by peter | Report as abusive

What a ridiculous show of hypocrisy by the US and EU. What about the millions in Iraq who have been killed for nothing over the last 5 years of war? Shameful pathetic lies by America to point its finger at the other person.

Posted by Terbek | Report as abusive

That’s not true – a lot of the coverage here in the UK has been, in my opinion, pretty balanced.
There’s been suffering on both sides, but it was Saakashvili him self who started it.

Posted by Ian Sankey | Report as abusive

Sure, Saakashivili is definitely losing the war. The best way to tell which side is winning is to see who asks for a cease-fire first. In this case, it is Georgia. Saakashivili can hug the camera time all he wants, but war of words mean nothing if his army cannot resist the Russians, and it most definitely cannot. Winners are almost more quiet compared to losers. The more desperate a loser gets, the more he barks. Putin must be laughing his a$$ off right now.

Posted by Bo | Report as abusive

Very true. Had the Mexican army poured into El Paso, killed 2000 US civilians and 8 US soldiers, well I’d say the US reaction would go way beyond the 150 or so Georgians, mostly military, the Russians killed while recapturing Ossetia. In fact, Russian restraint was astonishing. Even more astonishing, in light of what was Russia’s 9/11 moment, was our media’s quality of reporting. Instead of expressing sympathy our shameful media establishment chose to warp events and misinterpret reality to the point where it is complicit; a knowing, wilfull collaborator in the Georgian atrocity.

Posted by Rick | Report as abusive

Russia and USA are aggressors. Georgian people did not deserve to be murdered. Nor did Iraqi people deserve to be murdered. The superpowers must be peacemakers, not destroyers of countries.

Posted by Alan | Report as abusive

What really matters for Georgia is American public opinion – not that of the Bush administration and the Congress. My guess is that the fact that Georgia appears to have started this conflict, and on the eve of the Olympics, is eventually going to be seen very poorly in the US and the EU.

As far as Israel’s brutal invasion of Lebanon in 2006, that is widely seen as a strategic blunder because if caused a loss of public support for Israel in the US, and especially in the Congress. As a result Israel isn’t going to get all the offensive weaponry it wants from the US. I personally don’t even view Israel as an ally because their apartheid regime is such an ongoing disaster for the US in terms of international diplomacy.

Posted by Chris Baker (US) | Report as abusive

Saakashvili starts a conflict thinking the USA will back him up, Russia responds but the USA stays out, he gets his butt kicked and now he goes crying and running to hide behind Aunty SamEU’s skirts. In pandering to Saakashvili and the American neocon echo chamber the western mainstream media presents Saakashvili as the poor little victim, which is not the case. He started an unnecessary war of aggression and it didn’t go the way he expected (sound familiar?). And to make matters worse the media cravenly ignores the rampant hypocrisy of America’s shrill denunciations of Russia – what’s good for the Eagle is not good for the Bear. Fortunately the Russians have been remarkably restrained, if it had been the USA (or Israel) in Russia’s place Georgia’s civilian infrastructure (water treatment plants, sewage plants, bridges, television stations, the Chinese embassy – er, OK, maybe even the USA wouldn’t go THAT far again…) would be smoking holes in the ground by now (remember “shock and awe”?). And if regime change is prescribed for Iran why not for Georgia? – except that I haven’t noticed the Iranians starting any wars recently.

Posted by Darren | Report as abusive

Saakashvili is a sleezebag who was trained by the US. He’s a great friend of Dick Chaney and a number of other neo-cons. This scumbag has actually named the main road from Georgia airport to the city after GW Bush. While Russia has 24 run down foreign military bases around the world the US has 750 and they continue to expand. What does that say to the world? I believe it’s now safe to state that the US are trying to do what Germany did during world war 2. In order to be successful they have to surround Russia and China with missiles (eg Poland) and new military bases. Training Georgia’s army was the first step the next would be the US base. Unfortunately in today’s world war isn’t just about missiles, it’s well documented that the best way to stop a powerful country is to send in suicide bombers not with ordinary bombs but nuclear suitcase bombs. So if Russia was attacked by Nato or the US and pushed into a corner one can only imagine the devastation wrought upon the world after they pass around nuclear bombs to Iran, Syria and every Al Queda extremist in the world

Posted by Bob Bennett | Report as abusive

Following cold-blooded murder of the Russian peacekepers, Russia had the full right to return the favor.
US spend 2 billion dollars and sent 3000 instructors to help Georgia build its military, so it has the full moral responsibility for the Georgia now.
Finally, in Georgian there is no access to some of the news websites. It has blocked some of the TV channels. Previously this year it closed an opposition TV station, moreover, one of the main opposition leaders to Mr. Saakashvili died from suspicious causes – what kind of democracy is this ?

Posted by Victror | Report as abusive

The Lebanon invasion of 2006 was, quite frankly, the fault of Hamas. They over played their hand and thought the border would keep Israel from retaliating.

The Georgia-Russia Conflict is quite similar, but the cause is something very different. The conflict between Ossentia and Georgia is an internal battle with seperatists. Russia doesn’t really care about the plight of the seperatists. They just want a demilitarized country on their border. The fight with the seperatists was just an excuse to walk all over Georgia blowing up installations.

The fight between the smaller combatants wasn’t genocide as the seperatists are quite well armed. Not to mention the so-called Russian peacekeepers that were inside Ossentia were as well. If anyone was to blame for this fight it was Russia. They have been giving out Russia Passports like candy to the seperatists. All to support their eventual claim to the territory as part of Russia. They don’t plan on honoring the ceasefire. They are just biding their time until there is nothing left of a military in Georgia to worry about.

This is the worst kind of Russian tactic they could use. We need to bring relations back to the 21st Century and out of the old Cold War. Otherwise, we will see many more dead on both sides.

Simply saying,

Posted by Wynter | Report as abusive

It would be also appropriate and educating for readers if Reuters would include among Saakashvili’s statements his assessments of 19 downed russian airplanes, over five hundreds of russian tanks attacking Georgia, dousains or fifty russian planes indiscriminately bombing civilian targets throughout Georgia, tank columns entering Gori, which were then desperately sought by Reuters correspondent on the ground…. – well, you know all those “not confirmed” ones.

Posted by Egor, NY | Report as abusive

I look forward to saakashvili’s warcrimes trial. he is both spineless and stupid enough to implicate his US and Israeli buddies for material aid and supply of mercenaries in this adventure in ethnic cleansing gone wrong. His bleating about territorial integrity is a joke to anyone who realises these borders were artificial and drawn by Stalin in the first place.

Western Media should stand trial right alongside them for the ridiculous amount of spin and outright lies supplied to us by them, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Indian, Turkish, Chinese and Greek media have good sources on the ground and are sticking to the facts, not selling the neocon utopia.

Posted by eelco | Report as abusive sis/idUSL5647106

“Russia warns Georgia over breakaway region” on the 5th of august. so anyone claiming Russias response was a surprise is clearly on another planet.

Maybe that is the same planet where you hold rallies and address ‘the people of georgia’ in english. i wonder what % of the population speak english in georgia? would Bush address the people of america in russian?

Posted by eelco | Report as abusive

Darren pretty much summed it up. There are some here who are echoing Bush stating that Russia acted in Soviet-style diplomacy that doesn’t work in the 21st century. Nonsense. Regardless of wether they were right or wrong, the Russians were able to finish in 5 days and achieved their objectives with minimal costs, and it is sure that in a relatively short period any tension with the west where it matters over this affair will be smoothed out in a relatively short period, a remarkable achievement if you compare it to the US spectacular 5 years of disastrous failures and countless human lives lost and displaced and the nation destroyed and general alienation to most of the world’s population,including americans.
Sakhishvilli may have had his moment in the spotlight with the a good deal of global sympathy, but that was proxy support for the Georgian people in their plight, but now the smoke of the guns is starting to dissipate, people are starting to remember how this started in the first place. It was a gross irresponsibility – some would say it was even criminal – on Sakhisvilli’s part to purposely provoke the Russians into the response everybody knew would come if he ordered an attack on south Ossetia..Even the Georgians themselves are starting to question the careless manner in which their leader endangered them.

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

Pretty good comments from everyone, I don’t see much sympathy for Saakashvili and his decision to reclaim the break away region of S. Ossetia by force. As always, the most sorrowful result of conflict are the innocent people who are killed, displaced, or injured on both sides of the misadventure.
Im curious to see how this event unfolds over the next months and years. I don’t beleive this is an impulsive swat at a bothersome aggravation, but a statement to the world that Russia is no longer an observer of events near or far, but is now a player to be reckoned with, something the West has not had to contend with for some time. This will have a profound effect on world events in the coming years, Im sure there is already some revisiting going on concerning “what if” with Iran.

Posted by Michael M. Serna | Report as abusive

Saakashvili has been playing the western media (espec U.S.) like a fisherman plays a Tuna. And to their discredit they’ve swallowed his baits hook, line and sinker.

He flooded the airwaves in English, pulled every emotional heart-string and made every hysterical claim he could:
– ‘Tblisi was under attack’ (it wasn’t)
– He made ‘genocide’ claims (must’ve thought he’d get the U.S. Jewish vote onside with that whopper)
– ‘Big bad Russia’ vs ‘brave little Georgia’ ploy (The West was warned for years by Moscow to stop encirclement and militarising proxies on it’s borders or else there would be repercussions but no one listened.
– Russia is shelling ‘poor little Georgia’ (only after he started shelling them first).
– ‘Democracy and freedom is under attack’ (really laying it on thick – he knew Americans respond unthinkingly to this like Pavlov’s dog do to a bell. Except Saakashvili’s an autocrat who crushed his OWN uprising not so long ago).

I’m glad at last the media are starting to see thru him (and also the U.S./Iraq lies). But why do they always take until it’s too late before they act journalists and ask the hard questinos like they are supposed to/used to?

Posted by Mark Lowe | Report as abusive

He might be winning the media war, but images like those posted by Reuters, help the Georgian cause even more.

What I’m talking about here is impartial imagery reporting. Out of the 77 images of the conflict on this site, none show Russians struggling. We look at these photos and sympathize for the Georgians (military and civilians alike). Imagery influences the public immensely. These photos, along with other reporting, victimize the Georgians and cast the Russians as the big, menacing, imperial force.

The public should be able to look at a conflict and decide on its own what it believes. We need reporters that cover both sides, unlike the pitiful one-sided reporting we see at the Olympics and the conflict in Georgia. Let people learn the whole story and determine their own points of view. Reporters and news agencies need to stop determining this for us and present impartial and factual findings. Make up your own mind readers.

Posted by Cory | Report as abusive

Why did this happen? …Does Kosovo come to mind…
hmm i guess wut goes around comes around..?!

Posted by Shane | Report as abusive

Georgia “military exercise” was just a probe of Russian’s forces capabilities. The real war is in preparation right now by Ukrainian President Yushchenko. Ukrainian anti-aircraft missiles were used to shot down 4 Russian airplanes. Ukraine sent weapons, trained the Georgian fighters (and probably participated as well). And behind Yushchenko and Saakashvili are the same neo-cons from Cheney team.

Posted by Oleg | Report as abusive

Of course this is all hypocrisy, on both sides. This is all game of powers: Yugoslavia was bombed by US and Nato without any regards for “territorial integrity”, and Kosovo was treated in the same way by the west — because serbs are Russian friends. Russia whacked Chechnya on their end. Not to mention American invasions into other countries, like Iraq and Afganistan.
But as a world power, Russia has more claim to that area, because it is so far away from western Europe/USA and Russians are rightfully concerned about hostile Nato surrounding their country. They also have a moral upper hand here, they are preventing genocide of christian Ossetians and muslim Abkhasians who live in this land since ancient times (unlike muslim colonizers of ancient Serbian land of Kosovo). Imperial policies of Bush and his neocon buddies will lead us Americans to disaster!

Posted by Dennis | Report as abusive 752874.jpg

Posted by noname | Report as abusive

Saakashvili spent one billion of dollars for army in 2007 with gdp = $10.bln. Georgia is a nice country but impoverished – gdp went down 72% in early 90-s. He could spend money better for development – now it’s $2.4 th. gdp per head. That kind of economy is not for the war.

World should help these small countries to turn from wars to some simple matters of everyday living – better frozen conflicts than destruction of Tshinval.

Saakashvili before turning to ask for help in English had his few hours in the morning of Friday 8 and declared his victory in Georgian.

Posted by Len | Report as abusive

Most of you here are missing the point. The war between Russia and Georgia has nothing to do with Kosovo and has nothing to do with Hamas. By the way, those of you who complain about why this is getting coverage and not other conflicts that are of equal or bigger significance? Well, dah it only involves like world’s largest country RUSSIA.
And does anybody in their right mind, actually really think that Putin can actually care about the fate of the people in South Ossetia??? This whole war is Russia’s last-ditch desperate attempt to reclaim some parts of former Soviet Union. The question is simple, will US allow this? We already know that EU has no problem with Russia expending on the continent.

Posted by READ | Report as abusive

Just speculation, but could Saakashvili have been tricked by the Bushies into attacking (with false-promised support) to destroy US/Russian relations in an attempt to scupper the future Obama presidency?

A small cat amongst the pigeons for you.

Posted by Kym Overy | Report as abusive

saakashvili started this war of provocation and he paid dearly for it.Russia had warned him of the repercutions if he dare to anger moscow by shelling seperatists in South Ossetia but he foolisly believed America will come to his aid and he was brushed and disappointed. the best way for Georgia now is to drop his plan to join NATO and enjoy cosy relationships with the west and Russia. If he fail to do so the very unlikely war between NATO and Russia will be fought on Georgian soil: not in Washington or Moscow or Brussel. A word is enough for the wise.

Posted by teslim | Report as abusive

Our world is in danger the US with it’s Rebublican goroes and their conquering machine awakened the rusian ego and now with over 2400 Nuclear silos at their fingertips, One can expect a Nuclear war with Rusia demanding their peace of cake, and the US already absorbed and used i/3 of the world resources and still continuing to do so with no fairshare at sight.

What next? is the big question let us wait and see

Posted by siyad | Report as abusive

Reuters reports a one-sided story of this conflict. The real victims are regular Ossetians, many of them lost their lives, their loved ones and those who survived are refugees because of Saakashvilli’s air strikes. His wishful thinking and warmongering cost dearly to people in the region. He adopted democratic rhetoric well and is more than eager to turn his country into American/ NATO military base, I suppose that is enough to be portrayed as a hero in the media.

Posted by Lara | Report as abusive

Here is a clear example of one-sided view of US mass-media: uQ
Pretty nice of Fox news…

Posted by Dmitry | Report as abusive

There are so many really good comments here. Though one thing is missing. You have to realize, countries are not people and a word “shame” is unknown for big politics. One French diplomat of old said: “Diplomacy is an art of what’s possible”. Many of you criticize the US and Israel for what they have done in past as well as what they do now. But ask yourselves why do they do that? The answer is simple. Because there is no other force which could resist. Latest events in Georgia showed that a new power is coming. So I’d say we, as a world society, will be witnessing many, sometimes painful, changes.
Another thin is there practically no white and black in politics. It is mostly gray of different shades. In case of South Osetia Saakashvili and his supporters were closer to the black side and Russians closer to the white. Is Russia absolutely right and innocent? No. Off course it has its own agenda, its own interest. But it was Russia who saved lives of Osetians. I’m pretty sure, ask any of them and they will praise Russia for it.
Reading posted messages one can find dozens of topics to talk on. Talking about problems openly is another way to improve lives.

Posted by Andrey | Report as abusive

The whole debacle has stupidity and outdated methods painted all over it.

The guy who runs Georgia is an inept fool and Putin is about as diplomatic as a ten foot grenade.

What a group of idiots!

I feel sorry for the people, who as usual, suffer under the leadership of inadequate disturbed men.

They should both STOP the aggression and shut up.

Then they need to make good the damage done to their people.

Some hope!

Posted by The Truth Is… | Report as abusive

Saakashvilli is banking on McCain’s win. If McCain loses the election, Saakashvilli will lose all of the support and it will be highly likely that he will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

Republicans can not afford to admit their huge mis-assessment of Saakashvilli, just like US made a mistake when they helped Saddam come to power in 1963. In this case Saakashvilli showed his collors very early and that is a huge liability for US administration.

I don’t like Obama for president, but if Dems were smart, they would expose Saakshvilli for what he is, and his ties to McCain campain and that would probably helped them win votes.

PS. I think Condi saw right through Saakashvilli when she was in Tbilissi. Obviously she can’t say anything now, but once she is out of office next year, I hope she’ll speak her mind.

Posted by FromUSAwithLove | Report as abusive

Russia wants more power, like any other country. NATO is opposed to russian power increase, because NATO wants more power for itself, and georgia wanted to join NATO. Russia doesnt like that. Russia thinks they can teach the world a lesson by invading a country, the lesson is, dont mess with us, do what we say more of the time.

But the russian invasion wasnt really to increase russian influence, those ogliarchs should have known that the invasion will only unite people against them. In todays world, more power comes through cunning diplomacy, way less power comes through tanks. Instead, the invasion was meant to try to boost Russian pride and try to erase the humiliation that they think they have faced. THe russians invaded for all pathos reasons, honor, ego, nationalism, not much logos or rationality was involved.

If the Russian only went as far as pushing the georgians out of the seperatist region and kept the nationalist rhetoric down low, then people would likely not oppose the russians as much. But they didnt, and now the west and all the all soviet satelite states are uniting against russis.

Meanwhile in the United states, people are trying to frame Russia as immoral undemocratic imperialists trying to destroy freedom. You can say they are basicly like the imperialists of old, and they certanly arent fully democratic, but enemies of freedom? evil empire? THe US needs to get its head out of the idealistic sands about freedom and democracy and start facing the real politick. Lets get realistic here and drop the rhtoric.

Posted by hypotheticus | Report as abusive

You cant be surprised when russia invaded south ossetia and then georgia proper, and the western outrage to the russian invasion of georgia proper isnt surprising either

But what is surprising (to me) is that when Russia was only in south ossetia, and not (yet)in georgia proper, the west still seemed pretty pissed, even though russia, at this point in time, was only defending the south ossetians from georgian aggression. Russia, before they invaded georgia proper, was propping up a democracy, the south ossetian government was popularly elected and the populace wanted independence from georgia. Yet, despite the wests bluster for freedom and democracy, the west still chose to condemn russia for helping the ossetian republic and then the west gave (verbal only) support to georgia.

I just had a thought, what if Georgia was china and south ossetia and abkahzia were tibet and xinjiang?

Ok in this hypothetical scenario, china is weak pollitically and militarily, and two provinces of tibet and xinjiang just broke off. Now china moves militarily to take them back, but as china does so, another foreign power moves in (india, russia, maybe pakistan or something) and pushes china out, like russia did to georgia.

Now, i can give you a whole list of reasons why this wont hapen in the next thousand years, not the least is that china has a big military comparatively and georgia had no chance against russia, but hypothetically OK? what if?

THere are some differences between what hapened in georgia and my hypothetical situation that apply to my question. Georgia is democratic, china is best discribed as an ogliarchy. Georgia is, to put it simply, liked by the west, china is routinely critizised by the west and even hated by many in both parties (in america that is).

Now the question is, what would the wests response be in this hypothetical situation? Will they denounce the interfering power as an agressor? or will they support china’s territorial integrity? will they say “china had it comming, they brought it on themselves” like the way some people here are saying about Saakashvili, or will they critisize the other country as being a bully?

Posted by hypotheticus | Report as abusive

Ukraine may not be Georgia, but Russia has shown time and time again that it does not honor western political or diplomatic logic. Russia was interested in “participating” in NATO in order to find out how far NATO is willing to go. With that knowledge they made their tentative plans and proceeded as situation in Georgia developed. Consequently, do not expect Russia to behave toward Ukraine any different, because everything they have done in Georgia was from their point of view a total success. The criticism of invading South Ossetia’s as well as that of Georgia remains as criticism only. They withdrew from interacting with NATO and from their perspective they can sacrifice being included in G7 or even WTO. They and we know that possession is 100% ownership, at least those are our laws and the Russians are banking on it. You remember very well what the Russian generals were saying during the first days of the invasion and what their final action became! That is a chess game Russian style.

Now Russia has declared that they will keep part of Georgia, a sovereign country, as “buffer” area to “protect” South Ossetia, and thus annexing part of Georgia. Is that not what Hitler did when he annexed Austria, Sudeten Deutsche, Schlesien, Lorraine etc? And what has Russian action done to Georgia as a nation by seizing strategic portion of their land and thus interfering with the operation of their oil pipe line and other economic activities? In Ukraine you have the same situation where the pipe line that is supposed to operate from Odessa to Brody is being run in reverse to satisfy the Russian government right now! So what is going to stop Russia from annexing part of Ukraine and protect their “near abroad”? Our criticism?

And what a charade “near abroad” represents! Our politicians are explaining, that Russia is looking at their “near abroad” as we would at Mexico, Canada, etc. In other words, we can not expect Russian to sit quite when we set up antimissile system in Poland, just as we would not like to see such antimissiles and warheads set up in Cuba. But such comparison is deeply flawed. European powers relinquished their power in all their colonies but not Russia. Russia’s colonies were countries that they conquered all around themselves. This included Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan , Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan etc. Oh, yes! Where would you place Chechnya? Regardless, how can the West sit back and allow Russia to haul in all the colonies that received their freedom? Is it because Russia calls these places “near abroad”? What moral right does Russia have haul in their former colonies? What moral responsibility does the West have to protect these democracies? If the Free World is afraid of doing something unconventional that Russia has not foreseen on their chessboard, then let us go home and crawl in a hole, hoping that Russia will treat us gently.

It is pathetic that Germany, which was to a great extend saved from Russian exploitation by US and British forces, and France, which was liberated by US and British troops, did not have the guts to accept Georgia and Ukraine into NATO at the Bucharest meeting to avoid the current upheaval. It was obvious as to the consequences of their action. Of course Georgia and Ukraine are not militarily ready, but Germany and France could have helped to getting these countries ready instead of having the US do all the heavy lifting. There may be some choices that US has to save the day, such as signing a “major non-NATO alliance” with Ukraine and perhaps even Georgia, as NY Times has suggested. And thank you Germany and France for nothing!

Bohdan Slabyj

Posted by Bohdan Slabyj | Report as abusive