On the tenth anniversary this week of the Russo-Georgian War, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev issued a serious, albeit commonsensical, warning. He said the proposed membership of Georgia in the US-led NATO military alliance could result in a “horrible conflict”.
However, Western news media sought to portray Medvedev’s cautionary words as conveying a sinister intent. Britain’s Independent headlined: “Russia threatens [sic] ‘horrible’ conflict if Georgia joins NATO”.
Other news outlets, such as Reuters and Associated Press, did not go as far as using the word “threatens”. But their implied tone relaying Medvedev’s remarks was one of Russia flexing its muscles with intimidation towards the South Caucasus state.
That mischievous insinuation fits in with the wider Western narrative of Russia’s alleged “malign activity” and “threatening posture” towards Eastern European countries in the Baltic, Balkans and Ukraine.
Both the United States and European Union this week reiterated accusations that Russia was illegally occupying Georgian territory owing to Moscow’s support for the two breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia which border with Georgia in the South Caucasus region.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the five-day war in August 2008, the foreign ministers from Poland, the Baltic states and Ukraine’s Kiev regime were reportedly in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi to demonstrate their solidarity over what they called “Russian aggression”.
Georgia is continually cited – along with Ukraine – by American and European politicians as two examples that purportedly prove Russian malfeasance, and thereby justify the relentless buildup of NATO forces along Russia’s Western flank. In other words, Georgia and Ukraine are cause célèbre for NATO’s existence, and for the American and European policy of sanctions against Russia.
Indeed, both Georgia and Ukraine have been cordially invited to join the NATO alliance. The fast-track invitation was reiterated at the NATO summit in Brussels last month where the two countries were hosted as guests of honor by the 29-member bloc.
Subsequently, following the NATO summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated Russia’s well-known opposition to such a further expansion of the US-led military alliance. The proposed additions of Ukraine and Georgia could potentially lead to the installation of American missiles and warplanes smack on Russia’s borders. Putin said that Russia would respond vigorously to such a move, although he did not specify what the “consequences” would entail.
Similarly, Dmitry Medvedev issued a warning this week regarding Georgia and NATO.
Nevertheless, Russia’s reasonable position of perceiving NATO’s expansion as an offensive threat is bizarrely distorted and turned on its head by Western governments and media.
By merely pointing out its grievance stemming from US-led military forces moving ever-closer to its national territory, astoundingly, Russia is portrayed in Western media as the one that is making the threats. It’s quite a feat of mental engineering.
If we listen to Medvedev’s words, he is patently not conveying any sinister intent, as Western media tried to make out.
“There is an unresolved territorial conflict... and would they bring such a country [Georgia] into the [NATO] military alliance?” said Medvedev. “Do they understand the possible implications? It could provoke a horrible conflict.”
The Russian premier is simply stating what should be an obvious fact: namely, that NATO membership by Georgia in the midst of a territorial dispute with its pro-Russian neighbors, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, would lead to a dangerous conflict.
What Western governments and news media need to do is critically examine the whole premise of NATO’s eastwards expansion since the end of the Cold War in 1991.
That expansion violated commitments given by American leaders to Russian counterparts at the end of the Cold War, first by George Bush Senior and later Bill Clinton.
It is precisely the doubling membership of NATO based mainly on the absorption of former Soviet countries that has so alarmed Russia about military encirclement. Given the relentless anti-Russian rhetoric out of Washington and some of its European allies casting Russia as an enemy it is by no means alarmist that Moscow sees the entire trajectory over the past two decades as a strategic offensive.
Recall too that existential threats to Russia over the past two centuries have come from an eastward expansion of armies out of Europe, under Napoleon and then Nazi Germany. Given the loss of up to 30 million of its people from Nazi imperialist aggression, it is perfectly understandable that Russia today is deeply wary of any military advancement on its territory. And NATO fits that nefarious pattern.
On the specific cases of Ukraine and Georgia, NATO has been very much the instigator of conflicts there, yet it is NATO that poses now as a defender. That inversion of reality is made possible in part because of Western news media distorting historical events, just as they did again this week with regard to reporting Medvedev’s comments on NATO and Georgia.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Georgia have been solicited by Washington, the EU and NATO, as with other former Soviet states. That soliciting has created tensions and instability, not least because that was supposed to be what American leaders said they wouldn’t do.
The conflict in Ukraine came about from American and European Union support for a coup against an elected government in February 2014. The CIA and NATO were also instrumental. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine between the NATO-backed Kiev regime and pro-Russian separatists in the Eastern self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk is not due to Russian aggression; it is a result of the irresponsible and provocative intervention by Washington and its European allies.
The West accuses Russia of “annexing” Crimea, an historical part of Russia, whenever it was the West that allowed a faction of Neo-Nazi Ukrainians to annex Kiev and its government. The ongoing four-year conflict in Ukraine which has killed over 10,000 people is a direct result of NATO imperialist meddling.
On Georgia, after the Western-backed so-called Rose Revolution in 2004 which brought the mercurial Mikhail Saakashvili to power, the former Soviet Republic suddenly became a staunch proponent of NATO. Saakashvili was enthusiastically supported by Washington with weapons and finance. He also made the retaking of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Georgian territory his big mission. The three neighboring states broke up after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia requested the Russian Federation to recognize their statehoods in March 2008, prompted by the American and European recognition of Kosovo in the Balkans as a self-declared state during the previous month in February 2008. Kosovo broke away from Serbia largely as a result of the military intervention of NATO. Again, NATO was setting the precedent, not Russia.
At Washington’s bidding, Georgian leader Saakashvili sent NATO-backed troops to attack Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia on August 8, 10 years ago this week. The rapid intervention by Russian troops along with Abkhaz forces repelled the Georgian offensive. Wisely, NATO declined to push its support for Saakashvili any further. The war was over in five days, resulting in the formal recognition by Russia of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Today, the US and Europe continue to accuse Russia of illegally occupying Abkhazia and South Ossetia and of violating Georgia’s sovereignty.
Western media make an upside-down analogy with Ukraine. The real analogy is that both Georgia and Ukraine have been destabilized by NATO expansionism, not Russian.
But such are the lies, distortions and self-serving propaganda churned out over and over by Western media in the service of their governments and NATO, there is an appalling failure in the West to learn from history.
When Russia warns that NATO’s expansion is risking horrible conflict that is a straightforward, reasonable observation which is borne out by history. Tragically, thousands of lives have been destroyed by not heeding this warning.
And thousands more – perhaps millions – continue to be put in danger because the Western media willfully misinterpret and misrepresent Russia.