The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

The Russian press

August 9, 2008

I’m unlikely to provide much in the way of news aggregation on the South Ossetian conflict tonight, so I wanted to make sure that I mentioned something about the Russian coverage of the conflict. If you’re only reading the “western press,” you may not be adequately aware of the kinds of accusations circulating in the Russian press and coming from Russian officials.

In general, there’s a lot of attention to the plight of South Ossetian refugees. Putin himself visited wounded South Ossetians today (presumably when he wasn’t busy directing Russia’s military operation). But there are also lots of claims about the Georgians committing sundry war crimes–attacking Russian convoys carrying humanitarian aid, shelling hospitals for the fun of it, deliberately targeting civilians, and indiscriminately killing the Russian “peacekeepers,” and so on. There’s also a not insignificant discussion of Israeli military advisers (who are present in Georgia), which helps make sense of the anti-semitic rhetoric appearing on popular blogs and websites discussing the issues.

Some of the most provocative language asserts that the Georgians aren’t simply out to recapture their territory from whatever one chooses to calls the South Ossetian regime, but are intent on committing genocide. You can get a taste of this from various English-language Russian news sources, or from reading comments at places like Crooked Timber.

[UPDATE: Also take a look at this RussiaToday report, posted on YouTube:


Obviously, most of this is run-of-the-mill wartime propaganda, and westerners should be careful about casting stones from glass houses.

One aspect of this which I find particularly interesting is the constant refrain that western news outlets failed to report the Georgian attack and only reported the Russian intervention. This is simply false, but it does provide a nice way to discredit non-Russian sources or opinions.

But all of the accusations against Georgia don’t merely serve the purpose of painting Russia as a knight in shining armor. They also, either deliberately or inadvertently, lay the groundwork for Abkhazia and South Ossetia to follow the Kosovo route. Recall one of the major arguments advanced by pro-Kosovo independence governments for why Kosovo was different from other cases of ethnic minorities seeking national self-determination: the sustained and serious crimes committed against them by the Serbian state.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.