GEORGIA: Leaked memos fuel debate over who started war with Russia
More than two years after Russia and Georgia clashed in South Ossetia, the fog of war continues to hover over Tbilisi and Moscow.
According to diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, released by the Wikileaks website, Russia was doing everything it could -– including reportedly arming South Ossetian separatists with Grad missiles and spreading nasty rumors about the Georgian president's sanity -– to provoke and destabilize Georgia, long before the two countries clashed in August 2008. One of Russia's primary goals seems to have been to oust Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
This leaked confidential information is not a game-changer -– it's certainly not new to any Russian or Georgian who owns a television -– but it does add fodder to a still-heated debate about which nation started the war in the first place, and who is to blame for the fallout.
For the last week, media outlets in both countries have been busily cherry-picking the information in the cables that supports their country's position.
The Russian media are focusing on those cables that indicate that Tbilisi moved a military force to the South Ossetian border prior to the beginning of the war -– evidence, Russian pundits say, of Georgian aggression in 2008. Moscow's narrative has long been that Russia engaged militarily with Georgia only to protect Russian citizens and peacekeepers in South Ossetia.
The Georgian media, for their part, are focusing primarily on two cables. The first is a summary of all the ways in which Russian forces had allegedly tried to destabilize Georgia before the war began. There's a lot of juicy stuff in there -– missile attacks, murder plots, a car bomb -– but the best is a "psychological study" of Saakashvili, allegedly disseminated by the Russia government, that says he suffers from an "expansive type of paranoid dysfunction ... combined with narcissist type of hysteroid personality."
The second is an avowal by the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi in August 2008: "All the evidence available to the country team supports Saakashvili's statement that this fight was not Georgia's original intention."
-- Haley Sweetland Edwards in Tblisi
Photo: A convoy of Russian troops makes its way through the Caucasus Mountains toward the armed conflict between Georgian troops and separatist South Ossetian troops in the South Ossetian village of Dzhaba on Aug. 9, 2008. Credit: Dmitry Kostyukov / AFP