Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Georgia: Government’s misadventure, total defeat, but winning PR war (The Times)

British The Times newspaper reveals the inside story of PR war won by Georgia. Other than that, it’s total defeat for Saakashvili’s adminstration and disaster for people in the region.

via The Times /emphasis mine/:

[...] President Saakashvili, who came to power in the Rose Revolution, never lacked for a punchy warning about the threat to world order. Comparisons with Soviet interventions in Hungary (1956) and Afghanistan (1979) were liberally sprinkled with appeals for aid in the hope of galvanising public opinion in the United States and Europe to demand action from their leaders.

Mr Saakashvili was flanked by the Georgian and European Union flags, even though Georgia is not a member. The message was clear – Georgia was aligning itself with the West against its former Soviet master.

As foreign correspondents poured into Tbilisi a team of Belgian PR advisers launched a slick operation to keep them updated with e-mail alerts detailing the latest alleged aggressions by Russia and the Georgian Government’s reaction. On Sunday, for example, more than 20 e-mails went out to shape Georgia’s message that Russia had launched an invasion.

Some of the claims veered into outright exaggeration – such as stating that Russian jets were “intensively bombing Tbilisi” or that Russian troops had taken Gori – but the 24-hour news culture meant that many organisations repeated them without independent verification.

Russian officials were made to look defensive and clumsy, but their ace card was Vladimir Putin, who was intent on demonstrating that actions speak louder than words. Stern-faced, while dressed in casual street clothes, Mr Putin’s action-man persona transmitted a determination to prevail.

State-controlled TV gave coverage to the grief of Georgia’s victims in South Ossetia, while glossing over Russia’s actions. The aim was to maintain support for the Kremlin at home, with little thought for the international message. Viewers saw one woman claiming that Georgian troops had set a building with people inside on fire. “They drove them in like animals, closed the house and set it alight,” she said. “We saw in another place how a tank ran over an old woman, running away with two children.”

At the end of the military campaign Mr Saakashvili was photogenically surrounded by a huge crowd of supporters in a sea of Georgian flags. It was a message of defiant unity for the cameras, even though the outcome in South Ossetia and Abkhazia has been disastrous for Georgia. Mr Putin needed no props. Russia’s Army had already delivered his message directly into Georgia.

Victors and vanquished


— Vladimir Putin: he made it clear to the world that Georgia had been the aggressor and that his soldiers were intervening to stop “genocide”

— Dmitri Medvedev: he announced the end of the war to coincide with the arrival in Moscow of President Sarkozy, providing him with a diplomatic coup

— Russian military might: as a contest it was Russia 10, Georgia 0


— Mikhail Saakashvili: the picture of the Georgian President cowering from a Russian helicopter said it all

— The Georgian people: thousands paid with their lives or had their homes destroyed because of their Government’s misadventure

— Nato membership: Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Secretary-General, insisted that the war did not mean that Georgia had sacrificed its chance of joining the alliance, but it will not have improved its chances

— Western leaders: despite the diplomatic efforts and statements of outrage, they were outmanoeuvred by Moscow, unable to offer even a hint of military combat assistance for the would-be Nato member


me said...

Slightly off topic, but going back to a discussion on this blog about McCain’s role in the conflict; his campaign needed to bring the conversation back to national security and foreign policy experience, and as far away from the economy as possible. Neocons are already salivating over the idea of turning this election into a referendum of who would deal with the big bad commies better (Glen Beck, a conservative talking head said on his show last night that he’d heard “unconfirmed rumors” from “several sources” that the US was bringing planes up to Alaska and asked something along the lines of, if the US is “mobilizing” against Russia, are people going to look at the guy with no experience (i.e. Obama) and say hm, maybe not so much?
I seriously wouldn’t put it past McCain to not necessarily tell his “good friend” Mishik (who he went jet-skiing with in 2006) to attack but reassure him that he’d get the US’s and Europe’s strong backing if he did.

The tactic is already working and his advisers are milking it for what it’s worth; to hell with 1000s dead and 100,000 displaced…McCain ’08:

Ani said...

Yep, Republicans are milking good ole Hillary's "3 a.m. moment" thing as well. And a disingenuous guest on "The Daily Show" last night said he had been pondering whether to vote for McCain or Obama, but now that this event has happened, is probably going to vote for McCain. Why is he "disingenuous"? He's the REPUBLICAN senator from Florida!!

News now is that Sarkozy is trying to interest Europe in putting together a peacekeeping team. U.S. seems to be left out of this entirely. As for the White House spin, here's a NYTimes story from this morning:
After Mixed U.S. Messages, a War Erupted in Georgia

WASHINGTON — One month ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a high-profile visit that was planned to accomplish two very different goals.

During a private dinner on July 9, Ms. Rice’s aides say, she warned President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia not to get into a military conflict with Russia that Georgia could not win. “She told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had to put a non-use of force pledge on the table,” according to a senior administration official who accompanied Ms. Rice to the Georgian capital.

But publicly, Ms. Rice struck a different tone, one of defiant support for Georgia in the face of Russian pressure. “I’m going to visit a friend and I don’t expect much comment about the United States going to visit a friend,” she told reporters just before arriving in Tbilisi, even as Russian jets were conducting intimidating maneuvers over South Ossetia.
(story continues at link)

nazarian said...

Propaganda has always been an integral part of military campaigns. Nowadays you need heartfelt stories for that, too. Had the Georgians made a short film about an injured puppy after a Russian bombing, the whole Western population would be behind them.

me said...

The plot thickens:

McCain adviser got money from Georgia

John McCain's chief foreign policy adviser and his business partner lobbied the senator or his staff on 49 occasions in a 3 1/2-year span while being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the government of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

....While their politics coincide, Russia's invasion of Georgia casts a spotlight on [Randy] Scheunemann's business interests and McCain's conduct as a senator.

Scheunemann's firm lobbied McCain's office on four bills and resolutions regarding Georgia, with McCain as a co-sponsor or supporter of all of them.Four months ago, on the same day that Scheunemann's partner signed the latest $200,000 agreement with Georgia, McCain spoke with Saakashvili by phone. The senator then issued a strong statement saying that "we must not allow Russia to believe it has a free hand to engage in policies that undermine Georgian sovereignty."

...Scheunemann is part of the community of neoconservatives who relentlessly pushed for war in Iraq.
More at:

Of course earlier today this Scheunemann character was out criticizing Obama for "lack of experience" with Georigia ( It's becoming more and more clear that this had little to do with Ossetians or Georgians; it's just sad how people in that regions are just pawns in the bigger game and aren't realizing it.

Anonymous said...

Armenia, don't gloat too much, you could be next on the plate for the Russian Bear!

Ani said...

My dear Anonymous, if ever you have happened across a blog where Armenians are not gloating, it's certainly this one! I think you should read many more of Artmika's posts. The gloating, if it's happening at all, is far from here...

artmika said...

Thanks, Ani...

spm said...

anon at 01:25. We can not possibly be on a plate of Russian bear. If Russia ever felt it swallowed us, it was 4 years ago, when Robert was "elected" for the second term, and we have successfully transformed into bear poop since then. You cant enter the same river twice.

artmika said...

Dear readers,

I value your input very much. However, as I just rejected one comment, I have to restate that personal attacks towards other comment makers are absolutely prohibited on Unzipped. No such comment will be approved. Thanks for understanding.

Observer said...

The question of who won, who lost is still open. Even as we speak, many western media are changing their tones. Overall, this was a total win by Russia I think. And it was a total loss for... Armenia.

artmika said...

Although there are some obvious immediate winners and losers, as per above and in your post, I am still not quite sure about the long-term outcomes and the implications for Armenia. Negative implications - quite a few: even more dependence on Russia, transport links, even more strained relationships with Georgia… But will anything positive come out of this, say, in relation to Karabakh or so?... Time will tell…

In the meantime, here is BBC report acknowledging Russia’s defeat in propaganda war too:

Russians losing propaganda war