Wikileaks, the Caucasus, and the New York Times

What a difference a Wikileak can make.

As it turns out, I have a certain small fascination with the Caucasus, especially Georgia. It has therefore not been without some interest that I have been reading about some of the documents released by Wikileaks pertaining to the so-called “Five Day War” between Russia and Georgia.

Some, including the analysts at Eurasianet, have suggested that cables from American diplomats in Tbilisi bolster the Georgian government’s contentious claim that it was Russia (or their South Ossetian proxy) that started the fighting in August of 2008.

Sadly, the Wikileaks documents do little to clear up matters.

This New York Times article, by one C.J. Chivers, a journalist and former Marine Corps officer who seems to have some experience covering events in the former Soviet Union (Beslan and Andijan, specifically), argues precisely the opposite, maintaining that American diplomats in Georgia were so dazzled by Saakashvili that, “as the region slipped toward war, sources outside the Georgian government were played down or not included in important cables.”

Well, maybe.

But I maintain that this ongoing squabbling about “who shot first” is, ultimately, a pointless exercise. To embark on a search for “original sin” in Georgia is to dive headlong into a rabbit hole that leads to questionable Russian “peacekeeping” missions, flagrantly illegal passportization schemes, post-Soviet geopolitical thinking, ethno-territorial violence, and Soviet nationality policy, to name but a few factors that led quite directly to what transpired in 2008. If you want my opinion, the answer to “who shot first?” is “the Bolsheviks in 1921.” But I digress.

My point is that that the notion that the Times can castigate American diplomats for “relying on one-sided information” while uncritically repeating verbatim the Russian government’s version of the story — completely shorn of any context (*cough* passportization *cough*) — and describe the territorial dismemberment of a former Soviet Republic in direct violation of numerous international law, not the least of which is the Helsinki Final Act (which, among other things, asserts the inviolability of frontiers and the territorial integrity of states) — as, and I quote, “a more stable cease-fire,” utterly defies belief.

By most accounts, Mr. Chivers has written ably about the role of the AK-47 in modern conflicts. Given his apparently limited and uncritical understandings of the subject, however, one might suggest that in the future he should perhaps content himself with discussing the implements, rather than the politics of warfare.


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