Georgia, Russia and the Art of Choosing Enemies

feature photo

Foreign relations between Russia and Georgia have plummeted to all time lows in recent weeks, with Georgian authorities claiming that Russia is inciting a military confrontation over two breakaway republics.

One major point of contention in the conflict is the destruction of a Georgian unmanned spy drone in late April. While Russia claims to have no connection to the event, a report by the UN found that a Russian fighter plane was responsible, backing Georgian assertions that a ceasefire accord had been broken. Aleksandr Golts examines this incident in an editorial in the Yezhednevny Zhurnal online newspaper (below).

Since the article was published on May 28th, Russia has announced that it will move more troops into Abkhazia, for “humanitarian aid” purposes. Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, meanwhile, called the move “an aggressive act, which is aimed against Georgia’s territorial integrity.”

On the art of choosing ones enemies
Aleksandr Golts
Yezhednevny Zhurnal
May 28, 2008.

When a mission of UN observers in Georgia presented their report, asserting that it was exactly a Russian fighter jet that shot down an unmanned Georgian drone, I immediately felt pity for the most intelligent and kind Vitaly Churkin, who currently serves as Russia’s representative to the UN. I immediately imagined him in the place of Soviet representative Valerian Zorin, who fiercely denied the presence of rockets in Cuba at a [UN] Security Council session forty-five years ago. At a certain moment, State Department employees brought in boards with glued-on photographs of Soviet rockets. And this allowed the American representative, Adlai Stevenson to run Zorin in to a corner: “Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R. has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no—don’t wait for the translation—yes or no?” To which the the ambassador of a superpower found nothing better to say than: “I am not in an American courtroom, Mr. Stevenson.”

I’m not even referring to the fact that Moscow was caught telling blatant lies. In 1962, at least the opponent was worthy. But today, the representative of tiny Georgia will drag us face-down along the table. It must be said that both now and forty-five years ago, Moscow was let down by a colossal underestimation of the opponent’s political will and technical capabilities. In 1962, after the Americans didn’t use force to topple the Berlin Wall, Khrushchev counted them incapable of adequately responding to the deployment of rockets. And even the military promised to safely hide the rockets from reconnaissance aircraft. Today, [Moscow] clearly misjudged Georgia’s readiness for political conflict, and most importantly—its technical capacity to substantiate its charges in detail.

The UN mission’s report gives the impression of an extremely tested and painstaking work. Before anything else, the UN writers underscore the qualifications of the specialists, [who they] draw upon for expertise (specialists on radar and unmanned aircraft and aerial photography, as well as fighter pilots). The authors of the report meticulously explain why they regard the Georgian video as authentic. Here you have a both a clear matching of on-the-ground features and terrain, completely corresponding to the radar data and witness testimonies (including those presented by the headquarters of the [Russian] peacekeeping forces). Furthermore, it is underscored that the video recording does not have any changes of color rendition or skipping in the image, which could point to a falsification.

The same can be said regarding the Poti [, Georgia] radar data. [The authors] meticulously explain to us why falsification is impossible in this case. It turns out that the recording of the flight paths of both the drone and the fighter jet are replete with slight changes of course. And an attempt to make a forgery would necessarily show up as an unswerving straight line. We are even told why the fighter flew so close to the drone, as to allow itself to be caught on film. It turns out that this air battle was started practically inside an air corridor constantly flown by civil aircraft. Thus, the fighter pilot had to see his target, so as to, God forbid, avoid hitting a passenger liner.

In order to refute all this, firm statements from representatives of the [Russian] air force that on April 20th, our war planes didn’t fly near the Russian-Georgian border won’t quite suffice. Disputing the Georgian data can only be done by presenting our own data – and I hope that our air defense radar watches this region. After all, information can be obtained from the civil dispatchers, who were guiding planes through the above-mentioned corridor.

Instead of this, [the authorities] have decided, it seems, to once again stigmatize Georgia, as America was stigmatized in 1962. Then, after the embarrassment in the Security Council, the Soviet newspapers wrote that “V. A. Zorin exposed the assertions of US State Department employees, pulled from a heap of all sorts of of rubbish, about the so called “establishment of Soviet rocket bases” in Cuba.” Now, the Foreign Ministry has put on a semblance that the naïve UN investigators have been fooled by the cunning Georgians: “The point at issue is not to cast doubt on the competency of the UN Mission’s specialists. Rather, the question is in the biased and unobjective materials, on which this investigation was built –the video recording and the readings of certain radars. This video tape, which has long been discussed, and which the Georgian side has broadcast on television, but had not risked showing the UN or giving to the Russian side, raises serious doubts, as we have already noted. And the radar data, used by the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, does not correspond with [the data] we have.” It follows, that they have decided to play dumb in Moscow. To pretend that there is in fact a report, but at the same time to consider that the arguments it raises do not exist at all. “Let them slander, the bastards.”

As if the UN authors didn’t dedicate nearly their whole report to explaining how they came to such distasteful conclusions for Russia.

All that happened in distant 1962 was of course humiliating for the Soviet representatives – it’s not very pleasant, when the government whose interests you represent is caught red handed. But then one could write everything off to the stand-off of two systems, to the uncompromising confrontation, by way of which the fate of the country was decided.

Now, when Georgia has managed to incriminate us in lies, Russia stands not only in a humiliating, but in a downright laughable position. And the inability to give any credible explanations at all makes it doubly so.

translated by