On holiday I was completely away from the internet, TV and newspapers - however one bit of news that managed to filter through was the shocking war in the Caucasus. It was very hard to get to any sort of truth about what was happening...indeed there seems to have been some serious bias in the news....
Photo: Stop the War demonstration on 20th September
CNN, the BBC and other western media have apparently aired misleading footage of the war between Georgia and Russia, skewing public opinion in favour of the Georgians. For example a Russian cameraman has said that CNN had used his footage of Georgian forces attacking Russian civilians in Tskhinvali, the provincial capital of South Ossetia, but then claimed it showed Russians attacking Georgians in the Georgian town of Gori.
The claim is that the Georgian assault on Tskhinvali, described as an act of genocide and a war crime by Russian officials and other eyewitnesses, led to the slaughter of at least 2,000 civilians. Furthermore that the fact that Georgia, backed by the U.S. and Israel, were responsible for the provocation that led to the Russian response, has been buried by the majority of western corporate media.
Another example of media bias in shielding Georgia from responsibility for the carnage is the fact that news outlets like the BBC continued to report that "thousands of civilians were killed in Georgia", with the obvious inference being that these are victims of the Russian onslaught. But these victims were not killed in Georgia, they were killed in Ossetia - by Georgian forces. While the Ossetians claimed over 1000 dead the BBC neither reported this or any newsreel coming out of Ossetia showing the destruction caused by the Georgian shelling of the breakaway republic.
Were we getting one-sided reports of the destruction being caused by the Russians? I don't know - certainly seven years after the start of the war on terror, occupation continues to bring misery to Iraq and Afghanistan - but it is clear that the consequences of the war are spreading. US policy of expanding NATO eastwards has been an important feature of the conflict between Russia and Georgia, as has the West's desire to control the oil and other natural resources of the region.
The Georgians and Ossetians both accuse each other of initiating the conflict: what is clear that rapid escalation took place, and that civilians died and were displaced in significant numbers. See Paul Rogers good analysis here and an interesting analysis of why Georgia is at war here - the latter basically arguing that Georgia was misled into thinking that the US would come to their aid. But perhaps more useful than asking "Who started it?" we should consider some of the factors involved:
1. Breakup of the Soviet Union, which kept the lid on ethnic divisions. Under the Soviets, there was no point in South Ossetia seeking independence, nor union with North Ossetia. Both were provinces of the Soviet empire. The fall of the USSR led quickly to the 1991-2 war that gave S. Ossetia and Abkhazia their de facto independence. So - Separatist ambitions is a factor. Separatist aspiration lies behind one in three of the present conflicts happening in the world in 2008.
2. Oil pipeline: the BTC pipeline goes right through Georgia. Its biggest customer is BP.
3. NATO trying to encircle Russia. Russia trying not to be encircled.
4. As one commentator put it could it be: "Bush sh*tting in the earphones of his successor?" (cf Somalia problem left by Bush sr for Clinton.).
Georgia came into being after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia gained /de facto /independence after the 1991-2 war, although their independence is not formally recognised in the UN. The majority of South Ossetians are ethnically distinct from Georgians and identify with the people of North Ossetia. A referendum in 2006 (turnout 95%) is reported as resulting in 99% endorsement for /de facto/ independence. More than half of South Ossetians are reported to have chosen a Russian passport. Abkhazia is ethnically mixed, with only 28% Georgians.
Tony Benn is right when he said: "The British government continues its uncritical support for George Bush, with foreign minister David Miliband echoing Bush's claim that invading other people's countries is not acceptable in the 21st century. Their hypocrisy is staggering. The war on terror has been a failure and the majority of people in Britain want the British troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Their view is matched by the majority of citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan, where high levels of violence, death, refugees and lack of basic facilities are all part of everyday life for millions. Despite all this, the US is stepping up its threats against Iran. When he came to office, Gordon Brown promised to plan troop withdrawal from Iraq. He has reneged on that promise.”
Clearly once again there is the presence of an oil interest in an area of conflict, which underlines the urgent necessity of breaking our economies from dependence on oil. It is clear that the expansionist policies of NATO are also one of the contributing factors. We should abandon NATO in favour of the OSCE as the key security organisation in Europe. To move forward we also need to reaffirm that the will of the people is the basis of democracy, and if it is clearly the will of the people that they should be independent from their present state, or transfer to a different state, this will should be allowed to be developed in a peaceful and orderly way. The UN should be in the position to address the problem of separatism from a systemic point of view and to draw up a legal and political framework that will enable secessions to be negotiated peacefully.
Afghanistan: the 'war' cannot be won
I also heard about the deaths of ten French soldiers in one battle in Afghanistan - as Stop the War report, despite Geoff Hoon's recent claims that progress is being made all the evidence points to the fact that resistance to the occupation is becoming bolder and more effective. The French soldiers lost their lives in a 36 hour gun battle just 30 miles from the capital Kabul. Most of the south and east of the country - which we were told a few years ago had been 'pacified' - is now officially recognised as being under rebel control.
NATO air strikes are causing so much bitterness at the number of innocent civilians being killed that even Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai - who was installed to be the stooge of the US government - has publicly demanded that the bombing stops. Since then the United Nations has announced that a minimum of 90 people were killed in Friday’s US airstrike in Herat Province. This number includes 60 children, and stands as one of the largest incidents of US-inflicted slaughter of civilians since the 2001 invasion.
The violence created by occupation is making an already dire situation desperate for the Afghan people. Malnutrition is widespread and child mortality rates and life expectancy are lower now than they were before the so called 'liberation' of the country in 2001. Security has deteriorated so badly that aid agencies and NGOs are having to cancel sorely needed relief programmes.
According to Gordon Brown, "We are winning the battle in Afghanistan". In truth, as the Guardian's Seamus Milne wrote: "The war in Afghanistan, which claimed more than 6,500 lives last year, cannot be won. It has brought neither peace, development nor freedom, and has no prospect of doing so… The only real chance for peace in Afghanistan is the withdrawal of foreign forces."
Stop the War are organising a demonstration at the Labour Party conference in Manchester on Saturday 20 September. Meanwhile while we are on the horrors of war a new book by American journalist Ron Suskind has demolished any remaining shred of credibility for the attack on Iraq in 2003. His book proves that both M16 and the CIA knew there were no weapons of mass destruction before the invasion and that both agencies made this clear to the Bush administration. The media in Britain has largely ignored the story, but you can see Suskind discussing his book on the US Daily Show, available online here: