17:46 GMT +323 September 2017

    Saakashvili as a propaganda phenomenon

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - Since August 8, one newsmaker, Mikheil Saakashvili, has been running the whole show on English-speaking channels.

    I spent Sunday reading his live interviews with CNN and the BBC, and UN debates on South Ossetia. They are depressing, or to be more exact, we are depressing. Our permanent desire to react to Mikheil Saakashvili's lies (let's call a spade a spade) has played a bad joke on us many times, but we keep making the same mistake over and over again.

    In the first days of the South Ossetian war, we did not care to provide elementary propaganda support, that is, register hour-by-hour developments in a chronological order. Instead, our military leaders made vague and intermittent statements from the conflict zone. It was not even their fault - it is simply not their business. The Western audience did not see them at all.

    It was clear from the word go that we would lose the propaganda war over South Ossetia to Saakashvili and the United States. First, we have never won a propaganda war. Second, we could not win Europe's sympathies by definition. When a nuclear power brings its troops to the territory of a small neighbor, it is difficult to support the former. But Europe is sympathizing with the Georgians rather than Saakashvili. Backing the underdog is in human nature. However, it is comforting to think that the United States is the only Western power to put a bold equation mark between Saakashvili, Georgia, and democracy.

    Saakashvili, the U.S. State Department and leading American newspapers are singing the same tune. In their hysteria they quote almost no verifiable facts. All manuals on manipulating public opinion recommend replacement of facts with emotions, moralizing and feigned indignation as the most effective methods of influence. It is no surprise that all the ideas expressed by Saakashvili, his ministers and his UN envoy were coordinated well in advance. This is standard practice.

    Their timing was not accidental, either, which points to clear-cut methodology and a systemic approach.

    There is a notion of "threshold dynamics" in social physics. In brief, when two contrary ideas have an almost equal right to exist, a little extra effort (timely stove-piping, counteraction, etc.) may help one side to overcome the threshold of credibility and feed the public its own version of events. There will be no room left for the other view. Saakashvili, it seems, has done this really well.

    He has surpassed us, and this is why debates on the South Ossetian war in the UN Security Council are so strangely removed from the gist of the subject. That at least is the impression one gets listening to the U.S. envoy. South Ossetia is being described as a country populated by some wild, undemocratic tribes who do not even deserve any mention. What really matters is the rescue of the Rose Revolution and Georgia's young and fragile democracy.

    Saakashvili wants to convince everyone that it was not Georgia that attacked tiny Ossetia with Grad missiles, but Russia that treacherously and suddenly assaulted Georgia on the eve of the Olympics.

    In his latest interview with CNN, interviewer Wolf Blitzer asked the following question: "The Russians say that your troops have killed some 2,000 people in Ossetia... Do you have any estimate about how many people have been killed and injured...?"

    Saakashvili answered with a grin: "Well, let's put it this way. The town of Tskhinvali by the moment when Georgian troops entered it didn't even have that much number of people. It's a very, very small town. And prior to the fighting, anticipating the fighting, local Russian authorities evacuated most of the population. And we didn't anticipate fighting. Apparently, they did.

    "And we only responded when after many hours of artillery barrage, after a unilateral ceasefire declared by us that killed lots of people, by the way, because we wouldn't respond on our side.

    "Then when I heard around 11:30, 11:50 p.m. that 150 Russian tanks are entering our sovereign territory from this place - there is a very mountain - you know, long, mountainous tunnel called the Rocky Tunnel - into the Georgian territory, our forces were stationed somewhere here. So when they got entered, the only way we could get them was to respond with artillery fire to stop mass land invasion of the sort that happened to Afghanistan and Czechoslovakia in 1968."

    He said that Georgia did not want to fight against anyone, but had to protect itself when the Russians invaded it.

    Saakashvili mentioned that the Georgians had already downed 20 Russian warplanes; and he concluded that a cruel, inhuman aggression had been launched against his small country. He did not even mention who had started the war. Threshold dynamics has achieved the desired effect.

    I am skeptical about all governments. Each has a skeleton of its own in the cupboard, and we Russians are record breakers in this respect. But Saakashvili has really gone over the limit. His conduct cannot even be described as political immorality, which is a feature of any government to this or that extent.

    However, there are experts who understand the real situation no matter what he does. Here is the opinion of Thomas de Waal from the Institute for War and Peace in London: "Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili seems to care less about these people than about asserting that they live in Georgian territory. Otherwise he would not on the night of 7-8 August have launched a massive artillery assault on the town of Tskhinvali, which has no purely military targets and whose residents, the Georgians say, lest we forget, are their own citizens. This is a blatant breach of humanitarian international law.

    "Saakashvili is a famously volatile risk-taker, veering between war-monger and peacemaker, democrat and autocrat. On several occasions international officials have pulled him back from the brink. On a visit to Washington in 2004, he received a tongue-lashing from then Secretary of State Colin Powell, who told him to act with restraint. Two months ago, he could have triggered a war with his other breakaway province of Abkhazia by calling for the expulsion of Russian peacekeepers from there, but European diplomats persuaded him to step back. This time he has yielded to provocation and stepped over the precipice."

    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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