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When facts become interpretations: Russian propaganda ten years since war with Georgia

When facts become interpretations: Russian propaganda ten years since war with Georgia
Article by: Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis

While ten years have passed since the Russo-Georgian War, not the sound of bullets but of rumours, biased accounts and other means of propaganda war can still be heard.

Recent statements by former Russian and Georgian leaders are a reminder that the conflict remains unresolved. While giving an interview to Kommersant, the former Russian president Dmitrij Medvedev stressed that Georgia‘s becoming a NATO member would bring “serious consequences.“ This can be understood as an open threat to Georgia not to overstep the red line drawn by Kremlin. In the same interview, D. Medvedev stated that Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini was assigned to lead an independent mission in order to investigate the reasons behind the conflict and that the mission officially concluded that Georgia was the aggressor of the military conflict. And that, in D. Medvedev’s (and Kremlin’s) opinion, was established as a historical fact: Georgia is allegedly the perpetrator of the war.

What is the actual truth, though? The above-mentioned EU-supported mission indeed made a conclusion that Georgia fired the first shots. But the Tagliavini report (as it is often referred to) thoroughly elaborated on Russia‘s multiple violations of the international law that happened before, during, and after the conflict.

The investigation stresses that even though the events on the night of the 8th of August mark the official beginning of the war, it was actually the culmination of an extensive series of tensions, provocations, and other incidents perpetrated by Russia against Georgia. According to the report, although Russia’s initial response can be deemed legal, the country went beyond the legal framework when the Russian army invaded Georgian territory.

However, Russia‘s violations, even though stated in the same document which D. Medvedev refers to in order to prove Georgia guilty, are presented by D. Medvedev only as different interpretations, but not clear facts investigated and established by the mission. It is interesting to note that in such cases facts are processed filtering and twisting them in the same document, not by taking them from different contexts.

In other words, selectivity wins: a fact is only what gives rise to the desired, pre-established position, whereas the unfavourable facts are discredited as interpretations permeated with subjective moral sentiments.

In this way, having chosen and emphasised what is desired, a rather simplistic narrative is constructed where Georgia fired first, thus, Georgia started the war, thus, Georgia is the one to blame. And all this is suggested as the ultimate truth despite the countless provocations that happened before the first shot was fired, and the international norms that were violated during the course of the war.

Although ten years have passed since the Russo-Georgian War, there is still a lot to be done in order to bring about peace. As mentioned in the Tagliavini report, as long as the obvious facts are not acknowledged, peace in South Caucasus does not stand a chance to be established.

The Vilnius Institute of Policy Analysis is an independent organization in Lithuania which proclaims its goals as increasing freedom, transparency, democracy, and civic awareness in Lithuania and Central and Eastern Europe. This publication is part of a project aimed at strengthening democracy and civil society as well as fostering closer ties with the EU Eastern Partnership countries (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia) by spreading independent information with the help of contemporary solutions. The project is implemented by Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis. It is financed as part of Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs‘ Development Cooperation and Democracy Promotion Programme.

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