Russia promises to quit Georgia—but when?

Russia promises to quit Georgia—but when?

Russia promises to quit Georgia—but when?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 18 2008 5:54 AM

Moscow Mules

Pervez Musharraf is resigning as president of Pakistan, he announced Monday, but the news came too late to make any of the U.S. papers. (Jane Perlez of the New York Times, though, managed to crank out an analysis by TP's deadline, less than two hours after the news hit the wires.) The Los Angeles Times leads with a dispatch from South Ossetia, which finds that while Russian claims of a Georgian "genocide" against Ossetians were exaggerated, residents were still grateful for the Russian intervention. The New York Times leads with U.S. military officials saying that Russia has moved a variety of missile launchers into South Ossetia, evidence of what it calls a tightening grip on the Georgian breakaway territory. The Washington Post's lead comes to a similar conclusion based on the heavy presence of Russian forces in the nearby city of Gori. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a somewhat less skeptical take on Georgia, the Russian announcement that it will begin today to withdraw its troops. USA Today leads with the return of famine to Ethiopia; however, few Ethiopians are starving because of a safety net established after 1 million died in the 1985 famine.

Russia announced Sunday that it would withdraw its troops from Georgia proper into South Ossetia and a buffer zone surrounding it, but none of the papers takes the news at face value. The NYT briefly mentions the announcement, then describes how Russia has moved short-range ballistic missiles into South Ossetia, within striking range of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. In addition, several Russian army battalions have moved toward the Georgian border, and Russian bombers conducted exercises in the Black Sea that "appeared to simulate a cruise-missile attack against Georgia."

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In South Ossetia, despite claims by Russia that 2,000 civilians had been killed in the Georgian attempt to take the territory 10 days ago, the regional hospital said that 40 people had died there, the LAT reports. (It does add that the death toll is sure to rise.) Russia had used the claim of overwhelming civilian casualties to justify its aggressive move into the territory. But if Russia fudged the truth, Ossetian civilians didn't seem to mind and welcomed the Russian troops: The Russians "were our saviors," one woman told the paper.

The Russians and Ossetians appear to be engaging in an ethnic cleansing of Georgians from South Ossetia, according to the Gori dispatch in the Post and another South Ossetia dispatch from the Journal. Georgians displaced from their homes in South Ossetia told the Post that Russian troops had come to their villages and announced over loudspeakers, "If there are any Georgians here, come out and we will take you to safety." Those Georgians who did so were taken to Gori. The Journal finds that at least 131 Georgian civilians—including a 12-year-old boy—were in prison in the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, "for their own safety," the territory's prosecutor general said.

A good front-page analysis in the NYT describes how we got to this situation: Washington's infatuation with the pro-American Georgian government blinded U.S. policymakers to how serious Russia was about stopping the country from getting too close to the West. Washington's embrace probably also emboldened Georgia to act more aggressively than it should have. For example, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Georgian president last year, "We always fight for our friends." Said one "senior administration official" quoted in the piece: "[I]t's possible that Georgians may have confused the cheerleading from Washington with something else."

French President Nicholas Sarkozy has an op-ed in the Post in which he argues that his mediation of the Georgian crisis demonstrated that the European Union is a strong diplomatic player and that the organization "rose to the occasion."

Also in the papers … Democrats are aiming to emphasize Barack Obama's image as all-American at their upcoming convention, the NYT reports. The strategy will include having ordinary Americans talk about their support for Obama and a film "featuring the candidate in all-American scenes" by the director of An Inconvenient Truth. The Post says that Obama's campaign is relying heavily on new voter registrations to win Virginia, a key swing state. Michael Phelps is now poised to become a marketing juggernaut, the Journal reports. He already has offers including some involving dog food, bobblehead dolls, acrylic paintings, commemorative coins, car rims and tuxedos. Phelps might be interested to read a front-page story in the NYT about the woes, both material, and emotional, faced by athletes after their Olympic careers. Forty percent have some sort of serious problems, according to one report.

Phelps, at least, doesn't have this problem: Reminding us that second place is, after all, the first loser, the Post reports that silver medalists are less happy about their accomplishments than bronze medalists. According to one study, "The silver medalists couldn't get the gold medalists out of their heads, whereas the bronze medalists compared themselves with athletes who didn't win anything." Silver medalists, on average, were as satisfied as those who finished in fifth.

Joshua Kucera is a journalist based in Istanbul and the Turkey/Caucasus editor of EurasiaNet.