Trouble Brewing In Caucasus, But Media Silent

April 20th, 2009 4:24 PM

Here’s a quick informal poll:  Who has heard news of Russia’s recent troop buildup in the South Ossetia region of Georgia?


Most of our readers would immediately think of the Russian invasion of that region last summer, during the presidential contest, but the Russians are arguably saber rattling again with a fresh buildup of boots on-the-ground ahead of planned NATO exercises.


Last August, the media coverage immediately took the angle of breathless anticipation on how each presidential candidate would react to such a situation.  John McCain’s position was easily established from his record over many years in the Senate.  Then-Senator Obama’s position was much more difficult to ascertain – but the media gave him ample time to figure it out, helping the candidate defer those questions to the September 26 debate.  In fact, a good example of such activism was shown in the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland, who in his August 31 op-ed insisted:

Obama's caution is justified on both substantive and political grounds. There was no point in stepping on the message of his historic nomination last week with foreign policy exegesis. And he understands that the Russia-Georgia conflict may well expose new fault lines in a Democratic Party that he needs to be united but that is still unclear within itself on the use of force abroad. 

That was not a question for Denver. Instead, the nominee is pointing toward the first presidential debate – scheduled for Sept. 26 and devoted to foreign policy and national security -- as the moment to move the Democrats beyond the liberal internationalism, and interventionism, of the Clinton era.

Indeed, those were the good old days of media bias. But what if this buildup had happened in the last two weeks, and in violation of the much-ballyhooed French ceasefire agreement?


Chances are, nobody has heard of it.


According to a Newsweek interview dated April 11, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia claims:

A week ago Russian tanks arrived in South Ossetia. We have information that there are about 5,000 Russian troops in the territory of South Ossetia, and 5,000 troops in Abkhazia.

A week before April 11, Russian tanks were apparently rolling into South Ossetia.  One might immediately think that there was something else occurring in the world about that time; and indeed there was.  President Obama was in Strasbourg, France, at a NATO summit.


That’s right, Russia timed its troop buildup to coincide with the NATO summit.


So why is this slowly leaking through the cracks now?  This morning, Jackson Diehl wrote an editorial in the Washington Post containing the following paragraph:

Those aren't the only signs that the new medicine isn't taking. Europeans commonly blamed Bush for Russia's aggressiveness -- they said he ignored Moscow's interests and pressed too hard for European missile defense and NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine. So Hillary Clinton made a show of pushing a "reset" button, and Obama offered the Kremlin a new arms control agreement while putting missile defense and NATO expansion on a back burner. Yet in recent weeks Russia has deployed thousands of additional troops as well as tanks and warplanes to the two breakaway Georgian republics it has recognized, in blatant violation of the cease-fire agreement that ended last year's war. The threat of another Russian attack on Georgia seems to be going up rather than down.

This is the best coverage that NewsBusters could find of the recent Russian troop movements – and that’s no exaggeration.


Just how concerned could the Obama administration be about this?  The Armenian Reporter notes that Secretary of State Clinton met with the Georgian foreign minister on April 14:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met visiting Georgian foreign minister Grigol Vashadze on April 14 to reiterate "U.S. support for Georgian independence and democracy," but she did not openly support President Mikheil Saakashvili, currently under siege by his domestic opposition.

Two days later, NATO announced that it would hold war games in Georgia:

NATO says the exercises, to be held 12 miles east of Tbilisi from May 6 to June 1, will involve 1,300 troops from 19 countries. It says they are benign, and will be based on a fictitious U.N.-mandated, NATO-led crisis response operation.

This is the very kind of low-key diplomacy which President Obama seemed to favor in his campaign; but nobody is reporting on it.  To find out, almost by accident, that Russia is building up troops (in violation of France’s vaunted ceasefire agreement) in the same region which it very recently invaded, is more than enough reason to show the media’s bias-by-omission on this story.  If Russia takes any action, it will not reflect well on the Obama administration – so it is much better to have this situation “surprise” him.