The title was highly misleading. “Intrigues in the Caucasus: the Georgian-Russian Conflict” was billed as an academic “lecture/discussion” and proved not at all academic and entirely propagandistic. I left the event, which took place last Thurs-day, Sept. 11, feeling disturbed and shaken, as if Vlad-imir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev had personally come to Wooster and smacked me across the face.
First, the anatomy of the assault. The perpetrators were Yuri Popov and Professor of Russian Studies Elena Sokol, his wife. Oftentimes I felt as if I was the only one in the entire room who was not going along with the program, and the event was very well-attended for a Thursday evening.
I also kept good notes, so I am not entirely relying upon memory. In short, the Russian Studies department of The College of Wooster held host to a disgustingly nationalistic affair that ignored entirely the very serious, and very real, matters of Russian aggression toward Georgia and quite chauvinistically dismissed the humanity of the lower orders of the peoples of the trans-Caucasus. Asking about the savage war of attrition Boris Yeltsin and Putin waged on the Chechens, Sokol – translating for Popov – informed those present that Chechnya is comprised of “bandits” and “warriors”; that is, the mountain-dwelling Chechens, they qualified, as opposed to the “peaceful” valley Chechens. (I thought that was a strange addition considering how much they emphasized that the Caucasus is so mountainous; nonetheless these barbarians deserved the good fortune to see their capital city, Grozny, smashed to bits by the Russian military under Yeltsin and Putin.) The main point of the proceedings was that the United States and “the West” had launched a “total propaganda war against Russia,” which is partly true.
It was in U.S. interests to do so, considering that our government does in fact have hegemonic interests in the Caucasus. But it is completely unfair to assert, as Popov and Sokol did, that Russian forces were not targeting civilian areas in Georgia, which they certainly were. According to the presentation, Georgian premier Mikheil Saakashvili cruelly dispatched his army – with Israeli aid – to kill Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia.
As media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, surely no apologists for U.S. government actions, reflected in a dispatch last month (Aug. 14): “Georgia’s military efforts – which involved … intensive shelling of civilian areas – reportedly caused many noncombatant deaths and prompted a large proportion of the South Ossetian population to seek safety in Russia. It was this humanitarian crisis, coupled with Georgian attacks on Russian forces in the separatist areas, that Moscow cited as its justification for its military intervention.” The next sentence reads, “This does not suggest that Russian tactics are beyond criticism, or that a military response of this magnitude is justified.” Popov and Sokol were quite explicit that Russia had done nothing wrong.
The New York Times reported on Sept. 12 that Putin, at a conference in Sochi, was “clearly still stung by language used by the European Union, which condemned the Russian invasion as ‚Äòa disproportionate response’ to Georgia’s attack on Tskhinvali,” the administrative capital of South Ossetia. “He said Russians had no choice but to proceed beyond the conflict zone (read, Georgia proper) to eliminate Georgian posts and ammunition depots – a move he compared to that of the Soviet Army in World War II, which pursued Nazi forces across Soviet borders and into Western Europe.” Russia is not empire-building and it is not headed by latter-day Nazis.
But one could be forgiven for recalling the apologetics over the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938. After all, that was just ethnic congruity, right? Clearly, Russia’s paws were tied. Medvedev, as a heroic commander in chief, launched the counterattack and destroyed Georgia’s aggressor army. All other versions of the story are propaganda. Putin, murderer of Russian journalists, Chechens and other undesirables, and his hand-picked successor Medvedev, would have felt right at home that night at Kauke.
Alex Cacioppo is the Chief Copy Editor of the Voice. He can be reached for comment at ACacioppo09@wooster.edu.