On the Trail of Seumas Milne, Russophile Scumbag
Two recent essays – one by Arthur Herman writing in Commentary magazine, the other by Cathy Young writing in Reason magazine – have shed considerable light on disturbing efforts by some Westerners to rationalize the KGB dictatorship of Vladimir Putin, in the manner of the collaborators of old. Today, we add our own efforts to the mix once again.
These efforts must be seen as vital in light of recent revelations regarding British politicians Peter Mandelson, George Osborne and Andrew Feldman. Veteran Russia correspondent Edward Lucas, writing in the Daily Mail on October 25th, describes how they have been playing footsy with Kremlin-friendly oligarch Oleg Deripaska has attempted to insinuate himself, and most especially his fat wallet, into British politics. Mandelson (coincidentally?) has recently come out strongly in favor of rapprochement with the Kremlin and praised the strength of its economy, as run by Putin, despite the fact that the Russian stock market has lost 75% of its value in the past six months and inflation is projected at 13% for 2008.
Herman blasted New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman for arguing that Putin was merely “brutally stupid” to attack Georgia, while Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili was guilty of “bone-headed recklessness” on account of his “daring to use military force to put down Russian-backed separatists in the breakaway Ossetian region and thus “supposedly compelled Putin to invade.” He accuses Friedman, and others, of shameful cowardice:
To be sure, no one, from Thomas Friedman to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to those European leaders meeting in Brussels, has any “illusions” about Putin. Almost from the day he came to high office in 2000, Western media, policy analysts, and politicians have acknowledged his multiple abuses of power, the corruption of his regime, and the spectacular failure of democratic hopes inside Russia. At the same time, however, and grumbling as they go, all have continued to acquiesce in the fact of Putin’s dictatorship over post-Soviet Russia and his growing encroachment on the rights and territories of the newly independent but still sovereign countries around him. Indeed, the transparency of Putin’s put-up job over Georgia, together with the West’s so-far supine response, follows a pattern of its own, and it too has been discernible from the day he came to power.
Young called “blatantly false” a claim by Salon magazine’s arch leftist Glenn Greenwald that Russia was not the aggressor in the recent Georgian confrontation. Greenwald has attempted to argue that although Georgian forces never set one toe on Russian territory, whilst Russian forces smashed the city of Gori in Georgia proper and landed troops on Georgia‘s seacoast, seizing a military base, this is irrelevant and it was Georgia who caused all the trouble.
Which brings us to two other Britons, Kremlin shil Seumas Milne and seasoned Russia correspondent Tim Whewell. On October 31st, Milne – an associate editor at the Guardian newspaper – blogged about a report several days earlier by Whewell on the BBC (video) According to Milne, Whewell’s report found “strong evidence confirming western-backed Georgia as the aggressor on the night of August 7 and also assembled “powerful testimony of wide-ranging war crimes carried out by the Georgian army in its attack on the contested region of South Ossetia.” He claims the report substantiates his own prior claim that Georgia was the aggressor from the beginning and Russia was blameless.
Milne is an extreme left-wing partisan who has written a book accusing British secret police of trying to undermine British labor unions and harshly attacked Israel in its struggle against Arab extremism. One British blogger accuses him of writing a “negative, personal and deceiptful cocktail of half truths, omissions and deliberate misrepresentations.” Another writes: “The incompetent auld miseryguts Seumas Milne is again making an utter fule of himself, I see, and again on a subject about which he knows nothing (Afghanistan), and again blaming acts of barbarism on everyone but the culprits, and again getting it all wrong.” Even Milne’s fellow Guardian bloggers call him on the carpet for his brazen dishonesty.
Like the Kremlin, Milne tried to blame the Georgia war on the United States.
So it’s not too surprising that Milne, as he has in fact done, would have utterly mischaracterized Whewell’s report. In doing so, whether intentionally or not, Milne is acting in the service of the Kremlin.
Whewell begins his report with two important admissions. First, he openly states that he is not attempting to tell the “truth” about the attack on Ossetia, but rather to let the Ossetians themselves tell their own version of events, claiming that their voice has not been sufficiently heard (this is in no small part due to the fact that Russia has rolled down an iron curtain around the region and refused access to journalists). Second, he admits that the Russian government brazenly lied when it claimed Georgian forces had destroyed Ossetia’s capital, Tskinvali. But you won’t find any mention of either of those two admissions in Milne’s analysis of the report, because it’s impossible to explain why Russia would feel the need to lie so brazenly if it was in the right.
Nor will you find one single scrap of evidence cited in Milne’s broadside to support his claim that Georgian aggression started the violence in the first place or that Georgians forces intentionally targeted civilians in Ossetia.That’s because Whelwell’s report doesn’t contain any such claim. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is quoted clearly and emphatically condemning Russia as the aggressor in the war, crossing into foreign territory and ignoring Georgian sovereignty. Regardless of what Georgia did or did not do in Ossetia, Russia‘s invasion of Georgia proper was categorically unjustified, a naked act of wanton imperialism. To this day, the international community has not set it fully right. Russia went on, without international approval, to annex portions of Georgia, and it is currently distributing passports in Ukraine with an eye towards a second such action there. These are the issues from which Putin’s advocates seek to distract us.
The only evidence of “war crimes” being committed by Georgia that Whewell mentions is a statement by Human Rights Watch that it was inappropriate for Georgia to assault the Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, with Grad rockets because those weapons cannot be targeted accurately enough. HRW believes the use of Grad rockets against Tskhinvali, even if they were aimed only at military targets, violates the Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime. HRW admits it has no proof of any intentional targeting of civilians by Georgian forces, though it is still investigating the matter. No legal authority asserting that aiming Grad rockets at a city violates the Convention is cited, nor is reference made to any legal action being taken (or even contemplated) against Georgia in this regard. And HRW has made exactly the same allegation against Russia, accusing it of using cluster bombs against civilian targets in Georgia proper.
By contrast, there is no evidence of any kind in Whewell’s report as to the other issue asserted by Milne, that Georgia drew first blood. Nobody, not even an interested Ossetian, is quoted denying the fact that Ossetians were shelling Georgia proper for days before Georgian forces moved in.
Instead, Whewell addresses the issue of how quickly Russian forces intervened. He reports that the Georgians have a recording of an intercepted telephone call between Ossetian borders guards indicating that Russian forces moved onto Georgian territory nearly a full day before Georgian forces entered Ossetia, indicating that they knew the Ossetian provocation ws coming and wanted to be ready to spring a trap if Georgia responded. At first, Georgia did not take the bait, and President Saakashvili went on national TV declaring a unilateral cease fire. But Russian forces did nothing to quell the violence on the Ossetian side, so Georgia was forced to act.
Whewell then travels to Moscow to interview Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who calls the tape “nonsense” and “a lie.” Lavrov says Russian forces did not enter Georgia until after the Georgians entered Ossetia. But there is no doubt at all the Russian forces were massed on the Georgian border ready to invade at a moment’s notice. And neither Lavrov nor Whewell produce a single scrap of evidence to prove that the Georgian recording, vetted by international experts, is not genuine. Lavrov claims the West would have sattellite footage of Russian forces on the move, but he offers no sattellite footage of his own showing the forces in place.
And, again, it is all beside the point. Georgia has never claimed it moved into Ossetia to repel Russian invaders. The presence of the Russian forces only serves to indicate that the Russians were not only failing to reign in, but actually encouraging, the Ossetian shelling of Georgia, which attacked to silence the guns of Ossetian rebels who were lobbing shells into Georgia proper after Russia refused to do so. Nobody on earth disputes that Ossetia was shelling Georgian territory before Georgia moved in; at most, some argue Georgia should have continued to absorb the punishment rather than responding and giving Russia an excuse to invade.
Whewell then goes on to document what he calls “the wholesale destruction, after the war, of ethnic Georgian villages inside South Ossetia by Ossetian militia.” He drives through the villages and shows the destruction; there is no evidence of any action by Russian regular forces to protect the Georgian civilians. Whewell states: “Ossetians say the villages were used by the Georgian military, but this was plainly a family home,” standing inside one bombed-out residence, whose former occupants are among 16,000 refugees outsted by the Ossetian side. Whewell states: “It’s hard to believe that the Georgian family who lived here will ever be allowed to return.” He characterizes the attack as “a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing.” He confirms that Russian forces were present at full strength when the cleansing occurred, but did nothing to prevent it. Milne makes no mention of any of these aspects of the report, which clearly undermine any claim that Russians were acting in the interests of fairness and peace.
Whewell then returns to his interview with Lavrov and asks him about the cleansing. Lavrov denies it took place, claiming any attacks on civilians by Ossetian forces were justified by the presence of Georgian fighters. Yet, he allows no such argument to the Georgians in regard to civilians in Tskinvali. Whewell then confronts Lavrov with his interviews of Ossetian fighters who burned Georgian homes long after the Georgians had been driven out of the region. Lavrov states: “Of course, when your city is attacked, when your loved ones, your relatives, your children, your parents, brothers and sisters are being killed, brutally, you can go emotional.” In other words, he rationalizes ethnic cleansing, but he gives no such leeway to Georgians in responding to the Ossetian rocket attacks that started the conflict. Again, Milne ignores this exchange entirely.
As was the case in the first cold war, we will find any number of individuals who, because of sympathy with the cause of dictatorship or simply because of a cowardly inability to stand against it, will seek to undermine our position and grease the skids of our downfall. As before, their primary weapon in this struggle will be the Big Lie, repeated often and shamelessly, combined with brutal efforts to crush any dissenting point of view. Herman documents a litany of individuals who have mercilessly criticized the Saakashvili regime in the West, but you will look long and hard before you find any such voice being raised in Vladimir Putin’s Russia criticizing the Kremlin’s behavior. Russia lied brazenly about the number of civilian casualties in Ossetia, which even according to Human Rights Watch numbered less than one-quarter of the number originally claimed by Russia. Many of that relatively small number could have been killed by “friendly fire” from Russians as they drove the Georgian forces out.
But for those who would rationalize the KGB regime of Vladmir Putin, truth is just a minor inconvenience.
NOTE: The New York Times has also recently published a story raising certain “questions” regarding Georgia’s behavior during the crisis based on a report by the OSCE. No official statement has been made by the OSCE, the Times reported on leaked information from the investigators. And the Times itself admits that the leaks prove nothing. The Times report is riddled with eqivocations like “monitoring activities in certain areas at certain times cannot be taken in isolation to provide a comprehensive account” and “disentangling the Russian and Georgian accounts has been complicated” and it offers no evidence at variance with the basic narrative. The paper’s own editorial labels the report “not surprising” and emphasizes that nothing in it in any way excuses Russia’s barbaric invasion of Georgia.
All the Times report does is to question, just like Whewell did, whether the Georgian attack was as “precise” as the Georgians claimed, admitting: “The accounts are neither fully conclusive nor broad enough to settle the many lingering disputes over blame in a war.” There is not now nor has there ever been any question that Georgian actions were far from ideal. That is so in any war. One could easily find Japanese grievances against the United States over Pearl Habor. War is hell. But Georgian forces did not set one toe in Russian territory, and they were attacked by Ossetian rebels, not just in the day before the crisis but for months prior to that, and Russian forces had done nothing to quell those attacks — in failing to do so, they encouraged them to continue. And Georgia lacks the highly sophisticated weapons necessary to conduct “precise” surgical strikes, because NATO has not yet provided them. The Times article is the shoddiest and most pathetic “reporting” on Russia we’ve yet seen from the Gray Lady, and believe us that’s saying something. Jayson Blair is grinning from ear to ear. The story clearly bespeaks the Times’ pathetic desperation for a “big story” as its circulation and stock price go south. It parrots the appeasement rhetoric of those in Europe who would like to plunge their heads in the sand rather than confront the Russian bully, and doing so undermines the fight against Russian aggression — something which the Times has repeatedly been guilty of in the past.