Criticizing John McCain’s response to the brief war between Russia and Georgia last August, I wrote:
It is, of course, possible to be appalled at Russia’s aggressive actions in the conflict without turning Georgia and its government into blameless democratic heroes.
For suggesting that the government of Mikheil Saakashvili may have been at least partly responsible for the outbreak of fighting, I was righteously condemned as naive (at best) by some commenters.
However now The New York Times reports:
Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression.
Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.
The monitors were members of an international team working under the mandate of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or O.S.C.E. A multilateral organization with 56 member states, the group has monitored the conflict since a previous cease-fire agreement in the 1990s.
The observations by the monitors, including a Finnish major, a Belarussian airborne captain and a Polish civilian, have been the subject of two confidential briefings to diplomats in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, one in August and the other in October. Summaries were shared with The New York Times by people in attendance at both.
According to the monitors, however, no shelling of Georgian villages could be heard in the hours before the Georgian bombardment. At least two of the four villages that Georgia has since said were under fire were near the observers’ office in Tskhinvali, and the monitors there likely would have heard artillery fire nearby.
Moreover, the observers made a record of the rounds exploding after Georgia’s bombardment began at 11:35 p.m. At 11:45 p.m., rounds were exploding at intervals of 15 to 20 seconds between impacts, they noted.
Before anyone accuses me of being an apologist for the Russian regime, let me say that my default wish last summer was to be able to agree with McCain that the war was a case of unprovoked aggression by a would-be imperial power against a gallant little little democracy (in fact Saakashvili’s democratic credentials are rather tarnished). And as I said last August, Russia’s reaction was clearly brutal and excessive, and Georgia’s sovereignty must be protected regardless.
But watching again McCain’s simplistic response to the war gives me one more reason to be pleased that he lost the election.