Glenn Greenwald's long history of kissing up to the Kremlin

In reality, Georgia’s role in starting the conflict was widely acknowledged—not only by the media, but (for instance) by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a hawk and a strong critic of the Kremlin, who noted in a speech at the German Marshall Fund in September 2008 that “all sides made mistakes and miscalculations.” However, Rice noted some indisputable facts absent from Greenwald’s narrative: that the Kremlin “launched a full-scale invasion across an internationally recognized border,” “established a military occupation that stretched deep into Georgian territory,” and “attempt[ed] to dismember a sovereign country by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

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Clearly, Greenwald’s issue was not that Russia’s invasion of Georgia was being wrongly treated as unprovoked, but that it was being rightly treated as unjustified. We went for another round of debate in which he again conflated the two—and argued that the Russians were cast as the baddies only because they had “lost the propaganda war” to Georgia and the American spin doctors. In reality, the Kremlin had lost that war for a simple reason: the bald-faced lies, particularly about a Georgian “genocide” in South Ossetia which had supposedly claimed 1,500 to 2,000 lives. (Later on, Russia quietly revised the civilian death toll down to about 150; an investigation by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concluded that many of those casualties may have been rebel combatants. Russian allegations of Georgian army atrocities such as execution-style shootings, rapes and targeted killings of children also proved unfounded.)

Rereading those exchanges today, the extent to which Greenwald’s arguments in 2008 parallel his arguments in 2022 is quite striking. Georgia’s struggling democracy, and its quest to free itself from the diktat of the authoritarian leviathan next door, is sneeringly dismissed as a “neocon project.” Shortcomings in Georgia’s democratic governance, such as the temporary shutdown of an opposition television station during a state of emergency in 2007, are touted as evidence that it’s too simplistic to contrast Georgia’s democratic aspirations to Russian authoritarianism. Never mind that in January 2008, Georgia held a presidential election recognized as free, competitive, and generally clean by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe—while Russia’s election of Vladimir Putin’s handpicked heir Dmitry Medvedev in March of that year was a bad farce.

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