My readers will have observed that I talk about Georgia a lot when ostensibly talking about Russia. There’s a reason: for two decades Georgia has been the favourite stick with which to beat Russia; for two decades we have been told Moscow is trying to eat Georgia; for two decades Georgia has been the contrast to illustrate what Russia could be if it weren’t so Russian; for two decades Georgia has been painted as the victim of Moscow’s worst impulses; for two decades Westerners have believed everything from Tbilisi and nothing from Moscow. A cornerstone of the anti-Russia edifice indeed and the “mine canary” of Russian intentions.
For two decades Russia has been interpreted through memes; assumptions deemed so true as to need no evidence; assumptions that reveal the facts that prove them; assumptions so resistant to reality that they create reality; assumptions that are non-falsifiable. Of the many memes three important ones are: Moscow wants its empire back; Moscow wants to control energy routes; Moscow hates democracies. Georgia was the perfect demonstration: formerly part of that empire, it had a pipeline route and was a stout democracy. QED. Facts were hammered to fit the memes. I have set the larger argument out in The Fire Below ($10 e-book).
We were told three things about Saakashvili’s Georgia (Shevardnadze, fêted in his day as a great democrat, was immediately forgotten). It was a true democracy improving in all ways, as true democracies should, not least economically; Saakashvili had courageously taken a serious bite at corruption; Georgia was a true ally of the West – worthy indeed of NATO membership and a proud contributor to the War on Terror. These Georgian merits were contrasted with Russian deficiencies: Georgia was a democracy, Russia wasn’t; Georgia was overcoming corruption, Russia was sunk in it; Georgia was an ally, Russia was an enemy, of us but especially of our new Georgian friend. Western media, Western politicians lapped this stuff up.