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Russia Says U.S. Media Finally Got Georgia Story Right

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- Moscow's UN envoy praised "The New York Times" on November 13 for challenging Georgia on assertions that Russia started their brief war in August, saying U.S. media had finally got the story right.

"It took three months for the U.S. media to start telling the truth about the August war in the Caucasus," Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said in a letter to the editor of "The New York Times," excerpts of which were published on November 13.

"Indeed, as the article notes the war was started by the Georgians under a false pretext on the night of August 7," he wrote in the full version of the letter. "Civilians and Russian peacekeepers were immediately attacked."

Georgia's ambassador to the United States, Vasil Sikharulidze, dismissed the idea that the information in the "Times" article had settled the dispute over how the war began.

Russia invaded Georgia in August to thwart an attempt by Tbilisi to reestablish control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which has since declared independence along with another breakaway enclave, Abkhazia.

Both sides accuse the other of sparking the five-day war, which resulted in a humiliating defeat for Georgia.

Moscow has repeatedly criticized Western media for what it says was biased reporting. Churkin has suggested that the UN secretariat helped spread "disinformation" about what Russia was doing in its war with the former Soviet republic.

The "Times" article cited unnamed sources familiar with the observations of monitors working for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a 56-state body based in Vienna, that called into doubt Tbilisi's assertions that its August 7 attack on the South Ossetian capital was defensive.

Instead, the November 7 article says "the accounts suggest that Georgia's inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on August 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm."

Inconclusive Accounts

The exchanges of insults between the United States, which accused Moscow of trying to oust Georgia's pro-Western leadership, and Russia, which accused Tbilisi of genocide in South Ossetia, were reminiscent of the Cold War.

Churkin said the observations of the OSCE monitors, which the "Times" article says are "neither fully conclusive nor broad enough to settle the many lingering disputes over blame," had been unfairly withheld from OSCE member states.

"The truth undermines not only the Georgian claims on the war, but also the entire premise of the vicious 'Russian aggression' campaign that was conducted in Washington and some other capitals," he wrote.

Georgian envoy Sikharulidze said the jury was still out. "There is evidence of Russia's long-term plans to invade Georgia," he wrote to the paper. "The bombings, airspace violations and many other armed Russian provocations in the months before the invasion have been chronicled."

He added that the world would benefit from a "transparent, international investigation, rather than piecemeal reports based on incomplete evidence."