Russia is aggressively trying to spin the invasion of a tiny neighbor Georgia for the purpose of annexing its territory and intimidating its anti-Russian government into doing the Kremlin's bidding or, failing that, to promote domestic insurrection and regime change.
And an American PR firm, headed by a former LA Times editor is happy -- for a price -- to lend a helping hand.
On October 8th last year, the Christian Science Monitor published an op-ed piece by one Lira Tskhovrebova. The writer was identified as "the founder of the Association of South Ossetian Women for Democracy and Human Rights and has worked for more than a decade to improve relations between people of Georgian and Ossetian descent in the Caucasus."
The column began: "I survived the Georgian war. Here's what I saw. I blame Georgia's leaders." It was a strident attack on Georgia, defending Russia's invasion of the small country and annexation of two of its breakaway republics, Ossetia and Abkhazia. Ostensibly, it was written by a human rights activist who viewed the military confrontation objectively.
Days later, Tskhovrebova was exposed by the Associated Press after it received secretly recorded tapes of the woman conspiring to launch a smear campaign against Georgia with members of the Russian KGB. U.S. government officials concluded that the KGB had likely funded her PR offensive in the West, which reached its apex with her CSM broadside, and cancelled official meetings that had been scheduled to further her campaign. The man who helped Tskhovrebova make headway in the US media market was former Los Angeles Times financial page editor Mark Saylor, who left the paper to form his own PR company and had a juicy contract with the Russian puppet regime in Ossetia. Registering as a lobbyist with the U.S. government, Saylor had sworn that "no foreign entity plans, supervises, controls, directs, finances or subsidizes" his client, the government of Ossetia. Saylor was perhaps gilding the Lira on that one, to say the least. It's highly unlikely that tiny regime would come up with the idea of retaining his services, much less be able to pay for them, without help from Russia. Though Tskhovrebova blew up in the Kremlin's face, it would not seem the Putin regime blames Saylor for the fiasco. Fast forward to last week, when the LA Weekly reported that Saylor had a fat new gig (a whopping $30,000 per month) leading a wider and more open pro-Russian PR offensive concerning the Georgia conflict, his gigantic fees being paid directly the Russian Kremlin. Tskhovrebova's web of espionage is a complicated one, and we likely only see the tip of the iceberg even now. Take for instance the story of her close pal, the now disgraced Ryan Grist, a former British officer who became an observer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE observer in Georgia. When the hostilities broke out, Grist suddenly went AWOL from his post and was allowed by Russian forces to waltz right in to the Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, where he met with Tskhovrebova at her home. Within hours, he was launching his own furious PR offensive against Georgia, blaming it for grossly disproportional response in regard to Ossetian shelling of its territory. Georgia's secret police believe Grist, too, was KGB mole. It's not unusual for foreign governments to hire PR firms to help them lie to the world. Georgia too has hired such consultants. What's so insidious and terrifying about Russia's actions is not that it wants to lie, but what it wants to lie about.
Russia's annexation of Ossetia is one thing; there was at least an active military dispute going on there. But what about Abkhazia? Georgian forces did not set foot in Abkhazia, yet Russian tanks still rolled in. Russia has no justification of any kind for that action, a fact its covert PR operatives have conveniently swept under the carpet.
And that's not the worst part. As I've previously reported, Russia's malignant intentions do not stop within what it believes is its "sphere of influence." Russia regularly menaces the U.S. coastline and worldwide military bases with nuclear bombers even though we are doing no such thing to the Russians. Russia is seeking to destabilize the Middle East in order to provoke a rise in oil prices, giving support to Hezbollah, Hamas , Syria and Iran that includes both military hardware and nuclear technology. It is likewise arming the lunatic anti-American dictator of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, and Nicaragua, that seething hotbed of U.S. hatred, is the only nation in the world to recognize Russia's annexation in Georgia as creating independent countries. That's to say nothing of the Kremlin's murderous rampage against civil society, wiping out free speech and snuffing out the lives of the regime's critics in good old fashioned Soviet style. How it is possible that a patriotic American, a former editor of a major American newspaper, would inject himself into this quagmire on the side of the enemies of free speech, the proud clan of KGB spies who populate the Moscow Kremlin? Does Mr. Saylor really believe something nobody in his right mind, and no nation in the world other than Russia and Nicaragua, believes, namely that Ossetia and Abkhazia should be independent nations?
Or does he just believe in the color of Vladimir Putin's money?Kim Zigfeld blogs on Russia at La Russophobe and writes the Russia column for Pajamas Media. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.