Thursday, October 01, 2009

Causal Attribution. Where the Tagliavini report plays in the hands of Russia.

According to Entmann, framing essentially involves selection and salience. To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described.[..] Frames, then, define problems – determine what a causal agent is doing with what costs and benefits, usually measured in terms of common cultural values; diagnose causes – identify the forces creating the problem, make moral judgements – evaluate causal agents and their effects, and suggests remedies – offer and justify treatments for the problems and predict their likely effects.
Framing divert attention to certain aspects of the matter too. This brings us to the next level: Causal attribution. Simplified this can be illustrated by Iengard’s study Framing Responsibility for Political Issues:The Case of Poverty. He shows that attitudes for a large portion is created by media framing. The context in which political questions are presented has a significant impact on how people think about them, and how much guilt they attribute to the involved. To be held accountable for a result is largely the same as being the cause of the result.
So when media, in it’s limited formats shouts out with their five words headings that “Georgia started the war”, and leaves out the fact that Russia was creating the pretext of the conflict by numerous provocations, handing out passports to the rebel-republics population on Georgian territory, arming them, sending troops into the republics and so on; the public will attribute responsibility for the war to Georgia, which is, I think most will agree, to stretch the reality a bit far and absolutely wrong, if you read the report and it’s conclusions.
The report therefore should have focused on “what was the reason for the war”, rather than “who started it”. Then the picture would have become more complicated, but still more just. Georgia maybe fired first, and to protect Georgian citizens, but that was in reality a minor part of a largely complex picture. Sooner or later Georgia would be forced to defend itself, and what Russia was after was to replace Saakashvili and to secure an unacceptable sphere of influence in the old soviet territories against NATO expansion. For months they have prepared for this war, analytics like Ilarionov, and the report states clearly.
This is too complexed for the media, which need to simplify their stories and framing. The outfall is: Georgia started the war, Georgia is to blame. Which maybe was the aim for the report, because it is unthinkable that the report would have blamed Russia, as it rightfully should, given the pretext and the political consequences for EU.


Anonymous Russia's war against Tbilisi didn't start with invasion. said...

In a New York Times op-ed published Thursday, the report's lead author, Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, said that Georgia's shelling of the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, was the "proximate cause" for the fighting. The Georgian government hotly disputes this claim, arguing that Russian soldiers were already coming into Georgia on Aug. 7, and thus that it was acting in self-defense.

But whatever the case, the fighting didn't begin in a vacuum. Instead, it was the culmination of years of deliberate and repeated provocations by Russia following Georgia's 2003 "Rose Revolution," which overthrew a pro-Kremlin regime in favor of the pro-Western (and pro-American) government of Mikheil Saakashvili.

Since then, the Kremlin has expelled more than 2,000 Georgians from Russia and raided and shuttered several Georgian-owned businesses. Moscow has also intermittently halted air, land and sea traffic with Georgia, and banned its vegetables, mineral water and wines from the Russian market.

Meanwhile, the price of Russian energy has skyrocketed for Georgia, with the net result being that Georgian exports to Russia shrank 9.9% from 2003 to 2006, while the value of Russian trade to Georgia ballooned by 249%, according to Georgian figures. In 2006, Mr. Saakashvili accused Moscow of setting the pipeline blasts that cut off gas supplies to Georgia and Armenia during an exceptionally cold January.

The final phase of Russia's campaign against Georgia came in the spring of 2008, when Moscow established official ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and followed up with a troop and weapons buildup in the rebel territories. In April 2008 a Russian plane shot down an unmanned Georgian drone over Abkhazia, which even Moscow at the time recognized as Georgian air space. It is difficult to recall that period and not conclude that Russia meant to provoke a war—ideally by goading Mr. Saakashvili into it. Little wonder that when Georgian shells began falling on Tskhinvali, Russian troops were able to "react" in record time.

Ms. Tagliavini's report takes note of this backdrop. Yet it shrinks from drawing the obvious conclusion, which is that this is a war the Kremlin wanted, schemed for, and got. That Mr. Saakashvili fell for this bear trap may reflect poorly on his tactical acumen and strategic judgment. But it does not alter the moral fundamentals.

Nor does it alter the Kremlin's larger purpose, which is to reassemble the pieces of the old Soviet Union in a way that suits its needs. In this sense, the war in Georgia is merely of a piece with Russia's now-routine winter gas offensives against Ukraine, and with a 2007 cyberattack on Estonian Web sites that is widely believed to have come from Russia. In the latter case, the victim was a member state of the EU.

That's something that ought to be of deep concern to Europe, particularly as Russia plays its energy cards with countries ever farther to its west. Perhaps the next time the EU decides to commission a 1,000-page report, it might consider examining where, and how, the Kremlin will pounce next.

Saturday, October 03, 2009 9:14:00 a.m.  

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