On Exhibit, Georgian War And A New Russian Pride

On Exhibit, Georgian War And A New Russian Pride
September 30th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: On Exhibit, Georgian War And A New Russian Pride

On Exhibit, Georgian War And A New Russian Pride
New York Times
September 30, 2008
Pg. 14

By Michael Schwirtz
MOSCOW — The tattered Georgian flags, the NATO-style uniforms and the American assault rifles clutter a small corner of the Russian Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow. They are trophies from Russia’s recent war with Georgia, gathered haphazardly but displayed with a clear message.
“Now people understand who started this,” said Aleksandr K. Nikonov, the museum’s director. And — he did not have to add — who finished it.
Along with the ragtag spoils of war, photographs displayed at the exhibition, titled “The Caucasus: Five Days in August,” portray Russia’s victory over Georgia as absolute. Raw images of mangled and burned soldiers scattered among bombed-out tanks are captioned, “The enemy has been stopped.” Other photos show relieved, war-weary villagers welcoming Russian troops.
This hastily assembled exhibition has a message that goes well beyond rendering a verdict on the Georgian conflict.
Never mind that Russia has suffered a diplomatic bruising after its overpowering incursion into Georgia — which Moscow defends as an emergency response to Georgia’s assault on South Ossetia, the separatist enclave at the heart of the conflict. Or that Russia’s unilateral recognition of independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian enclave, has been condemned around the world.
Never mind all that. After decades of embarrassing military defeats, in Afghanistan in the 1980s and in Chechnya in the 1990s, Russia is once again a winner.
“We can thank the Georgians for a small victorious war; it was helpful for our nation, for Russia,” said Oleg Sergienko, a 38-year-old lawyer who was visiting the exhibition. “For the last 20 years Russia’s sense of identity greatly declined,” added Mr. Sergienko, who fought in one of Russia’s wars, but declined to say which one. “Now there is cohesiveness.”
National pride like Mr. Sergienko’s seems right at home in the 90-year-old Central Armed Forces Museum, an institution honoring Russian military achievement since the early years of the Soviet Union. A large bust of Lenin, bold against an impressive red mosaic of machine-gun toting Soviet soldiers, greets visitors at the door.
The exhibition on the small-bore Georgian conflict, which opened Sept. 9, cannot match some of the museum’s installations about more historic events for inspiring awe. Its cavernous Hall of Victory features a 1,000-pound Nazi eagle taken from Hitler’s Reich Chancellery. The huge mute bird lies cracked amid a pile of swastika-emblazoned banners, memorializing the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War.
Nor are the Georgian trophies as provocative to the American eye as an exhibit a few halls away that features the twisted remains of Francis Gary Powers’s U-2 spy plane, shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960.
Beyond the museum’s walls, the precise origins of August’s short but bloody war remain in dispute, obscured by ethnic claims and counterclaims, realpolitik and competing propaganda. Organizers of the exhibition nevertheless say that it provides stark proof that Georgia, bolstered by Western military training, egged on by Western allies and bristling with Western weapons, attacked a largely defenseless people, forcing a swift and strong Russian response.
“The Georgian Army was given help from Western instructors, including from the United States,” said Mr. Nikonov, who has been the museum’s director for 16 years. “The level of Georgia’s militarization and the amount of money spent on arming its military — this of course was surprising.”
Mr. Nikonov pointed to a list of 13 nations said to have helped to arm Georgia before the conflict, including Ukraine, Israel, France and the United States. Across the room, the contents of a soldier’s rucksack include a workbook titled “Level 4 American Language,” from a military language school at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Four American M4 carbines are also on display. A photograph nearby shows one of several American Humvees that Russian forces confiscated last month in Poti, a Georgian Black Sea port. “It is difficult to look at these things,” said one visitor, Evgeny Ivanov, 66, a former antiaircraft system operator. “There was a time when we were all together,” he added, referring to the Soviet era, when Georgia and Russia were parts of the same nation.
Echoing Russia’s leaders, including President Dmitri A. Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, Mr. Ivanov suggested that Georgia’s Western backers had somehow provoked this war between longtime neighbors.
“Someone dragged them into this situation,” he said.
It is undisputed that other nations, mainly the United States, assisted Georgia’s military: Americans helped train a Georgian unit that fought in Iraq and later in South Ossetia. But the United States government has insisted that its officials repeatedly warned Georgia’s leadership not to confront the Russians militarily.
Still, the exhibition left Russian visitors with the sense that whatever the direct involvement of foreigners, the responsibility for Georgia’s war against Russia did not lie with Georgia alone.
Anna Ryzhova, 22, was pondering photos of bloodied civilian victims of Georgia’s attack on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia.
“I think that while Georgia was being armed, a question should have been asked,” she said. “What do they need these weapons for?”
Georgia plans to open its own war exhibit in Gori, where a Russian aerial attack killed dozens of civilians. It will be housed in a special wing of the museum dedicated to Gori’s most famous son: Stalin.

Similar Topics
NBC To Use 'Civil War' To Describe Iraq
The Battle Over War Powers
500: Deadly U.S. Milestone In Afghan War
After 5 Years, 'Ripples' From The War Run Deep
Is War A Part Of A War Crime?