It would seem that the Post's authors have spent the whole summer in a state of premonition of a new Russian-Georgian war. Persuaded by a bunch of professional Cassandras that another attack of "increasingly aggressive" Russia on "democratic, pro-Western" Georgia was imminent, they apparently filled their laptops with war stories and were just waiting for the first signs/sounds of military activities to release them.
Here we have Philip Pan's August 2 article, "Tensions flare up in Russia, Georgia. Moscow says South Ossetia was attacked." Sounds like a promising beginning of a series of battlefield reports, doesn't it? (True, Pan took time to write, on August 6, about two Russian submarines spotted off the East Coast of the United States. But giving his interpretation of this event as a "more assertive Russian military posture", one cannot accuse him in taking his eye off the ball.)
But the war never materialized, and the the Post's journalists had to adjust to the uneventful reality. Dispatched to the presumed war zone, Sarah Marcus switched gears and filed a report about the daily struggle of thousands of refugees who fled last year's hostilities to settle in refugee camps in Georgia. Picking up the war theme again, Pan described the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's August 12 trip to Abkhazia.
The editorial coverage of the first two August weeks hasn't been impressive, either. Predictably enough, Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, was allowed, on August 6, to repeat the very same lies about the causes of the Five Day War he has been telling to the rest of the world since August 2008. However, hardly coincidentally, in an op-ed published the next day, Howard Berman, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, cold-showered the Georgian president by criticizing the country's democratic developments under Saakashvili. The headline of the article, "Georgia's unmet promise", nicely summarizes what Berman had to say on the subject.
The Russophobic prima donna, Anne Applebaum, made her solo appearance on August 11 with an opus titled "A good month for bad news." One doesn't have to be an oracle to figure out what Applebaum considers good "bad news." But having been deprived too of a possibility to express her outrage at another Russian "invasion" of Georgia, Applebaum had to settle for less: on blasting the Obama administration for its lack of a Plan B in its relations with the Kremlin. "What if Russia invades again?", rhetorically asked Applebaum. Well, I can answer this question: the diva will be busy for another season.
The month of August hasn't been gentle to Applebaum in any way. Later in the month, reporting on the commemoration in Gdansk, Poland, of the beginning of World War II, she couldn't wait to castigate Russia for its unwillingness to acknowledge the wrongs of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. But the article in Gazeta Wyborczapublished by Putin on the eve of his trip to Poland — presenting a balanced and respectful to Polish sensitivities point of view — has sucked the air out of Applebaum's piece, reducing it to yet another round of babbling about "Russia's aggression toward its neighbors."
Philip Pan regained his footage by covering increased violence in the North Caucasus region, including the slaughter of the head of a children's charity in Chechnya, Zarema Sadulayeva, and a suicide attack on a police station in Nazran, Ingushetia, resulting in more than 20 deaths. (Moscow Carnegie's Masha Lipman attempted to boost Pan's reports with her explanation of the roots of the violence in the region — with "the Russian government" and Ramzan Kadyrov being named as usual suspects – but after reading Pan's energetic and colorful stories, Lipman's habitually bland narrative felt like drinking Miller Lite after Baltika №6 (Porter)). Showing his remarkable ability to multitask — and to do solid homework — Pan wrote an insightful article on Russia's legal system and touched upon the bizarre story of the Arctic Sea freighter.
Finally, Tim Johnston reported on the rejection, by a court in Thailand, to extradite to the United States the Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, whom the U.S. authorities suspect in illegal arms trafficking.
Curiously, this court decision was the topic that inspired the only (!) Post's Russia-related editorial of the month. Predictably, the Post's editors didn't like the court decision, for it nullified the results of a brilliant sting operation by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Moreover, the Post's editors expected "…Mr. Bout telling American authorities what he may know of the Kremlin's possible ties to illegal arms trafficking." The Post's editors apparently reasoned that by having Mr. Bout in the U.S. and applying to him "enhanced interrogation techniques", obtaining evidence of the Kremlin's criminal activities would be a slam dunk.
The Council on Foreign Relations' Stephen Sestanovich contributed the only piece of serious analysis. In an op-ed published on August 6, Sestanovich criticized the Obama administration's handling of its relations with Russia. He accused the president in placing too much emphasis on nuclear arms negotiations with Moscow, arguing that "the strategic nuclear balance [is in] the heart of Russia's claim to be a great power." (One can often hear this argument that Russia clings to its nuclear arsenal only in order to feel itself a great power. I would challenge everyone, including Sestanovich, to come up with a statement made by a Russian leader saying something to that effect. In the recently published President Medvedev's "liberal manifesto", the Russian president invokes Russia's greatness on a number of occasions, but never in connection with nuclear weapons).
Sestanovich argues that instead of getting closer with Russia, the U.S. would do better providing support, including military training and equipment, to Russia's neighbors in order "to increase their independence from Moscow." It will be certainly up to Sestanovich to explain which U.S. national interest will be served by further militarization of the post-Soviet space.
As for Sestanovich's implicit suggestion to isolate or even deter Russia instead of engaging it, we'll surely see a lot of those on the Post's pages in the weeks and months to come.