There’s a rather good look at blogland’s attempts to cover strange going ons in faraway lands of which they know little from the chap behind tip-top Central Asia blog Registan, which is well worth reading in full:
“Elite bloggers often portray their analytical and news-gathering skills as equal or (more often) superior to those of professional journalists… But in the case of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Georgia, the blogging world mostly failed to live up to its promises… Days after the fighting began, even normally excellent sources of analysis and insight… were still linking to the same narrow set of news sources —sources that offered little more than thin quotes from government officials. While this isn’t necessarily a knock on, say, Reuters or The New York Times (it takes a little time to get a correspondent on scene), it is a tremendous failure on the part of the blogosphere, noteworthy for precisely how it failed to deliver on its original promise: breaking out of the mainstream media’s tendency toward groupthink.”
It’s hard not to agree with pretty much every word. I’m no Caucasian expert, and wouldn’t call myself a Russia expert either (hell, I’m not sure I’d even count as an EU expert), so these criticisms apply just as much to this place as elsewhere, but still. From skimming the blogs, you’d never get the impression of the complexity and lack of clarity of the situation. You’ll get constant references to the same news sources. The same bland platitudes about sovereignty, territorial integrity, self-determination, Russia’s Cold War mentality and the like – all repeated Chinese Whispers style from some pundit in some paper somewhere, with little secondary thought, criticism or research applied. Hell, some places are still picking up on my pipelines post as if it’s an amazing new discovery that Georgia is a major point of transit for energy resources, rather than something that anyone who knows anything about the region at all has known about for years.
But you know the really worrying thing? It’s when the British Foreign Secretary ends up taking the same approach as the blogs:
“These actions need to be taken in the context of a clear diagnosis of the events of the last two weeks. For me, the fog of war does not obscure the basic points.”
Well, it should – if armed conflict doesn’t make you question your existing policy of containment of one of the belligerents, then what the hell will? The situation has changed from a year ago when Miliband first decided that escalation of the UK’s ongoing post-Litvinenko spat with Russia was the way forward. Russia has moved its troops into a sovereign nation. The Kremlin has gone from vague threats and subversion (via cyber attacks and withholding energy) into physical attacks. This requires new thinking and new approaches – not least because it shows just how ineffective the existing British strategy towards Russia has been.*
Me? I’m just a blogger, not Foreign Secretary – and yet I’m trying to revise my preconceptions of Russia. I’m reading more widely, researching in more depth, trying to work out how this might play out, and what the best options are for both sides. I haven’t got there yet, but I plan to work at it constantly – because the joy of international relations is that they are constantly shifting, affected by myriad factors, many of which are both obscure and obscured. If a week is a long time in politics, a year is an age in international relations. So why is the British government still pursuing the same course with Russia when the rules of the game have shifted once again?
(* Of course, it could also be a sign that the current policy is working fine and that Moscow is beginning to get desperate… But although I’m increasingly firmly in the “Russia is weak and trying to hide it” camp (as is the decidedly more knowledgeable Registan, I was pleased to note), this strikes me as both worrying and wishful thinking.)