James Rodgers (rodgersjamesm) wrote,
James Rodgers
rodgersjamesm

Spying a story

"Chronic anti-Russian spy mania" is among the colourful phrases which today's Russia-Georgia espionage row has scattered across the international media.

The Georgian Interior Ministry has published the names and nationalities of those whom it accuses of working for the GRU (Russian military intelligence). Ria-Novosti's report on Moscow's response contains the dismissive description above. 

Is this news? It is not news to learn that Russia is spying on Georgia. Georgia is presumably spying on Russia too.  The revelation that the two had decided to stop spying on each other - and co-operate in intelligence gathering - now that would be a truly sensational story.

This story is interesting for the way in which it is presented. Ria also reports that the arrests were made last month - so the real news of the day is the fact that the arrests have been made public. Georgia's decision to draw attention to the discovery of the alleged spy ring is more significant than the spy ring's existence.

The publicity which surrounded the detention and eventual expulsion of four Russians accused of spying in 2006 infuriated Moscow, and was a milestone on the road to the war which followed two years later.

Despite the tension which continued to grow in the summer of 2008, few observers correctly predicted that it would lead to conflict. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, Russia's military campaign in Georgia in August of that year seems more like the end of an assertive era of Russian foreign policy, not the beginning  - or step backwards to - an era of renewed Russian militarism it was so often portrayed as at the time. This week, researchers from respected think-tanks in Moscow and London even presented a report outlining ways in which Russia and NATO could work together in the coming years. 

That optimism, careful and cautious though it was, cannot erase the fact that the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and therefore Russo-Georgian relations, is a problem to which there is no obvious solution. Does Russia now regret the haste with which it formally recognized the two territories as independent states? The other diplomatic heavyweights of the world have hardly rushed to open their embassies.

Georgia's political leadership is loathed and mistrusted in Moscow. The mistrust and loathing are mutual.

Good international reporting should seek to keep surprises to its audience to a minimum. Reporters should prepare their readers by covering developments such as this one.

It is very hard to foresee renewed fighting between Russia and Georgia in the short term - but then few people, as I noted above, expected war two years ago. This spy story may be significant. It is worth keeping an eye on.





Tags: russia georgia spies
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