Hours after the European Union released a report on the origins of the August 2008 war in South Ossetia, Georgia challenged one of the main findings, saying a Russian invasion was already under way when Georgia attacked South Ossetia, a separatist enclave.
The war in Georgia was always as much about the image presented to the West as it was about the actual tensions between that country and Russia. Nothing symbolizes this more to me than a few pictures I took in Gori while I was there the day the refugees returned.
The gentleman above, along with another guard, were set to protect the main bank in Gori, pockmarked with bullet holes and windows shot out. The town was quiet, with no real likelihood of looting as refugees who had lost everything trickled in on buses provided by foreign aid. But no doubt it was a responsible thing to do in any event, making sure the banks are protected.
Thing is, when I got into Gori, probably no later than 10 am, they weren't there. Nor were they there when I had finished eating with a local family about noon, listening to their story of fleeing to a village where they had relatives, under Russian occupation. The video above is the 47th image I took with my camera after arriving in Gori -- images taken in very quick succession. The bank in question is the large building that I sweep past, with the large electronic screen on it.
It just turned out that these fine guards showed up just about the same time that the international press had done their rounds and returned to the center of town to see the central aid station, set up in the chess school (set up, amusingly, under the watchful gaze of the still-standing Stalin statue). They were a photo op. They were an image. They were another marker of civilized Georgia standing up in the face of Russia.
So of course the two countries will continue to fight over the image -- the borders have shifted, the troop positions are solidifying, but the image war is still hot.