Tbilisi's Tail No Longer Wagging the U.S. Dog

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A day after he sent Russian forces into South Ossetia to repel the Georgian army, President Dmitry Medvedev responded to mounting Western criticism by saying the truth was on Russia's side and that, eventually, it would become apparent to the whole world.

That day has finally come, and Russia is vindicated. Its story has not changed and is holding up, while Saakashvili's version is collapsing. Medvedev's credibility is rising.

Recent media reports from the Caucasus have questioned Tbilisi's account of the war. Articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post found that the shelling of civilian areas in Tskhinvali began far earlier than Georgia had alleged.

Monitors from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe said Russian forces entered South Ossetia about eight or 10 hours after Georgia started shelling Tskhinvali and attacking the positions of Russian peacekeepers.

Saakashvili has been exposed as an aggressor and a reckless gambler, who exploited the goodwill of his Western allies and even tried to set them up for a confrontation with Russia. Western leaders are now learning that he lied to all of them.

Saakashvili's arguments for attacking South Ossetia are falling apart, particularly when he invents Russian troop movements that never took place.

Last week's testimony by Georgia's former ambassador to Russia has been particularly devastating. It now appears that Saakashvili and his underlings underestimated Medvedev's resolve. They thought he would never send the Russian Army into Georgia. Medvedev's toughness came as a surprise to them.

Saakashvili has lost credibility with his Western supporters. President George W. Bush's administration, angered by "the Georgian tail wagging the American dog," has now pulled its support for Georgia's Membership Action Plan in NATO. President-elect Barack Obama is likely to be much more demanding of Tbilisi. Saakashvili may be on his way out.

Russia has learned that the best PR strategy is getting the truth out early. In August, the Kremlin showed poor news-management skills. The decision not to allow Western media immediate and unfettered access to the devastation in Tskhinvali was a strategic blunder. Tbilisi's fabrications would have collapsed much earlier had Western reporters been able to interview the victims in Tskhinvali and OSCE monitors right after the cease-fire. The Kremlin should also have put forward an official spokesman for Medvedev with excellent English skills to debunk Saakashvili's lies live on CNN.

The lessons need to be learned.

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government relations and PR company.