The New Observer Media Comment Propaganda Case Study

Propaganda Case Study

This one is a Guardian report on a memoir by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. It seems that Sarkozy has grasped the outline of the only possible deal that would lead to permanent peace. This is not a popular outcome in Western government and media circles.

“Russia has to renounce all military action against its neighbours … Ukraine must pledge to remain neutral … Nato could at the same time affirm its willingness to respect and take into account Russia’s historic fear of being encircled by unfriendly neighbours.” He described the return of Crimea to Ukraine as “illusory”.

This too will not have gone down too well:

In an advance copy obtained by the Observer, Sarkozy goes further, describing both sides of the conflict sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “belligerents” and criticising EU and US support of Kyiv.

This is the deceitful paragraph:

Jérôme Poirot, a former intelligence advisor to Sarkozy, said his comments were “shameful” and a rewriting of history. Sarkozy claims France and Germany had helped avoid a third world war by recognising Putin’s “red lines” over national borders and vetoing Ukraine and Georgia joining Nato in April 2008. Poirot said the former president had failed to understand how damaging his talks with the Kremlin had been; four months later, Putin sent tanks into Georgia, and four years later invaded Crimea.

In 2008 the US wanted to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO – at least issuing a formal membership plan. France and Germany understood that this was a bad idea and vetoed it, but (weakly), allowed the more vague and general commitment to be made about eventual membership. As John Mearsheimer points out Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO are/were red lines for the Kremlin. The US-Ukraine strategic partnership agreement in 2021 which reaffirmed the commitment to having Ukraine in NATO was probably one of the main causes of the current war. The implication of “four months later, Putin sent tanks into Georgia” is that France showed weakness and this was why Putin “sent tanks into Georgia”. This is probably an inversion of reality, The 2008 Russo-Georgia war was started by Georgia. (According to an EU report [1]). Georgia, probably emboldened by the promises of eventual NATO membership, thought that they could attempt to take back the disputed territory of South Ossetia which was then occupied by Russian peacekeepers. From this point of view, the truth is the exact opposite of Jérôme Poirot’s version; it was US/NATO plans to bring Georgia into the alliance which led to the war. Just as the US renewed commitment to bring Ukraine into NATO in 2021 was a major cause of the current war. As Mearsheimer frequently points out, when Russia said “red line” they meant it. It is not difficult. Just as it is a red line for the US to keep foreign military alliances out of their part of the world.

The piece finds 3 quotes from people criticising Sarkozy but only a general statement that his views are not uncommon in France. The final quote is from a former President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves:

After his own 2008 Georgia ‘peace plan’, which he himself scuppered a month later to restore the EU-RU cooperation agreement, he’s France’s most mendacious postwar foreign policy president. On Russia, venal as hell. Why take this clown seriously?

This appears to be the peace agreement referred to. It appears to have helped to end the fighting, although the terms did not satisfy everyone. Specifically it seems it was not welcomed by Estonia, Poland and Latvia. [2] There was an EU – Russia cooperation agreement, which was signed in 1994 and which expired in 2007. What the former Estonian President is probably referring to when he says “scuppered” is that shortly after the Russo-Georgian war ended the EU started new partnership talks with Moscow. [3] It is the Baltics which are now taking the most aggressive line against Russia. In essence then, we have the slightly more ‘moderate’ position of the central Europeans who believe that in the end the EU and Russia will have to work out how to co-exist (which view is now largely eclipsed, sadly) standing in contrast to the belligerence of the Baltics, who reject compromise.

The main idea of the Guardian piece is to report Sarkozy’s views but to give plenty of space to people to shoot them down. This is an example of how the narrative is managed. They have mentioned the counter view (the EU should establish better relations with Russia and accept that Ukraine should be neutral and Crimea stay with Russia) and thus this is ‘open’ media, but the writer has made sure the dominant message is the one given by the three critics of this view. The last word is that Sarkozy is a “clown” for suggesting what is, in fact, the only possible recipe for a peaceful settlement.


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