Today's Papers

Message Received

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox all lead with Georgia and Russia agreeing to a provisional cease-fire after five days of war in which Moscow successfully reasserted its power over the region. “The aggressor has been punished,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said. After French President Nicolas Sarkozy secured Medvedev’s signature in the cease-fire agreement, Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, announced he accepted the general terms of the plan. But it’s still far from clear whether the fighting has actually stopped. The WP goes high with claims that Russia continued its bombing campaign even after Saakashvili made his announcement.

USA Todayleads with word that the Transportation Security Administration had been collecting the information of passengers who showed up at airport checkpoints without identification and adding them to a database of people who violated security laws. At first, the head of TSA justified the program saying that potential terrorists might be trying to figure out security weaknesses at certain airports. The program began in late June and apparently stopped yesterday after USAT inquired about it.

Early-morning wire stories report that, at least for now, the fighting in Georgia continues. The head of the country’s national security council said that about 50 Russian tanks entered the Georgian city of Gori this morning. Still, the papers say that by merely accepting the cease-fire deal Russia appears to be stopping short of a full-on invasion of Georgia to overthrow Saakashvili’s government. Even if Moscow doesn’t manage to get rid of a neighboring leader it clearly despises, “Russia has achieved its goals,” says the NYT. The LAT agrees and says that according to most analysts, the peace proposal “left no doubt that Russia won the military conflict of the last several days.”

Under the agreement, troops from both countries are supposed to return to their prewar positions, but the WSJ notes there were hints in South Ossetia yesterday that the Russian army “isn’t leaving soon.” And the peace plan leaves open the question of what will happen with the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The LAT says that after all is said and done, it is likely that Georgia will end up giving up its claims to the two regions. But diplomats aren’t thinking that far ahead for now and are trying to get the fighting to stop first so that detailed negotiations can follow.

While Georgia has often been cast in the last few days as the poor victim of Russian aggression, some of the papers say that Western officials are placing some blame on Georgia’s leaders for launching a military operation in South Ossetia without weighing the consequences. Russian officials say Georgian troops killed 2,000 people, a figure that no one can confirm and analysts believe has been inflated to support Moscow’s contention that Saakashvili is guilty of war crimes.

The WSJ takes a look at some  of the long-term repercussions of the conflict and notes it has created a significant setback to Western efforts to create new routes for oil and gas that bypass Russian control. The WP says that while Russia denies it tried to hit an oil pipeline that crosses Georgia, “craters were visible around the pipeline.” Georgian officials say their country has suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. And even after all the damage has been repaired, “the brief war has dented Georgia’s reputation as a secure energy corridor,” says the WSJ.

In a separate Page One piece, the LAT says that it “took just five days of war to deal a shattering blow to Georgia’s collective psyche.” Georgians were just starting to let go of the idea that they were under constant threat from their northern neighbor, and many thought their newly formed friendship with the United States would help them in a time of crisis. Instead, “they found themselves alone—and facing Moscow’s wrath.” At times, it seemed as though Moscow was just showing off its military might by, for example, quickly overtaking towns in Georgia and then leaving. (On Monday, Slate’s Fred Kaplan  said it’s “infuriating” that the Bush administration convinced Georgia that “if they got into a firefight with Russia, the Americans would bail them out.”)

As much as Georgians might have a new sense of vulnerability, many believe that Russia’s response to Georgia’s military operation was just an excuse to send a message. “I think this was aimed much more to the West, more to Ukraine, Central Asia and the other Caucasus states,” a Russia analyst tells the LAT. Case in point, the WSJ reports that the Polish prime minister said yesterday that his country would need more security guarantees from the United States if it’s going to risk angering Russia by hosting a U.S. missile-defense shield.

Besides the obvious geopolitical implications of the Georgia-Russia conflict, the NYT notes another reason why the war has been historic: “[I]t was the first time a known cyberattack had coincided with a shooting war.” Georgia’s Internet infrastructure began to suffer attacks as early as July 20, and that may have been a mere “dress rehearsal for an all-out cyberwar once the shooting started.” Experts say this trend will continue if for no other reason than it’s an extremely cheap way to disrupt a country. Of course, the Russian government denies that it was behind the cyberattacks.

Everyone mentions news that superstar swimmer Michael Phelps continues on track to break the record for most gold medals in the history of the Olympics—”two more races, two more gold medals, two more world records, cue the yawns,” summarizes the WP. In his short life, Phelps has now won a total of 11 gold medals, which is already a record.

Meanwhile, NBC has been profiting handsomely from Phelps’ success. Predictions that NBC’s nearly $1 billion gamble to air the games wouldn’t pay off have so far been proved wrong as the Beijing Olympics have had the best numbers for any summer games since Atlanta in 1996, notes the LAT on Page One. The LAT adds that although many worried the ubiquity of online video would turn people away from the NBC coverage, it seems the constant online presence of the games only helps feed the Olympics addiction. The WSJ isn’t as optimistic and notes that the remaining 12 days of the Olympics “will reveal how much of this initial success has to do with 1) Michael Phelps; and 2) Michael Phelps broadcast live.” Swimming will be over next week, when attention will switch to track and field, where the athletes aren’t as well-known and the events won’t be broadcast live.

In the run-up to the Olympics, there was lots of talk about how China wanted to put its best face forward for the games. Turns out that was literally true. The NYT fronts, and everyone mentions, the revelation that the girl who supposedly sang “Ode to the Motherland”during the opening ceremonies was actually lip-synching, and the voice heard around the world belonged to another girl who was deemed not cute enough for the cameras. “We combined the perfect voice and the perfect performance,” a musical director for the opening ceremony said. “The audience will understand that it’s in the national interest.”