Russians decry Western "propaganda" over crisis

By Amie Ferris-Rotman

MOSCOW, Aug 11 (Reuters) - The West is drumming up anti-Russian propaganda and its media unfairly portraying Russia during the crisis with Georgia, ordinary Russians, officials and news outlets said on Monday.

Russians say their country is being branded the culprit in the simmering conflict, which erupted last Thursday when Georgia suddenly sent forces to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia, prompting a military response from Russia.

"We are carefully watching how western media is covering the events," Russia's foreign ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov told a briefing in Moscow. He said the ministry was "upset" with the "one-sided" coverage.

"It is very unusual that the Financial Times has stepped aside from its usual balanced reporting over the past few days," he added, referring to the British newspaper.

Russian news agency Rosbalt posted a picture on its website of a bear claw ripping through an outline of Georgia, saying it represented "pro-Georgian propaganda in the Western press".

"Most of the Western press supports Georgia in the conflict and accuses Russia of trying to annex foreign territory. Russia is called an 'aggressor' and a 'militant empire'", it reported.

Western powers appealed to Russia on Monday for an immediate ceasefire after Georgia accused Moscow of pushing troops further into its territory and seeking to overthrow President Mikheil Saakashvili.

"The West is kind of spreading propaganda against Russia. This is not a case of Russia being overly aggressive," 26-year old housekeeper Svetlana, who declined to give her last name, told Reuters near Red Square, which was abuzz with tourists and passersby.

The headline "The Pipeline War: Russian bear goes for West's jugular" in the Aug. 10 issue of Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, was cast by Russian daily Izvestia as "one of lots (of similar headlines) in the West".

"If journalists have already discovered who the guilty parties are, then public opinion is not nearly so straightforward," Izvestia said, in a jab at Western press coverage.

Russia says 1,600 people have been killed in the fighting and thousands more are homeless but these figures are not independently verifiable.

"It is as clear as day that the U.S. is supporting Georgia and propping them up, both with money and on TV. They (the United States) are blaming Russia for something we did not do," said 52-year old bank manager Viktor Ternovoi.

On Sunday, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said "objectivity is not a typical trait of some Western journalists".

Russia and Georgia engaged in a bitter war of words on Monday about their conflict. Moscow insisted it had not moved its troops beyond the territory of South Ossetia and a second separatist region, Abkhazia, and said it would not push further into Georgia.

For some, the West's press coverage favours Georgia, a NATO hopeful with strategic energy transit routes to the European Union, because Saakashvili has links to the United States.

"Saakashvili was put there by the Americans, by American money. He is being paid by the Americans, and America is funding this conflict," said 58-year old Russian Orthodox monk Vladimir, 58, who also refused to give his last name.

"Is it any surprise to you that they (the West) do not like us?"