Friday, August 22, 2008

Georgia War Summary

Part 1
Russian politicians are working on establishing South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations. These two provinces, populated by people who are not ethnic Georgians (the Caucasus has dozens of such groups, which is one reason this is such a violent part of the world) are not large enough to survive economically, and will no doubt eventually ask to become part of Russia. This will annoy the UN, as Russia will have, in effect, taken two provinces from neighboring Georgia, and gotten away with it. Russia has been doing this sort of thing for centuries, and considers it necessary to its national defense, and perfectly all right. This plays well inside Russia, not so well elsewhere.

Part 2
Russian troops began withdrawing from Georgia, slowly. It will probably take them weeks to complete the process. In the meantime, they will continue to loot, and generally punish, the Georgians, in order to let everyone know who calls the shots in the Caucasus, and anywhere along the Russian border. But this punitive operation did not have the desired effect. The Czechs, Poles and Ukrainians all promptly agreed to work with the West to improve their defenses against Russia, and the possibility of becoming "another Georgia". There was much talk about a return to the Cold War. But this time around, Russia is hardly a superpower. Russia has nuclear weapons, but beyond that, their military is decidedly second rate. Against a third rate opponent like Georgia, that's sufficient. But against the West, not so much. Russia's European neighbors appear ready to side with the West, even in the face of Russian threats.

Part 3
The Russian military demonstrated great resourcefulness and innovation during its recent campaign in Georgia. This includes the strategic planning, because the war was a set up. Russia used only one infantry division for the invasion, and had held training exercises in July. The increased border violence by South Ossetian forces caused the Georgians think they could retake the lost (in 1991) province. Less than a day after the Georgian forces entered South Ossetia, the Russian force of over 20,000 troops (including combat experienced Chechen counter-terror units and North Ossetian militia groups) came in. The Georgians were not prepared for this, even though the Russians had been making a lot of noise, for weeks, on the Internet about the growing "crises" in South Ossetia. By August 8th, the Russian Cyber War preparations became evident, as most Georgian media and government web sites were shut down by Russian attacks. It was the Internet version of the blitzkrieg, and a blow to military and civilian morale in Georgia. But on the ground, the combat experience of the Russian troops quickly translated in defeats for inexperienced Georgian troops. Despite several years of training under the supervision of Israeli and American combat veterans, the Georgians were still not as effective as the Russians (who have been fighting in Chechnya for over a decade). Although the Georgian anti-aircraft units brought down some Russian jets, the Russians basically ruled the skies and used that to constantly pick apart Georgian units. It was Russian air power the prevented the Georgians from mounting an effective defense.

Russia told the UN that it would veto any UN attempt to pass resolutions urging Russia to hurry up and get out of Georgia. The Russian success in Georgia was very popular inside Russia, where there has been growing unhappiness over Russias loss of empire and superpower status in the early 1990s. Nationalist politicians are talking about rebuilding the empire. This could get tricky, and is one reason the Russians get so excited when another of their neighbors talks about joining NATO. That organization is designed for mutual defense. You attack one NATO member, you attack them all, and two of them (France left NATO in the 1960s, but is considered an associate member) have nuclear weapons.


Part 4
Russian troops beat the Georgians on the ground, not so much because of superior numbers, but because the Russians had more troops with combat experience, and very recent experience in fighting this kind of war. The Russians got this way by fighting a successful campaign just across the border, in Chechnya. There, several hundred thousand Russians and pro-Russian Chechens have gotten valuable combat experience. The Chechen rebels (a mixture of nationalists, gangsters and Islamic radicals) have been reduced to a few hundred hard core fighters. The Russians basically use Chechnya as a training ground where their "contract soldiers" (volunteers, who are much more effective than conscripts) can get some combat experience. These volunteers are particularly common in paratrooper and commando units. Both were apparently used in the ground operations that pushed the Georgians out of South Ossetia, and conquered key areas elsewhere in Georgia. Some of the "Russian" troops were apparently Chechen paramilitary units.

The Georgian troops had received training and weapons from the U.S. and Israel over the last few years. But the U.S. training was mainly for peacekeeping operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was of limited use against experienced Russian counter-terrorism troops. A small number of Georgians received special operations training, but not enough of these troops were available to defeat the Russian advance.

The Georgians did better in the air and at sea, even though they were greatly outnumbered there as well. Georgian warplanes shot up the Russians pretty badly (killing the commander of Russian ground forces, for example) before the Russians were able to shut down the Georgian air force. But in the process Russia lost at least four aircraft destroyed, and a number of others badly damaged.

At sea, Georgian missile boats hit several Russian warships, which had not been equipped with equipment, or crews, that were capable of dealing with this kind of threat. Two Russian warships were damaged sufficiently that they had to withdraw from the area. Within a few days, however, Georgia's miniscule navy and air force were destroyed, largely by the much larger Russian air force.

The Russians ran a large scale Information War campaign, shutting down Georgian access to the Internet for several days, and blanketing the world media, and Internet, with Russian spin on what was going on in Georgia and why.

The Russians apparently wanted to intimidate the Georgians into electing a less pro-West government. There are some Georgians who are more inclined to do whatever the Russians want, but it's unclear if this faction has a majority of the votes yet. Some Georgians believe that the Russians are still angry about Josef Stalin, a Georgian who killed more Russians than Adolf Hitler. Stalin is still a hero to Georgians.

Russia has now shown itself to be a bully. Russia has been trying to annex two parts of Georgia that border Russia, and this war was all about showing Georgians that Russia would rather fight than give up this land grab. The UN was created to deal with this sort of thing, but Russia is doing well, so far, intimidating the UN into inactivity.

It's not a clear win for the Russians, but, short-term, many things appear to be going their way. Long term, things are rather more murky. Europeans have been reminded that the Russian bully they have feared and despised, for so many centuries, is back in town. That could have interesting consequences down the road.

By StrategyPage

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