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August 10, 2008
'Why Georgia Lost the War'
StrategyPage.Com weighs in with an excellent article on the conflict in Georgia where it appears the Russians have successfully kicked the Georgian army out of South Ossetia and is continuing its assault. This is raising fears that Putin may undertake a full scale invasion and crush the little Georgian army while affecting political changes in Georgia more to Moscow's liking - like getting rid of its pro-western government and replacing it with a gang more amendable to Putin's ministrations.
This from the New York Times
Russian troops that had poured into the disputed territory of South Ossetia moved to enclave's boundary with Georgia on Sunday, witnesses said, as the conflict appeared to be developing into the worst clashes between Russia and a foreign military since the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Overnight, Russia landed ground troops off of warships into the disputed territory of Abkhazia and broadened its bombing campaign to the Georgian capital's airport.
The Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe said Georgia was ready to negotiate a ceasefire, but a top Russian defense official said no formal offer had been received.
Georgian authorities said Sunday morning that they expect Russian attacks to come on three fronts - from Gali and Zugdidi, two spots on the Abkhazian border, and from Ossetia, according to Gigi Ugulada, the mayor of Tbilisi. They also expect more bombing on the Kodori Gorge, the only part of Abkhazia that remains under Georgian control.
Witness reports from the border between South Ossetia and Georgia suggested that Russian forces had moved up to the winding, disputed boundary line.
Apparently, the Russians have not moved into Georgia itself - yet. But reinforcements have arrived by ship in the other breakaway province of Abkhazia and there are reports of artillery being fired into border villages.
In effect, Putin has Georgia by the short hairs and could dispatch the Georgian army at his leisure.
But as StrategyPage.Com points out, it is unlikely Putin will go all the way and invade Georgia proper - this time
Meanwhile, Georgian soldiers quoted in the Times story are asking where American and NATO help is. The fact is, NATO has made Georgian membership dependent on resolving the situation with the two break away provinces. Georgian President Saakashvili came into office promising to reunite with the provinces but as long as Russia has, in effect, annexed them, it is not likely any military solution will be found. All the US and NATO can do is urge diplomacy which may be unsatisfactory to Georgia but only reflects the realities in that part of the world. Putin holds all the military cards and confronting Russia over Georgia is not in NATO's playbook.
The principal reason for the military build-up is the secessionist regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Georgians wanted the option of trying for a military solution. There are also some Russian troops, leftovers from Soviet Union era garrisons, still in the country. Georgia has been trying get all the Russian soldiers out since the Soviet Union collapsed (and Georgia became independent once more) in 1991. But the Russians have come up with a long string of excuses for delaying a final pullout. To make matters worse, several thousand of those troops are "peacekeepers" in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. To most Georgians, the Russian peacekeepers are there mainly to keep the rebel regions free of Georgian control.
It's not yet clear what the Georgian government was thinking when they allowed the border skirmishing to escalate to a military effort to restore government control over South Ossetia. It didn't work, as the Russians promptly counterattacked and drove the Georgian troops out of South Ossetia. The Georgians can try a guerilla war, and hope that their new relationship with the United States and the European Union will add some measure of protection. That's a false hope. The Russians have made it clear during the last few years that any real, or imagined, Western influence or interference in nations that border Russia (what the Russians call the "near-abroad") will be opposed with lots of noise, followed by some firepower. The recent events in Georgia are an example of that, an example the Russians hope the West takes seriously, even if the Georgians don't.
Russian politicians have been playing the nationalism card, catering to widespread feelings that the Soviet Union should be restored. Most Russians never cared for the communist dictatorship, but they did like being a superpower. The Russians also feel that those fourteen nations that split off when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, left Russia surrounded by a lot of unstable and vulnerable nations. This sounds paternalistic and paranoid to Westerners, but not to Russians. And the Russians are willing to use force to back up these attitudes, as the Georgians just discovered. Russia still has nukes, and some Cold War attitudes that make for a potentially very dangerous situation.
This action may have caused Georgia to have finally realized it will never be able to reunite with South Ossetia or Abkhazia using a military solution. If so, President Saakashvili may have learned a valuable lesson about the extent to which the west wil help him regain his lost provinces and, in the interest of peace and stability, begin negotations of their status.