Russia Confronts NATO and the US

Last Friday, another act of war took place in the skies over the Caucasus, when a Russian aircraft violated the Republic of Georgia's airspace and was fired on by the country's air defense forces.  Prior to this latest incident, Russia violated Georgian airspace no fewer than three times within as many weeks, including one instance of a deliberate missile attack against a Georgian-NATO radar site. 

We can no longer whitewash the obvious: Russia is now conducting a low-intensity conflict in the Caucasus in its bid to turn back NATO expansion and to maintain connections to terror-supporting states.

Rather than become full partners with the Coalition in the War on Terror, Putin's decrepit and corrupt regime is dedicated to maintaining profitable Cold War financial arrangements, while desperately seeking to reestablish some semblance of the old Soviet order by vigorously opposing the US missile defense shield.  Russian generals who bully our new European partners over hosting a key Eastern European radar site get the most attention.  Less obvious, and completely overlooked by the drive-by media, is Putin's focus on Georgia, since it holds the Eurasian geo-political ace-in-the-hole.

The Russian official reaction to the claims that SU-24M Fencer fighter-bombers deliberately fired an anti-radar missile at a Georgian radar site in early August has been a classic revival of Cold War, Soviet-era denial.  Unfortunately for Putin and his wayward air force, the findings of an independent panel looking into the attack expose the Russian deception.

The Second Independent Inter-governmental Expert Group (IIEG-2) was composed of military and weapons systems professionals from Estonia, Poland and the UK.  It was important to have people well-versed in Soviet/Russian aircraft to debunk any attempts by Russia to cover up its role in the attack.  The group included Brigadier General Vello Loemaa, a former Su-24 (24M) pilot, Major Andrzej Witak, an Su-22 pilot from the Polish Air Force Command, and Mr Kim Baker, a missile systems expert from the UK Ministry of Defense.

Among the key findings of the panel:
  • Georgian airspace was violated three times [emphasis added] of 6 Aug 07 from by aircraft flying to from Russian airspace.
  • The missile was launched towards the Gori radar site at a range of approximately 10 km from the radar site.
  • If the target was the radar site, the missile was launched at near minimum range.
  • Immediately after missile launch the radar crew acted defensively and using combat procedures turned the radar transmitter off.
  • The missile impacted on Georgian territory about 5 km short of the radar site without exploding.
  • The missile was a Russian built Kh-58U anti-radiation, air to surface missile [known by NATO code name AS-11 Kilter].
The report renders moot the three main Russian arguments that attempted to shift the blame for its deliberate acts of aggression.

First, the experts on the panel checked all 10 of the Su-25 aircraft in the Georgian Air Force inventory at the Maranuli AFB and found that they are not capable of carrying the Kilter.  Even the most modern version of the plane upgraded by Elbit from Israel cannot carry or fire the missile.

Second, the radar tracks and interviews with the crew of the 36D6-M radar (NATO name TIN SHIELD) positioned near Gori were equally damning. The panel found from the recordings,
...that the [Russian] aircraft did not have its on-board transponder activated, as there were no responses to the interrogations from secondary radars in range.  This means that the secondary radars were unable to detect and therefore track the aircraft. [emphasis added]
The last statement is critical in that under the guise of cooperating with the investigation, Russia provided its own air picture to refute the charges.  However, the data was only from its own secondary radar of civilian type which would not display tracks of military fighters that had shut off their transponders. The Georgian military radar, which is up to NATO standards, had no problem tracking the Russian fighter-bomber.  The Russians' habit of pointing the finger back at the victim of the attack was therefore revealed as a public relations gimmick.

Third, an examination of the remnants of the missile revealed that this was not an accident.  The rocket motor was fully burnt, which meant that the missile was actually fired and not jettisoned during an emergency.  The markings of the warhead also,
...indicated a manufacturing date of October 1992.  Thus the missile was built for the Russian Federation rather then the Soviet forces [emphasis added].

Since the missile attack, Georgia's integration into NATO and its command and control structure has been accelerated.  One day after the findings of the investigation were released, the Georgian Ministry of Defense reported that  its forces are joining the NATO Air Situation Data Exchange (ASDE) system through the Republic of Turkey.  The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is in the final review process, and once signed, equipment and systems will be installed and tested.  The ASDE "manages the controlled exchange of air picture data by filtering the NATO picture in such manner that it is releasable to partner nations."

Georgia's pending NATO membership and its role in the NATO air defense system puts Russia at a further disadvantage geo-politically, and places Putin in a risky position in relation to satisfying the military and economic needs of his client states.  As he sees it, his only recourse is to up the ante by playing a potentially deadly game of cat and mouse in the hopes that NATO will reverse course in the Caucasus.  Additionally, he is trying to pump up nationalistic feelings of the Russian people prior to Presidential elections next March with an aggressive stance against the West.  But there is another overlooked factor in all of this.

Come this fall, Georgia's commitment to the Coalition in Iraq will increase dramatically.  Instead of one infantry battalion helping to secure the Green Zone, an entire combined arms brigade of over 2,000 Soldiers will deploy on the Iraq-Iran border to stop the infiltration of Iranian forces into the country.  Georgia versus Russia in the north and Persia in the south is a centuries old conflict that usually resulted in the small kingdom coming out on the short end of the stick.  Once again, Georgia is the key to derailing the schemes of its two powerful neighbors.  The country's national pride is at stake, so this mission is personal.  And so is Putin's goal of stopping them.

Douglas Hanson is national security correspondent of American Thinker.