Is the Russian-Georgian conflict heating up again?

Sure looks that way. Go over to Information Dissemination and read this post. Here’s a taste:

The low capacity narrow roads leading from Russia into Georgia (one into Abkhazia and another leading into South Ossetia) create immense logistical problems in rapidly deploying large military contingents into Georgia if Moscow opts for a “humanitarian intervention” to bring about “regime change.” The insertion of a sizable marine force with heavy weapons was used last August to bypass the clogged up overland routes and this could prove important again. The Russian military knew beforehand the exact timing of its pre-arranged invasion and fully controlled the pre-war armed provocations by the South Ossetian forces, whereas in the present crisis the situation is much more volatile.

Georgia on my mind

It’s been a while since we looked at the situation in Georgia. Now’s a good time for a review. EU Observer has an update for us that we found courtesy of the Instapundit.

Things are better for Georgia than I would have expected. Truth be told, I was somewhat surprised that Russia didn’t press their advantage and overrun the capital. I would have. They had already forfeited any international goodwill, but there would be no real response from the West in terms of shooting. But for whatever reasons, the Russians held off from invading all of Georgia proper, and while they hoped to topple the government, decided to let that slide.

Now, the EU is doing a surprisingly good job of pushing the Russians back. Since Russia has recognized the independence of South Ossettia and Abkahzia they will balk at leaving them. We’ll see how that goes. I’m just surprised they haven’t kept outposts in Georgia proper.

UPDATE: I tend to agree with MikeD’s analysis below in the comments:

My personal belief is that they stopped at the bridges to Tbilisi because they would have taken much heavier casualties than they were prepared to. Sure they WOULD have taken the city, but they would have paid heavily for it in blood, and Putin would not have wanted the loss of face involved in that. Kicking over an anthill should not cost you a foot. Yeah, you won, but you look stupid now.

Furthermore, holding Tbilisi is great… but the government would have just moved into the southern mountains, and suddenly the Russians are fighting Afghanistan all over again. Plus, at that point, there’s no “peacekeeping” pretense anymore, you’re a conquerer.

Once we had US troops on the ground with “humanitarian aid”, Putin was sunk. He COULD have pushed on at that point, but if he hurt one hair on the chinny-chin-chin of one of our airmen, that’s pretty much an act of war. And contrary to what a lot of folks were saying, Putin’s not really crazy. Evil? Sure. But not crazy.

But the point here is the strategic importance of time. If the Russians had pressed as far and as fast as possible with the intention of deposing the government, I think they could have taken Tiblisi before the Georgian government could evacuate and set up a guerrilla war in the south. But while the Russians were prepped to go into Ossettia and Abkazia, they had no real operational plan past that. It is kind of nice to see that the US isn’t the only ones who have trouble planning past the first push…

Georgia and the Roki Tunnel

I’m seeing a lot of folks asking why the US doesn’t use Stealth bombers or cruise missiles to take out the Roki Tunnel. Simple answer? Too late. That ship has sailed.

The Roki tunnel goes from North Ossettia to South Ossettia and is the only real road connection between them. The thinking goes that if the tunnel were closed, the Russian forces would be cut off from supply and reinforcement.

Indeed, it looks like the Georgians plan was to sieze the tunnel and prevent the Russians from using it. If they had, things might have gone differently. But the Russians were more than prepared for the Georgians. They secured the tunnel before the Georgians could get there. Taking out the tunnel with airpower is virtually impossible without precision guided munitions and thus beyond Georgia’s capability.

So why wouldn’t it make sense to do so now? Because the Russians aren’t foolish enough to stick their necks in the noose. A quick glance at the map below will shed some light.

The map is a few days old and the positions of the forces has changed a little. But notice the large part of western Georgia occupied by the Russians. Also notice that Gori is occupied by Russia, despite their assurances that they are pulling out. The main East-West road in Georgia runs through Gori. And it ends up in Poti which is also under Russian control. Alternatively, there are good roads leading to Abkazia and Russia itself in the northwest. While the map shows Georgian units between Poti and Gori, these are not very significant and the terrain is not very suitable for the defense.

In effect, the Russians have secured a second supply line, running from the Black Sea to the heart of Georgia. That’s why the Russians invaded on the Black Sea coast. Any attempt now to destroy the Roki tunnel would be fruitless.

Georgian Update for Friday

I was trying to get a post together on this, but Kat over at The Castle has done a better job than I was going to do, so just go read her.

The Russians are advancing on Tiblisi while claiming to be observing a cease fire. It appears the Georgians are refusing combat under terms not favorable to them. The Russians are advancing, claiming that they are securing military depots for safety’s sake. Currently, there are reports that they are only a few miles from Tiblisi. While the Georgian army is in no shape to stop this, these gains will be hard to pry from the Russians at the negotiation table. Or the Russians may just decide to advance and seize Tiblisi.

Journalism and War

The profusion of journalists on the battlefield makes it easier to get information in real time about conflicts today. But that comes at a price. We have heard many complaints that US forces target journalists in Iraq. So how come they never have videotape?


h/t Ace

Whether that was a sniper or just a stray round, I don’t know. I suspect stray round, but your guess is as good as mine.


h/t Hot Air

The video refers to a Russian soldier, but I’m thinking this was an Ossettian “militiaman”, based on the beard. Still, it was right in front of a convoy of Russian vehicles. Seems maybe the Russians aren’t as committed to the rights of noncombatants as some would like. Will Code Pink be picketing them?

Diplomatic Blowback for Russia?

I find it interesting that mere days after the Russians began their attack on Georgia, a treaty between Poland and the US that had been stalled is suddenly signed.  This treaty actually goes farther than what had been discussed before. Where earlier versions of the treaty were about installing a missile shield in Poland, this one includes mutual defense provisions beyond that of NATO membership.

Between this treaty, Secretary Rice travelling to Tiblisi, and the leaders of the Baltic states travelling there as well, and the humanitarian assistance arriving, the Russians risk widening a conflict they saw as limited and easy to win. Georgia may well end up surviving this, albeit in a terrible strategic position with Russia in the disputed regions.

Georgian Update

While the Russians claim to have agreed to a cease-fire, they haven’t actaully, you know, ceased firing. Russian forces are in or around Gori and today CNN is showing tape of Russian forces in the Georgian port city of Poti. And while the Russians appear to be able to gain territory, are they achieving their strategic objectives?

Remember, in strategy, merely gaining ground is not the goal. Even gaining ALL the ground is not the goal. The goal is to impose your political will on your oponent. So what are the Russian goals. We see them as threefold:

  1. Depose the current government of Georgia and install one friendly (or submissive) to Moscow.
  2. Discourage other former states of the USSR from aligning themselves with the west.
  3. Show the west as too weak to assist former USSR states.

So how are the Russians doing? The end state is unclear, but my feeling is that the longer this goes on, the less the Russians will gain. Currently Saakashvili is holding rallies with huge numbers of Georgians in attendance. Furthermore, the Presidents of Poland and the Baltic states have all traveled to Tblisi to express support for Georgia. And our President has announced humanitarian assistance to Georgia, to be delivered by the US Air Force and the US Navy. Based on these indicators, it would appear that the Russians have not met their strategic goals, in spite of tactical success on the battlefield.

The humanitarian efforts by the US are interesting. The Russians will likely not dare to interfere with them for fear of widening a conflict that they had planned to be short and relatively painless. They cannot attack airfields or ports that the US is using for fear of causing US casualties during a humanitarian mission. Even the Russians have to give lip service to public opinion. The non-trivial risk of starting a shooting war with US forces is not what they were looking for.

Further, this humanitarian presence makes it less likely that Russia will continue its attack during this putative cease fire. If the Georgians can maintain some territorial integrity over the coming days and weeks, the Russian presence in Georgia will draw more criticism and sanctions from the west. They can hardly continue to claim to be protecting their “peacekeepers” in Ossettia and Abkazia by invading Georgia.

It appears Georgia has been trading space for time. This is a very old tactic and it just may work this time. The Russians were prepared for considerable criticism for their aggression, even building a considerable maskirovka to justify it. But the longer the conflict goes on, the higher the political price they will pay.

As we see it, Russia has very  few days left to conquer Georgia before that price becomes too high. But they may well be able to conquer Georgia in those few days.