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.

Russian Weapons (and Georgian)

For some of the folks who have been stopping by to see the news on the war in Georgia, I thought I might give a little background on the main weapons being used there.

Tanks: Both sides are using various versions of the T-72 series tanks. The T-72 is a 30 year old design that still has some life left in it. You will notice that it is much smaller than a US M-1 tank. The design philosophy behind this tank stressed small size to make hitting it less likely. It also has a three man crew, with a driver, gunner and a tank commander. US tanks have a fourth crewmember, a loader. In the T-72, there is a mechanical autoloader instead. I’ve been inside a T-72 and it is SMALL. I’m not that big a guy, but I couldn’t even get the hatch closed over my head. Once inside, most of the controls are actaully pretty similar to what American tankers are used to. I’m not a tanker and I could figure most of them out pretty quickly.

The T-72 has an impressive 125mm main gun that fires both HEAT and kinetic energy rounds. For more information on HEAT and KE rounds, go here.

The boxes you see mounted on the outside of these tanks are Explosive Reactive Armor or ERA. These boxes contain explosives that detonate outwards when the tank is struck by a HEAT round. The explosion deform the jet of hot gasses that the HEAT round forms and prevent it from penetrating the tanks main armor. We don’t use it much because the M-1 doesn’t need it. Bradley’s can be equipped with it. Strykers use “slat” armor instead. There’s a picture of a Stryker with slat armor at the link above.

In addition to the main gun, the T-72 has a coaxially mounted 7.62mm machine gun and is usually seen with a 12.7mm machine gun at the commanders position.

BMPs: Both sides are using the BMP-2. The original BMP debuted in 1967. After the US fielded the Bradley Fighting Vehicle in response, the Soviets updated the BMP with a 30mm autocannon designed to destroy Bradleys and provide suppressive fires against antitank missile teams and helicopters. It also carries a 7.62mm coaxially mounted machine gun and carries an AT-4 Spigot antitank missile on the roof.

As you can see in the youtube below, this is a fairly sprightly vehicle. Again, it is much more cramped than its US counterpart.


You’ll notice four heads sticking up from the vehicle. That’s the driver, gunner, BMP commander and the guy right behind the driver is the squad leader for the dismount soldiers in back. The second half of the video shows a proposed improvement to the BMP-2 that neither side appears to be using in this conflict.

BTRs: Under the Soviet organizational model, only about a third of infantry units are equipped with BMPs. The other 2/3 are equipped with BTRs, the most common being the BTR-80.

The BTR-80 is roughly analogous to the US M113 armored personnel carrier. It is simply a way of transporting a rifle squad to the battle with some armor protection. The small turret on the roof carries a 14.5mm machine gun that can be used to suppress infantry, antitank missile teams or provide limited antiaircraft fire. Again, they are incredibly cramped compared to US vehicles.

Most of these vehicles are simple and rugged. They do their job quite well and can be operated with minimal training. In the hands of a well trained force, they can be formidable opponents. Just because the US has made short work of enemies equipped with Soviet made equipment, don’t scoff at the quality  of their work. Remeber, these are the same folks who brought us the most popular rifle of all time: the AK-47.

Russian-Georgian War Update

As of this morning, the Soviets Russians have announced a cease fire and claim they have halted attacks on Georgia. Georgia disputes this, claiming the Russians have continued air and artillery attacks on Georgian territory. The current lines are unclear. I have not been able to verify if Russian forces have withdrawn from undisputed Georgian territory, but it looks that way. Russia seems somewhat surprised by the ferocity of the Georgian defense. Rather than standing to fight on ground unfavorable to them, the Georgians have withdrawn to maintain their army intact (if quite bloodied) and to enable them to continue to resist. The Russians appear to have decided that they have secured about all the strategic gain they can at small cost and that further attacks would not be worthwhile.

Rather than be drawn into a protracted campaign in which the Georgians use guerrilla tactics, the Russians will likely consolidate their gains in the disputed territories, effectively absorbing them. They will likely also continue to press for the removal of pro-western President Saakashvili. The head of NATO, however expressed support for Georgia to continue on the path to membership.

Information Dissemination is also reporting that the Russians appear to be maintaining a de facto blockade of the port of Poti.

Russians Take Gori

The Times is reporting the Russian forces have seized the Georgian town of Gori. Gori is outside the disputed regions that Russia is supposedly “protecting.” I had initially thought the Russians would confine themselves to air and naval attacks on Georgia proper, but it appears I was wrong. Will Russia occupy all of Georgia? We’ll see. As I mentioned, Gori is only about 15 miles from Tskhinvali, and from there it is only about 40 miles to the capital, Tblisi. It looks as though Russia may decide to solve this dispute once and for all. Gori sits on the main east-west highway in Georgia, so in effect, the Russians have cut Georgia in two. This does not bode well for Georgia.

UPDATE: Not only have the Russians attacked south from Ossettia, they have attacked from the western region of Abkahzia and seized Georgian towns and bases in western Georgia. Georgia, faced with a two front conflict is at the mercy of Russia. Pleas to the UN will not influence Russia in the least. They have a veto on the Security Council, so there will be no resolution condemning Russia.

The Russian-Georgian War

While I haven’t posted anything on this war yet, rest assured I’m paying attention. There are several problems getting good grip on events, however. There are conflicting stories from both sides over the timeline and events transpiring so far. Not surprisingly, both Russia and Georgia are attempting to control media coverage to produce favorable press. Deciding which parts of the coverage are true is difficult.

A little background. Georgia is one of the many smaller states that broke away when the Soviet Union collapsed. Falling under the nominal control of Georgia were two regions, South Ossettia and Abkahzia. Both regions were ethnically different from the Georgians. The Russians have long supported separatist movements in both regions, extending Russian passports to any residents who wanted them. They also encouraged these separatists to use violence in the furtherance of their goals, then stepped in with Russian troops as peacekeepers in both regions as a solution to the violence. Separatists in South Ossettia continued attacks on Georgian troops under the cover of these Russian peacekeepers. Georgia, which has been strongly aligned with the west since its independence, decided to attack the capital of South Ossettia, Tskhinvali, hoping the opening of the Olympics would distract world attention. Their operational security was poor. The Russians were clearly prepared, and by the end of the first day, large Russian units had crossed into South Ossettia and began pounding Georgian units. Georgia’s plan had been to secure Tskhinvali and block the only road into the area before Russian units could reach the area. They failed largely as a result of their lack of surprise. Knowing full well that the Georgian attack was coming, the Russians were able to inject their forces into the region and secure their lines of communications into the area (by lines of communication, we mean supply routes, not phone lines and such). The Russians also felt no compunction about confining the conflict to South Ossettia. They used artillery and airpower against Georgian positions inside Georgia and attacked the airfields the tiny Georgian air force could use.

The Russians also moved to open a second front, by mobilizing the Abkahzian separatists and moving troops into Abkahzia and engaging the Georgian’s tiny navy in the Black Sea.

Georgia has clearly bitten off more than it can chew. They have withdrawn from South Ossettia and are defending the town of Gori. Their entire navy consisted of two missile boats, one of which has been sunk by the Russians as of Sunday. There are unconfirmed reports that the Russian have sunk two vessels.

This graphic shows just how small the area is. The line from Tskhinvali to Gori is only 17 miles. It is about another 30 or so to the capital of Georgia, Tblisi.

This second image is a wider view of the top, showing the position of Georgia on the Black Sea. Abkahzia is in the Northwest corner of Georgia.

And I stole this map from the excellent Information Dissemination, who has been all over this conflict. While he has a naval slant towards this, he also has great links to the war as a whole.

One of the big problems the Georgians face is that they have a tiny army, only about 26,000 strong. And 2000 of those troops are in Iraq fighting alongside us there. The Georgian government has asked the US to move those troops back to Georgia. Here’s a graphic showing the size of the Georgian forces and the size of the Russian forces:

While the Russians obviously haven’t put their whole army into this fight, they have much larger reserves to move to the battle. Once the Georgians deploy their army, that’s it. That’s all they have. And it would be a mistake to think that the Russian forces are the same ones who fared so badly in the first Chechyan war. These are the soldiers who won the second Chechyan war. They are far better trained, and thanks to Russian petrodollars, are far better equipped. The Georgian forces, while using Soviet equipment, are stuck using older, less effective versions.

The Georgians have pretty much been defeated in South Ossettia. The question becomes, what next. Will the Russians attempt to overrun Georgia itself? Probably not. While they have the forces to do so, it is not likely their intention. They can achieve their goals without doing so. Will they instigate a fight in Abkahzai? Quite possibly. If they do, there isn’t a whole lot the Georgians can do about it.

So what are the Russian goals? Russia has long seen the Georgian alignment with the West as a major thorn in their side. By undertaking this limited operation, they have weakened Georgia without any real risk of intervention by the Western nations. DrewM over at Ace’s tells us that one political goal is the removal of Georgia’s pro-western President, Mikheil Saakashvili.

In addition, the Russians have sent a message to a lot of other small nations that once fell under their sway. First, play ball with Russia, or you too might suddenly find yourself with  a “separatist movement.” Second, they have demonstrated that they are willing to use naked force to achieve their goals, and world opinion be damned. Third, those small nations have been put on notice that the West, in the form of NATO and the EU will not lift a finger to help them.

UPDATE: Of course, Castle Argghhh! has a great post on this topic. Be sure to check out this map from the comments.