Streetwise Professor

September 10, 2008

Chronologies III

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:41 am

Here are some more details regarding the timing of events on August 7-8.

From a Georgian government timeline:

At 23:30, Georgian Government receive multiple human intelligence reports that about 150 armored vehicles and trucks with Russian soldiers are approaching the Roki Tunnel from Russia and moving towards Tskhinvali. Multiple signal intercepts of separatist security and military officials at around 3am and later confirm that columns are stretched from Roki to Java. (Sigint)*.

At 23:50, for the first time, and in response to the entry of Russian armed forces into Georgian sovereign territory, Georgian armed forces enter military action ­using armor, including tanks, 122mm howitzers, and 203mm self-propelled artillery system Dana.

At approximately 00:45 on August 8, Georgian forces fire artillery rounds at the invading Russian forces on roads being used by a Russian column already moving south of the Roki Tunnel.

From a somewhat even-handed piece (though it tends to favor the Russian interpretation in its failure to discuss key issues) in Der Spiegel:

On the same day, a maneuver called “Caucasus 2008,” under the command of high-ranking General Sergei Makarov, the commander of the northern Caucasus military district, began on Russian territory north of the Caucasus ridge, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The exercise included 8,000 troops from all branches of the military. Troops with the 76th Air Landing Division, from Pskov, conducted their exercises openly on a military training ground in the Daryal Canyon, not far from the Roki Tunnel to South Ossetia — the eye of the needle between Russia and Georgia.

According to claims coming from Moscow, Russia’s troops in the field were prepared to “come to the aid of the Russian peacekeepers” stationed in South Ossetia. The government in Tbilisi was quick to respond, noting that it was unaware of a “right to conduct any actions on Georgian soil.”

Western intelligence agencies observed that, after the July 30 end to the “Caucasus 2008” exercises ended, the dispatch channels set up by the Russians were kept in place, hardly the usual practice following military exercises. Furthermore, the 58th Army remained in a state of heightened readiness. For US intelligence, with its arsenal of spy satellites, reconnaissance
aircraft and unmanned drones, this should have been a reason for concern.

More from D-S:

According to Western observers, by the morning of Aug. 7 the Georgians had amassed 12,000 troops on the border to South Ossetia. Seventy-five tanks and armored personnel carriers were in position near Gori. In a 15-hour blitzkrieg, the tanks were to advance to the Roki Tunnel to seal it off. At that point, there were only 500 Russian soldiers and another 500 fighters with the South Ossetia militia armed and ready to defend Tskhinvali and the surrounding area. At 4:06 p.m., the South Ossetian authorities reported that Tskhinvali had come under attack from grenade launchers and automatic weapons. Fifty minutes later, they reported “large-scale military aggression against the Republic of South Ossetia.” According to Western intelligence sources, the Georgian artillery bombardment of Tskhinvali did not begin until 10:30 p.m. on that Thursday. It was orchestrated by 27 Georgian army rocket launchers capable of firing ordnance with a maximum caliber of 152 millimeters. At 11 p.m., Saakashvili announced that the goal of the operation was the “re-establishment of constitutional order in South Ossetia.”

A Disastrous Decision

During his invasion, the Georgian president relied primarily on infantry units that had to advance along major roads. At 11:10 p.m., the Georgian side informed the general in charge of the Russian peacekeepers that they planned to use military force to re-establish “constitutional order” in the Tskhinvali Region, the Georgian term for South Ossetia. Half an hour later, a Georgian grenade struck the roof of a three-story building occupied by Russian troops, killing two soldiers on observation duty.

Salvos from multiple rocket launchers rained down on the complex. The peacekeepers’ cafeteria was reduced to rubble and all of the buildings went up in flames. Eighteen Russian soldiers died in the attack. Four minutes before midnight, the South Ossetian authorities reported: “The Georgian armed forces’ storm on Tskhinvali has begun.”

No mention here of (a) South Ossetian shelling using 122mm weapons prior to the Georgians opening fire, and (b) what the Russians that D-S acknowledged had remained in a high state of alert were doing, although later on the piece states:

Starting at 2:06 a.m. on Aug. 8, the tickers of international press agencies began running reports of Russian tanks in the Roki tunnel. Depending on the estimate, the Russians moved between 5,500 and 10,000 soldiers into South Ossetia through the Roki tunnel. Meanwhile, there were already between 7,000 and 10,000 Russian soldiers at the Georgian-Abkhazian
border, many of them brought there on ships from Russia. The “Moskva,” a guided missile cruiser and flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, with the fleet commander himself on board, was patrolling off the Georgian coast.

From a Central Asia-Caucasus Institute paper:

Shelling and shooting between the Georgian armed forces and South Ossetian rebels resume in the afternoon, killing and wounding several servicemen from both sides. In Tbilisi, the Georgian authorities receive foreign intelligence reports about movement of Russian troops towards the Roki tunnel, connecting North Ossetia with the South Ossetian conflict zone. Georgian President Saakashvili consults Western diplomats and is advised by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza not to fall into a trap and to avoid a confrontation with Russia.

At approximately 7 PM, the Georgian government announces its decision to cease fire in order to defuse tensions and offers to engage in talks with the South Ossetian side. A few hours later the Georgian authorities report that several Georgian-controlled villages, including Avnevi, Prisi and Kurta, have come under heavy fire from the South Ossetian side. According to multiple and consistent Georgian sources (including witnesses to the discussions), at approximately 11 PM Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili receives information that a convoy of over 100 Russian military vehicles is passing through the Roki tunnel. The Georgian government informs U.S envoy Bryza that it has no other choice but to advance towards the tunnel in an attempt to push the Russian troops back. Shortly before midnight, the Georgian Ministry of Defense announces its decision to restore the constitutional order in South Ossetia.

Russian Defense Ministry sources, meanwhile, claim its forces did not enter Georgia until the afternoon the next day, but have failed to state the exact time of entry.

August 8, 2008
From midnight on August 8, Georgian troops begin an attack intended to destroy the road connecting the Roki tunnel with Tskhinvali, and advance towards the breakaway capital. Georgian forces seize several South Ossetian controlled villages located on higher ground around the breakaway capital.

According to Georgian authorities, at approximately 1 AM the troops succeed in shelling the road south of the Roki tunnel, thus delaying the advance of the Russian convoy. At 2 AM, Georgian ground troops reach Tskhinvali and begin firing rockets against governmental buildings in the city. The shelling of the city continues overnight. In the early morning, the Georgian side reports that additional Russian troops have passed the Roki tunnel and are advancing towards Tskhinvali. At 8 AM, the Georgian air force bombards the Gupta bridge (connecting the region of Java, south of the Roki tunnel, with Tskhinvali), delaying the advance of Russian units on approach to Tskhinvali.

Even Russia Blog’s Kremlin running dog Niolai Petro admits in his timeline:

01:30 – The Georgian Foreign Ministry reports that the “first Russian troops enter through Roki Tunnel.” [G5] Three days later it will say that 100 Russian vehicles crossed through the Roki tunnel into Georgia six hours earlier, at 19:30 GMT on August 7. [G6] The first international press agency reports of Russian tanks in the Roki tunnel appear almost exactly between these two accounts, at 22:06 on August 7 [Note that this is 3 hours earlier than the time reported in the Spiegel piece. The fact that the minutes line up suggests that maybe the two are using different time zones.]

It seems pretty clear from all this that the Russians were moving towards the Roki Tunnel before the Georgians began their heavy shelling, and were in the Tunnel at or before the commencement of the bombardment. Based on the 22:06 time for the international press reports of the Russian movement through the Roki Tunnel, and the 22:30 commencement of the Georgian barrage, it is obviously impossible for the Russian movement to have been a response to the bombardment. Even based on a 0130 or 0200 time of a movement through the Tunnel, given the fact that it would have taken hours to commence the movement, it could still not have been the case that the bombardment precipitated the Russian advance.

The most charitable interpretation that one can give is that the Russians had observed the Georgian buildup, and were attempting to preempt an anticipated Georgian attack on Tskhinvali. Knowing that the Roki Tunnel was the key, and that they would be helpless to intervene in strength if it were blocked, in this interpretation the Russians moved to ensure that the Georgians could not block it. Even in this interpretation, however, it is credible that Saakashvili’s final decision to attack was spurred by the symmetric realization that if the Russians made it through the Tunnel, his fate was sealed. What is not known, and what can never be known, is what would have happened if the Russians had not begun their movements to Roki at the time the fighting was escalating. That was certainly a sufficient condition for Georgia to attack; we cannot know whether it was a necessary one.

Re the timing issue, certainly the US could answer definitively when the Russian forces began to move, but as Pavel Falgenhauer has noted, US intelligence is being reticent. If true, the CACI statement that the Georgians received reports of Russian movements from western intelligence does make it clear, however, that we were monitoring Russian deployments in real time.

Given the totality of circumstances, the most credible interpretation is that Russia had laid the groundwork for an attack for months, escalated the crisis in South Ossetia, and then pounced when Saakashvili responded. This is not the only interpretation. Another is that, in some ways analogous to WWI, when railroad timetables and mobilization schedules created a momentum towards war, operational imperatives (keep the Roki Tunnel open! Close the Roki Tunnel!) set off a cascade of actions and reactions that culminated in conflict. Neither side could afford to let the other steal a march, and the resulting non-cooperative equilibrium was a war.

Even here, however, it is evident that the escalation of bombardments by the South Ossetian separatists was a crucial part of the mix. That’s what drew the Georgian heavy forces from Abkhazia to Gori and the Ossetian front, thereby initiating the cascade of movements towards Tskhinvali from north and south. The Russians certainly appear to have done nothing to keep the Ossetians on a short leash. That, plus the maintenance of the high degree of alert plus all the other elements pointing to Russian preparation, continue to point me to the conclusion that this was a war of choice for Russia. Put differently, the predicate for the race-to-Roki equilibrium was a Georgian presence in force in Gori and environs. The evidence strongly suggests that the Georgian presence was a direct response to escalating Ossetian separatist artillery activity, activity the Russians and Russian “peacekeepers” did nothing to rein in.

Its actions after the initial combat in South Ossetia, including its attacks in Abkhazia and beyond the borders of the disputed enclaves, its immediate recognition of the breakaway republics, and its demands (reiterated last week) that the west cease support for Saakashvili and that the Saakashvili government be replaced, suggest a motive far deeper than a desire to protect South Ossetia from Georgian attack. This further bolsters the war of choice conclusion.

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  1. Russia has not prepared for war months in advance. They have been prepared for years to protect their citizens in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia warned NATO and the UN a long time ago when Georgia raised its military budget form 34 million to 1 billion US dollars that Georgia wanted to take control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia with force. Saakashvili had promised in 2004 when he got elected to take back control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia all means necessary. Before august Georgia moved it’s troops to Abkhazia and terrorize its borders. Russian peacekeepers managed to calm things down by closing the border between Abkhazia and Georgia. Knowing that taking controll over Abkhazia would mean a lot more work then tiny South Ossetia. Saakhasvili decides to move the troops to the border with South Ossetia. Placing snipers and shooting posts around the city of Tskhinvali. South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoyte warnes Russia that Georgia is planing on an invasion. Then in Juli Georgia is the stage of a huge military exercise with the US and several other countries. Russia sees this as an exercise to go to war on South Ossetia. And moves its troops to North Ossetia for their own little exercise.
    A few days after the Georgian and US trainings Kokoyte finds out that the ethnic Georgians living in South Ossetia have gotten a message from the Georgian government to leave their houses before the 1st. of september. Kokoyte warns Russia agian to be prepaired to help out in case of trouble. At the same time he orders busses to evacuate as many children en older people as possible towards Russia. South Ossetia begins to clear the hillsides around Tskhinvali of ever growing Georgian equipment, provoking off course Georgia. There is some shooting back and forth and under Russian and Georgian peacekeepers command a seize fire is arranged from the morning of 7th of august. On the night from the 7th to the 8th of august Georgia starts shelling the sleeping city of Tskhinvali. On the morning the hospital and nearly all the schools are destroyed. Russia that had troops in North Ossetia response to the call from Kokoyte to come and help out getting their military through the roki tunnel towards Tskhinval. On the morning of the 8th of august Georgia enters the region with plaines bombarding Ossetian villages. The russians actually don’t arrive in Tskhinvali for three days later when the Ossetian military is very low on ammunition. In the mean time the Red Cross tries to get people out of Tshkinvali. People that try to leave get shot by Georgian tanks. People that are hiding in their basements get granates throwed at them. A red cross convoy on their way out of the city gets attacked. Georgia uses a type of bomb that is forbidden by the UN, and is used to kill as many people as possible.

    Off course all the news above is not important because it only applies to a culture where there are only 650 000 of world wide. It is far more interesting to focus on Russia agianst Georgia in stead of the conflict that lurks behind it for many, many years.

    It is far more exciting to tell how bad Russia is and how good Georgia is. Totally ignoring what happened in Georgia autumn 2007 and what lies behind the demonstations there. Totaly ignoring how Saakahsvili came to power and who funded his campaign. Totaly ignoring the difference in how people live in Tblilisi and how people live in other Georgian cities. I will not say that Russia are saints here. Off course they have their intentions or else they wouldn’t have cared for the Ossetian and Abkhaz people at all. Russia clearly want Saakashvili to leave and have a more Russia friendly president their. In my oppinion that would be best for the safety in Caucassus.

    Comment by Seraphiel — September 10, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

  2. The meticulous research and sourcing of the post stands in stark relief with the utterly unsubstantiated propaganda of the commenter. So it has always been in Russia, a land that cares far more for illusion than for fact.

    The entire world is arrayed against Russia, yet this pathetic Kremlin sycophant is still lecturing us as if he alone knew the real truth — the same exact tone the Politburo always used to use, before they were sent to the ashcan of history.

    Comment by larussophobe — September 14, 2008 @ 4:55 am

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