Streetwise Professor

August 27, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 4:51 am

Here are two very important sources of information regarding the timeline of the outbreak of the Russo-Georgian War. The first is from the intrepid Michael Totten. The most important aspects of Totten’s report are that (a) the Russians were debouching from the Roki Tunnel almost simultaneously with the commencement of the bombardment of Tskhinvali, and (b) the Georgians launched a desperate attack on a bridge south of the tunnel in an attempt to stall the Russian advance. Given the time to transit the Roki Tunnel, a long, single-lane road winding through the mountain, it is evident that the Russians had a rolling start. Moreover, the improvisational nature of the Georgian attack on the tunnel–which resulted in the deaths of the paratroopers sent on the mission–is consistent with Totten’s source’s assertion that the Georgians were improvising a response to a situation that they did not initiate but which was spiraling out of control. If the Georgian operation in Ossetia had been a planned effort to seize control of the province, step one would have been to seize or disable the entrance to the tunnel. Failure to do so would have been rank incompetence. Instead, from Totten’s description, the Georgians were responding to Ossetian attacks; in the middle of their response, they learned of the Russian advance, and ad libbed a Hail Mary play in an attempt to block the tunnel. They evidently inflict serious losses on the Russians, but didn’t have the combat power to stop them for long.

In my view, these events suggest the following: The Ossetians, in connivance with the Russians, dramatically escalated their aggressive actions against the Georgian troops/peacekeepers in the area surrounding Tskhinvali. The Georgians responded by desperately attempting to reshuffle units from the Abkhazian front–perceived as the more likely trouble spot. At the same time the Russians were moving through the Roki Tunnel–indeed, it is highly likely that their movement began simultaneously with the Georgian move at the latest, and probably before. The Georgians made their forlorn hope stab at the Roki Tunnel with their paratroopers, and tried to fight through Tskhinvali with their main force units in a vain attempt to shut the road before the Russians could deploy. They failed in Tskhinvali, and their forlorn hope was destroyed at Roki. The rest was a foregone conclusion.

If Totten’s timeline is correct, this was clearly a planned Russian invasion of long planning. An extended period of stoking tensions in Abkhazia to serve as a feint diverting attention from the site of their planned attack, drawing Georgian heavy units (such as they were) to that front. Maneuvers designed to put heavy units in place on the borders of Ossetia were carried out in late July. The infiltration of irregulars, followed soon after by a quantum escalation of violence in Ossetia. Nearly simultaneously with the Georgian response to this escalation, the Russian 58th Army moves before the Georgians can react. Every piece makes sense as part of a coherent operational plan. In contrast, the Georgian actions bear all the hallmarks of an ad hoc response to an unexpected escalation in hostilities.

It is very difficult to square this timeline with Russia’s characterization that they were responding extemporaneously to an unprovoked, genocidal attack by Saakashvilli. The Georgians were the ones extemporizing, the Russians the ones acting according to an operational plan. The evidence is that the Russians acted with premeditation, the Georgians without it. That speaks volumes on where the guilt lies.

The Washington Post presents a less detailed chronology that gives the Russians more of a benefit of the doubt than Totten’s, but which nonetheless supports important pieces of his reporting.

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