Streetwise Professor

August 20, 2008

Random Observations on the Russo-Georgian War

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 1:44 am

A few observations on the situation in Georgia.

1. Jane’s Defence Weekly presents an interesting analysis of the conflict, and supports/confirms some of my early comments. For instance, Jane’s excoriates Georgia’s failure to close the Roki Tunnel, and argues that this made Georgian failure inevitable:

Georgia’s first tactical blunder was also its most serious strategic setback. The rebel South Ossetia region borders the Russian region of North Ossetia and is connected by the Roki Tunnel, which is the sole reliable passage through the Caucasus Mountains. While the strategic significance of the Roki Tunnel is enhanced by its role as the region’s only reliable external link, Georgia’s apparent failure to recognize its inherent vulnerability as the only effective land route for a Russian advance was a glaring oversight, if not disastrously fatal decision for Georgian military planners. The failure to even attempt to impede or constrict this land route gave Russian forces secure and unopposed access and greatly reduced the danger of over-extended supply lines.

Jane’s also states that the Russians lost 7 aircraft in their attack (including a Tu-22 Backfire) despite the fact that Georgia lacked a robust, integrated air defense system. This backs up earlier assessments that the Russian performance in the air was poor.

2. For the historically minded, the nature of the Russian attack brings to mind John Keegan’s analysis of the cultural component of war. The Russians waged war the way they have for centuries, relying on brute force. I also find it interesting that in the 21st century that the Russian Army was accompanied by a swarm of ethnic irregulars from border regions who have run riot in the conquered region. Another historical continuity with the armies and invasions of the Russian past.

3. The early signs regarding Turkey’s response are not encouraging. Supposedly the Turks are dragging their feet at giving permission (under the Montreux Convention) for US hospital ships to transit the Bosporus and Dardanelles to make a humanitarian voyage to Georgia. An AFP article quotes an American diplomat saying that the US had yet to ask Turkey for permission yet, but quoted another American official as saying that Turkey was being “sluggish and unresponsive” in granting permission.

4. Divisions within NATO are impeding a rapid and robust response. The Germans are somewhat more stalwart in their response than I had expected, with Merkel being fairly outspoken in her support for Georgia. But the excreable Foreign Minister Steinmeier seems to be taking his cues from the revolting toady Schroeder, tempering the German response. According to the FT, the Italians and French, along with the Germans, are continuing to “favor strategic dialogue with Moscow.” Also, according to FT, on European diplomat attempted to downplay differences between the US and New Europe on the one hand, and Old Europe on the other, remarking “there is a difference in sensitivity rather than strategy.” Pardon me, but WTF does that even mean? What diplo-BS. On the US side, Condi Rice continues her descent into ignominy.

5. Ukraine seems to be taking a fairly aggressive line, including its (largely symbolic) offer of early defense radars to NATO, and Yushchenko’s imposition of limits on Russia’s use of Sevastopol. Russia apparently didn’t want to force a confrontation over the Crimean base, and ported its ships that had operated against Georgia in Novorossiisk instead. Yulia Timoshenko’s silence does not bode well, however.

6. I have seen no analysis in the US media regarding the performance of our intelligence agencies in the leadup to the conflict. We seem to have been surprised completely, both by Saakashvili’s initial incursion into South Ossetia, and the Russian riposte. On the surface, it seems to be yet another example of poor performance by our intelligence establishment.

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