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War is the ultimate crucible where ideas, theories, etc, prove their worth based on outcomes. Russia’s brilliant performance in Georgia, documented by uncompromisable UPI military analyst Martin Seiff, demolished the grounds for the pessimism espoused by the likes of Pavel Felgenhauer or Aleksandr Golts regarding Russia’s real military strength.

The mini-war between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia is less than six days old at the time of writing, but many tactical weapons system and strategic lessons are already emerging from it.

First, the Russians have not repeated the mistake the Israelis made in their abortive attempts to expel Hezbollah, the Shiite Party of God, from southern Lebanon in July 2006. They did not rely on air power alone to rout their enemies, even though the Georgian army was not dug in with anything like the preparation that Hezbollah had invested in its underground positions to withstand the Israeli air force.

And where the Israelis sent just a few thousand ground troops into southern Lebanon, the Russians boldly sent in a far larger ground force into Georgia: the 58th Russian Army of the North Caucasus Military District backed by the formidable 76th Airborne “Pskov” Division. Unlike hapless Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2006, the Russians applied the classic Carl von Clausewitz principle of concentration of force against their enemy.

The Russians, like the Israelis in southern Lebanon in 2006, did not hesitate to bomb and shell inhabited areas when they felt the tactical conditions required it, but they proved far more aggressive and successful in their incursions by tank columns.

Second, although the Georgian army had quite a formidable force on paper, it could not stand up against major military formations of one of the world’s leading armies.

Third, this reinforces a broader lesson that has been taught repeatedly in the conflicts of the past 17 years since the 1991 First Gulf War: Postage-stamp-size countries like Georgia or even small but supposedly more formidable ones like Iraq are usually no match for a superpower or a major regional nation. The U.S. armed forces blasted the Iraqi army to smithereens in about a week of combat when it was numerically the fourth- or fifth-largest manned force in the world in 1991 and rolled all the way to Baghdad with only around 150,000 troops in 2003.

Fourth, any major power like the United States, India, China or Russia will always be far more formidable militarily when its political leaders and tactical commanders are not afraid to sustain significant levels of casualties to achieve their tactical objectives…

Fifth, the remarkably widespread anti-Russian prejudice by many American pundits and supposed military experts proved to be simplistic ignorance: In any war, no army performs with 100 percent efficiency and brilliance. Most armies and commanders are pleased to get the job done at all, however messily. What matters is being at least marginally better trained, motivated and rapidly moving than the enemy.

The Russian forces in the current conflict have been a lot better than that. They have been up against a weak opponent, but like the U.S. army in both Gulf wars, they are proving themselves vastly superior to their opposition.

Sixth, the Russian army is far better than the forces that bungled their initial drive into Chechnya in 1994, or even that started the Second Chechen War in 1999. The vast investments that current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin poured into the Russian armed forces during his two four-year terms as president did not vanish down a black hole. In terms of training, tactical coordination, boosting morale and overall efficiency, they clearly made a significant impact.

None of these factors, however, explains why the Georgian armed forces, which have enjoyed significant U.S. investment over the past year and more, have performed so badly.

While the Russian Army’s performance in the Georgia peacekeeping mission was laudable, the Navy has received less attention. One naval blogger is determined to set the record straight.

While most of the world has focused primarily on the ground conflict in Georgia, the Russian Black Sea Fleet has been active off the coast. By now, you may have heard some isolated reports — 4000 troops landed by sea at Ochamchire, a battle resulting in a Georgian coast guard ship sunk, and even claims by Georgia of minefields laid off the Georgian coast. Details have been hard to come by. But, piecing together the analysis and reporting, one can get a picture of some of these events.

While the speed of the Russian Army’s response grabbed the attention of western observers, the fast response by the Russian Navy has been quite remarkable, too. The war started on Friday August 8th; the Black Sea Fleet was reported to arrive off the coast of Georgia on Saturday August 9th. That’s pretty impressive, considering it is about 400 nautical miles from Sevastopol to Ochamchire. While the Moskva, Smetlivy, Muromets, and Aleksandrovets can make good speed and make the trip quickly, those ships sailed from Sevastopol with an assortment of support vessels that could only make 12-16 knots, at best. Simple math reveals that would make it a 25 hour trip, meaning the ships would have had to put to sea almost immediately after the fighting began. For any fleet to deploy that quickly is extraordinary readiness.

Then, on the early morning of August 10th, there was a battle at sea. The Russian Black Sea Fleet was engaged by four Georgian coast guard vessels, while conducting landing operations in Ochamchire. The Russians claimed to sink one ship, and the day after the battle the Moskva was reported to be in the Russian port of Novorossiysk.

New details have emerged that shed a bit of light on the action. A sailor interviewed in the Sevastopol on Wednesday gave the local press his recollection of the action. Here’s my amateur translation:

“We took up station guarding the opposed landing on the Abkhaz shore when all of a sudden four high speed targets were detected. We sent out an IFF signal and the targets didn’t react. Receiving a command from the flagship, we got into formation and right at that moment the unidentified targets opened fire on the ship formation and flagship. The cruiser was damaged and a small fire broke out aboard. Then, fearing for seaworthiness, the flagship withdrew from the firing area.” – the sailor said.

“Right then the small missile boats clearly fired,” the participant continued. “Taking up position, our MRK launched a “Malakhit” (SS-N-9) anti-surface missile, which literally cut the lead ship, the Tbilisi, to ribbons. After that, fire was shifted to the rest of the Georgian ships. Another ship was damaged, we couldn’t finish it off, allowing it to leave the scene under its own power.”

It’s a bit of a questionable story. However, the sailor interviewed was appraently from the MRK Mirazh (617, project 12341, NATO – Nanuchka III). Why does that matter? Because the MRK Mirazh is the ship Russia has credited with the attack. Her Captain, Ivan Dubik, was reported to be in the Kremlin on Thursday accepting congratulations.

Some of the details of the sailor’s story are slightly inaccurate — call it fog of war. The Georgian ship sunk was not the Tbilisi, as the sailor suggests. Rather it was the Georgian patrol boat P-21 Georgy Toreli. A night battle in the littoral, the Georgians armed only with guns, yet the little flotilla of four was able to get in close to Moskva and start a little fire. Covering its withdraw, the Mirazh missile boat is reported to have sunk the ship in only 90 seconds in what was reported as 300 meters of water.

According to Al Jazeera, the Coast Guard base in Poti was attacked with artillery on Wednesday after the cease-fire, destroying the rest of the coast guard ships in port. The Tbilisi, which was reported to be in bad condition prior to the war, was sunk in that attack.

As for the 4000 troops? All indications are the Russian Navy reportedly used three amphibious ships to ferry the 4000 paratroopers from Novorossiysk– reportedly without vehicles. Recent analysis tends to imply the vehicles came separately — by rail.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Georgia, Israel, Military 
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Russian cartoonist Sergei Elkin believes Saakashvili doesn’t have a clue.


3:00 – Attack!
6:00 – Blitzkrieg!
7:00 – Breakfast
12:00 – Victory accomplished!
17:00 – Beg for help

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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It’s official. Wiki even has an article on it (2008 War in South Ossetia). It’s quite balanced and always updated, so I recommend reading it over any news source.

I admit that I was under the impression that this conflict would yet simmer for a few years, as they already have been, a spectacle of provocations, accusations and counter-accusations. Mostly because I thought Saakashvili would be too smart to initiate overt hostilities against South Ossetia. Look at what the great leader managed to accomplish:

  • He completely lost the information war. Georgia broke a ceasefire and invaded. Tick. Russia made an appeal to the UN (where it was struck down by Britain and the US, predictably enough), thus passing itself off as a peace-loving country forced to defend its Ossetian compatriots (90%+ of them have Russian passports) from the imperialist West and its Caucasian stooge. Tick. Even normally Russophobic media outlets, from what I’ve seen, cannot quite manage to spin this in an anti-Russian way (although I may have to retract this point, when the Op-Ed’s have been written up). Tick. The end result is that Georgia is seen as a treacherous, war-mongering aggressor even by Westerners.
  • Consequently, any overt NATO or even American intervention is at least currently out of the question (barring a huge neocon sponsored media storm – but somehow I don’t think it likely). (To the contrary, as Georgia has attacked and killed Russian peace-keepers, this is a casus belli and as such the members of the CSTO will be obligated to come to Russia’s aid). And frankly, without that, Georgia is screwed.
  • Georgia has militarized intensively since the Rose Revolution (military spending has been close to 10% of GDP), acquiring advanced precision and surveillance equipment and military training from the US and Israel. As such, this is more than enough to bring South Ossetia and Abkhazia back into the fold. But this is discounting Russia. Apart from a few elite units, Georgia is a third-rate conscript army with Soviet third-generation equipment.

Events are moving quickly. Even as I type this it increasingly looks as if Russia is beginning a concerted offensive against Georgian military targets and bringing in land forces to relieve Tskhinvali. (The wonders of modern communications technology).

Anyway, it will sure be interesting today. A new Olympics. A new war. Perhaps a new pandemic?

EDIT1: Prophetic video games? (Not that I think the situation is, from a moral perspective, anyhow comparable)

Ghost Recon begins in 2008, with civil unrest in Russia. Ultra-nationalists have seized power in Moscow, with plans to rebuild the Iron Curtain. Their first step is clandestine support of rebel factions in Georgia and the Baltic States. This is where the Ghosts come in: to silence the rebellion. Armed with some of the most advanced weaponry in the world, the soldiers of the Ghost Recon force are covertly inserted into Eastern Europe and given specific missions to curtail the rebel actions and overthrow their benefactors.

The game’s storyline stems from political turmoil that came to light a few years earlier, in which the Ultra-nationalist regime came to power and placed its leader, Dmitri Arbatov, as Russia’s president. By 2007, the threat posed by the Arbatov Administration became clear. Russia forms an alliance called the Russian Democratic Union (RDU), which is made up of the previously conquered countries of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Together, they launch a campaign to revive the long-dissolved Soviet Union by taking back all of the former Soviet republics.

During the first few missions of the game, the Ghosts battle South Ossetian rebel forces from the north of Georgia, who are harassing the legitimate government and its allies. The Ghosts fight in the forests, on farms, and in villages while assisting their NATO allies in fighting the enemy.

Unfortunately, the Russian government complains to the United Nations that the Americans have interfered in their affairs, and eventually they send in their army to aid the South Ossetian rebels. The U.S. cannot hope to stop the Russian Army from invading Georgia, so the Ghosts slow down the invading forces so that their allies can evacuate. Eventually, the Ghosts are all that’s left of the U.S. forces in Georgia, and they evacuate by SH-60 Seahawk helicopter on the rooftop of the American Embassy in T’bilisi, just barely avoiding the Russian forces. The Georgian government flees to Geneva and sets up a government-in-exile. Sadly, with the fall of Tbilisi, Georgia surrenders and is forcefully incorporated into the RDU.

After Georgia falls, the Caucasus region is vulnerable to further attacks. The Georgian government, Great Britain, Germany, and the U.S. all protest the Russian invasion, but Moscow ignores this. Russia then focuses on invading the Baltic States on Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. In response to this, the Ghosts are sent behind enemy lines to find intelligence on the enemy attack. Unfortunately, the Russians launch their attack early and overrun the Baltic States within days. The Ghosts then are sent back in to slow the invasion down so NATO reinforcements can arrive from Germany. After cutting off the Russian reinforcements, the Ghosts fight alongside American forces to push the Russian Army out of the Baltics. Victories are won within the next months in Utena and Rezekne, and finally, NATO reaches Vilnius, Lithuania.

The city was almost leveled after the invasion, but it is eventually liberated with some help from the Ghosts, forcing the Russian Army to abandon the invasion.

The loss of the Baltic states takes its toll on Russia. President Arbatov is blamed for the disaster and placed under house arrest, starting rumors about a coup de’tat. The Ghosts then run into Russia to free American and Russian POWs opposed to the government. Some time later, President Arbatov is executed. This sparks a rebellion all across Russia that borderlines on civil war. The Ultra-nationalists quickly lose the support of the people, and many members of the RDU are also liberated or quit the alliance. The Ghosts are then sent on a campaign to disable the combat capabilities of several Ultra-nationalist military bases, such as the naval base at Murmansk and the airbase at Arkhangel’sk. They destroy several subs and prototype aircraft, making Russian Forces combat ineffective in Naval and Air warfare. While the Ghosts are striking bases, the Ultra-nationalists engage in battle with American troops and Russian forces that are now opposed to the government north of Moscow. Unfortunately, the Ultra-nationalist forces detonated a nuclear bomb during the battle. This act of terror causes the Ultra-nationalist regime to lose all legitimacy in the international community, prompting an immediate invasion of Moscow.

After the Ghosts succeed in weakening the Russian fighting force, NATO forces launched an assault on Moscow, with the Ghosts spearheading the assault. By this time, the Ultra-nationalists have lost control of most of their territories, and the RDU was effectively dissolves. The remaining Ultra-nationalist forces holed up their tanks, snipers, Spetsnaz, helicopters, and artillery in the wooded areas surrounding Moscow as a last line of defense. However, the Ghosts break through the lines and clear a path for NATO forces. On November 10, NATO forces finally reach Moscow and are joined by friendly Russians. The city was partially deserted, as many Russians fled prior to the attack. The Ghosts were sent in to finish the job once and for all. After assisting NATO forces, the Ghosts attack Red Square. The Ghosts then proceed to wipe out the Russian defenders guarding the walls of the Kremlin. Without any remaining defenses, the Ultra-nationalists, led by Prime Minister Karpin, finally surrendered and both the Americans and the newly-liberated Russians celebrated their victory in Red Square. However, the world would feel the effects of the war for years to come.

EDIT 3 (11PM GMT – 8 Aug): More thoughts…

The only reasonable reason I’ve come across for Georgia’s lunacy is that they planned to blitz their way down to the Roki mountain tunnel connecting South Ossetia and Russia, and dynamite it, thus greatly slowing down the Russian ground based response. Meanwhile Georgia could have consolidated control over South Ossetia and presented it as a fait accompli by the time (a few days) that Russia prepared the logistics for another way of supporting South Ossetia. Then Russia could have been presented as an aggressor…

But as things stand, Georgia in general and Saakashvili are screwed beyond measure. The Russian Armed Forces were ready, the Air Force is devastating Georgian military infrastructure and battle has been joined around Tskhinvali. A battle the Georgian military, with the skies above and the Black Sea totally dominated by Russian air and naval forces, no amoun, will inevitably lose. No mainstream Western figures, not even the most neoconish American commentators, are suggesting direct interference in support of Georgia. Not only has Georgia been totally defeated in the information war, even its means of waging infowar have been destroyed, as noted by colleen. All they are left with is blocking Russian TV broadcasts into Georgia and calling up their 100,000 reservists, who must be ever so willing to fight against Ossetians for make benefit of their political masters, the neo-liberal Washington stooges wallowing about in their palaces…

What will happen now? Russia will consolidate its hold over South Ossetia and will continue striked against Georgian military and possibly civil infrastructure throughout the night. (As said before, the bulk of Georgia’s military remain unmodernized third-generation Soviet stuff). It will basically be a repeat of NATO’s campaign against Serbia. Perhaps the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline will be especially targeted. I expect military activities to cease within one to two weeks. Saakashvilli will be left isolated and impotent, too unreliable for co-operation with either the West or Russia, until a Russian-orchestrated coup shows him the door.

EDIT4 (12PM GMT – 9 Aug): Saakashvilli insists on continuing digging his own grave, declaring war on Russia and fully legitimising the full spectrum of military measures at Russia’s disposal.

EDIT5 (12PM GMT – 10 Aug): Interesting developments – Abkhazia, Black Sea fleet, strategic bombing, US promise to transport 2000 Georgian troops in Iraq home…

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.