September 10, 2008

From Baku to Russian-Occupied Georgia

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 10, 2008 12:18 AM
Comments
Thanks Michael for yet another very interesting article. I'm planning a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad this spring. I guess I know now what kind of train to expect :-)
Posted by: Tijl at September 10, 2008 2:28 am
Tijl, watch that movie before you go.
Ebert review here.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 10, 2008 2:39 am
Something hit me immediately: the soldiers don't exactly look Russian. I know it's not a random sample but due to their nightmarish demographics many of their soldiers are Chechen and other Muslim minorities. In 20 years as non-Russians (i.e. Ingush) come close to becoming a majority, will they fight the wars for Russia? Something to keep in mind. China on the other hand is occupying Siberia http://www.slate.com/id/2086157/ the peaceful way, after the Tsar essentially scammed them out of it in 1800's.
May the Russians live in interesting times.
Posted by: nameless-fool at September 10, 2008 5:56 am
Should the Georgians ditch Israeli and US military advice and try to be more like Hezbollah?
That's what some US commentators are saying...
http://www.dodbuzz.com/2008/09/04/rebuilding-georgias-military/
Thoughts on this?
Posted by: Microraptor at September 10, 2008 7:03 am
Wow. I am damn proud to be a long time reader and neighbor of yours. You and your friends are going to change the dynamics of our foreign policies. Your budgeted tenacity for cheap hotels, along with getting the story before thinking of brushing your teeth, gives me the closest feel I can have other than being there. These people are decent. One can feel the explosion of talent awaiting the Freedom to simply exercize it. Take a night off at the Marriot, you've earned it.
Posted by: JohnJimson at September 10, 2008 7:37 am
Wow, terrific article, and great writing that really conveys what you were experiencing at that time and place. Thanks for the great work you do.
It is so discouraging, I recently heard a caller on an NPR show relating to the Georgian situation and current Russian-US relations who claimed to be in Azerbaijan doing NGO or State Dept. work insisting again that Georgia had attacked the Russians first and sparked the entire affair. Of course, no one challenged that assertion in the least.
Posted by: Seppo at September 10, 2008 8:35 am
Splendid report.
Posted by: Michael_B at September 10, 2008 8:37 am
Such a great column I was compelled to donate. Terrific stuff....
Posted by: BillBC at September 10, 2008 9:09 am
Fantastic work, and photos. Too bad no pictures of the Chechen thugs, but glad you're safe.
Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at September 10, 2008 9:36 am
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 09/10/2008 A short recon of what
Posted by: David M at September 10, 2008 9:52 am
"I recently heard a caller on an NPR show relating to the Georgian situation and current Russian-US relations who claimed to be in Azerbaijan doing NGO or State Dept. work insisting again that Georgia had attacked the Russians first and sparked the entire affair."
Yes, that was the case. There were frequent exchanges of fire, such flare ups were not uncommon, but it was Georgia who decided to mount a major assault on South Ossetia. If it weren't for that, Russian troops would have not beaten them back and enter Georgia proper.
Posted by: KolyaV at September 10, 2008 10:18 am
Hey, the FSB is still playing. How 'bout that?
Anyway - Michael, your photo of the tank was probably a lot more dangerous to take than you thought at the time.
It looks like it was far enough away to tax the digital zoom of your camera. That doesn't mean that you or your party were nearly as indistinct from the point of view of the observers manning that position.
I'm not up on the current crop of Sov I mean Russian AFV's. No matter; what you saw was obviously a recon or command vehicle. Always count the antennae. If you can SEE a vehicle equipped with a long barreled main gun or missiles, it can SEE you well enough to identify, evaluate, and if necessary or just because it can, KILL you.
Who and what you see at a checkpoint is never everything you need to know. These guys aren't monitoring press access, they are there to provide early warning against attack. You were under observation by crew served arms or snipers long before you actually communicated with the guys on the road.
Mixed weapons types and widely varied field uniforms can indicate (a) a task-organized force drawn from multiple parent commands or (b) a chaotic supply and possibly command environment or (c) something in between.
IMO opinion, the cutting edge of the Sov I mean Russian offensive was manned by the absolute best manpower and tech they could field, while the local security / punitive troops were pure Home Guard leavened with the presence of "foreign fighters" aimed straight at the collective psyche of all the "former" Sov I mean Russian vassal states.
Michael, fabulous reporting. I'm not working right now but will drop a few pennies in come the weekend. Next time you are home, I suggest you contact your nearest Army outfit and ask for some time with their recon unit to get a backgrounder on what a grunt leader looks for in a combat zone. I still maintain that you unconsciously still assume to be a "spectator" to the events you cover, in the face of great looming mountains of evidence to the contrary.
Be safe, sir.
Posted by: TmjUtah at September 10, 2008 11:06 am
TMJUtah,
My camera doesn't have a digital zoom lens. I have a real zoom lens as long as a telescope. My zoom lens can photograph airplanes at cruising altitude. The planes look fuzzy, but you can see them.
That photo was cropped. The tank looks much smaller in the original. That's why the photo looks so low-res.
That tank was very far away, more than a mile away. It was invisible to the naked eye. And I took the picture from a moving car.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 10, 2008 11:17 am
Beautiful! Thank you for documenting this. You might find the following articles interesting, as well: http://grandrants.wordpress.com/2008/09/10/rebuttal-to-new-cold-war/
and
http://grandrants.wordpress.com/2008/09/07/losing-a-chess-game-us-georgia-vs-russia-venezuela/
Posted by: Stoutcat at September 10, 2008 11:24 am
Thanks for a great article, Michael. You brought
back memories...I rode that train from Baku
to Tibilisi in 1969. My experience regarding
car attendants is more positive than
yours. We had a car attendant that not only
was attentive and pleasant, she was one of
the best looking women I had ever seen. She
was an ethnic Russian.
I also drove that road from Tibilisi to Gori
and on to Sukhumi...with a hangover from
drinking Tsinindali wine with some Georgians
who were on holiday.
I will donate to your fund...you are the best.
Posted by: zopilote at September 10, 2008 11:45 am
"That tank was very far away, more than a mile away. It was invisible to the naked eye. And I took the picture from a moving car."
Sweet. A big megapixel number is your friend. Just lucky you got the antennae in there.
Probably a BMD variant. The 30mm isn't much of a threat at a mile, but you can bet job one for them was watching and reporting road traffic.
Posted by: TmjUtah at September 10, 2008 12:12 pm
Jeez Michael, I'm glad I don't know the details of what you are doing until after the fact. My nervs couldn't take it.
"It isn't likely that an American planted that flag. Georgia was one of the most pro-American countries in the world even before Russia invaded."
I think I am going to spend some time thinking about that unexpected little flag on a roadside in a foreign war zone and what it means.
Posted by: Lindsey at September 10, 2008 1:01 pm
Should the Georgians ditch Israeli and US military advice and try to be more like Hezbollah?
US can train them in guerrilla fighting and give them plenty of stingers, javelins and sniper rifles to make the Russians pay a huge price...but are the Georgians ready to use them against Russia? US and Israel might hold back, but not the Russians (think of what the Serbs did in Bosnia, shelling civilians for 2-3 years.)
Georgia has 4 million people and Russia can flatten a city and still not be in a worst diplomatic position that it is now. Living next to the Russian hordes is their curse and unless US /NATO vow to back them (with troops!) Georgia might not be willing to go for it. It's not fair, but...
Posted by: nameless-fool at September 10, 2008 1:40 pm
Oliver Kamm takes note of an Economist sponsored on-line debate, the proposition that "The West must be bolder in its reponse to a newly assertive Russia."
Posted by: Michael_B at September 10, 2008 1:42 pm
io9.com recently posted a link to satellite imagry about damage in Georgia. (see url in my comment). I'm curious about whether this new info vindicates either side or not.
Posted by: h0mi at September 10, 2008 7:46 pm
I am curious about the taxi driver. In those times where I was trying to go where I wasn't supposed to be going (East Timor, Cambodia) it was always the drivers who refused first, even when offered significant compensation for their time. It seems he was nervous, especially near the end when you passed back through the first check point, but he was also willing to go. That willingness says a lot about how Georgians, at least Tbilisi Georgians, view the situation. I know the taxi driver straw poll is an old joke, but in tense situations in foreign countries, I always found it to be quite true. What explains his ease (greater than I would expect) with the situation? Expectation that this Russia will behave much like the old USSR, and thus is a known entity?
Thanks so much, yet again, for going out there and getting the real story. Stay safe. We will continue to donate.
Posted by: acmj at September 10, 2008 8:29 pm
Michael,
Three soldier faces on your pictures are definitely not ethnic Russians. First one may look like Tatar, second one looks like local and third one may be Kalmik, Bashkir or even Korean from Siberia.
Description below is rather strange if according to your friend those people are Chechens:
"Unlike the uniformed Russians, these two had blonde hair and blue eyes. They didn't look remotely Asian like some of the others, nor did they quite look like Slavs."
Bold part is particularly strange. Chechens would look very much like Georgians to untrained eye.
Posted by: leo at September 10, 2008 8:47 pm
Should the Georgians ditch Israeli and US military advice and try to be more like Hezbollah?
These US comentators need to stop thinking American or Israeli and start thinking Russian.
Chechens are no lesser fighters than HA. Yet, Russians put their rebellion off very quickly second time around. I can only wish Israelis will be as resolute as Russians when need arises.
Posted by: leo at September 10, 2008 9:06 pm
Generally speaking Chechens are usually swarthier than your typical Russian. I have seen Chechen with blue eyes and reddish hair, and some of them look like typical Russians. And then some Russians look very much like Chechens, even when they are not aware of any non-Russian ancestry. Through the centuries intermarriage was not too uncommon and plenty of Chechens have Russian or other blood. And not only around Chechnya or the Caucasus, of course. For example, it's not always easy to tell if someone is a Russian (Slav) or a German. A typical Russian, although primarily Slavic, will have the blood of several ethnicities in his veins.
h0mi, keep in mind that the satellite picture you have in your site primarily shows damage in South Ossetia and it was caused by both sides. To know who was probably the responsible party you have to find out whether a particular village was primarily Ossetian or Georgian. For example, most of the damage in Tskhinvali (the largest town, the South Ossetian capital) was caused by Georgians. One more thing: the estimates given are probably somewhat of an understatement--not all the damage can be detected from high above (e.g, a tank shell into the side of a multi-story building.)
Posted by: KolyaV at September 10, 2008 9:21 pm
Leo,
I don't know what Chechens look like. They probably do look like Georgians and Azeris -- and there is no common look for either. There are "white" Georgians and Azeris, though most are somewhat darker in complexion. Many gene pools have mixed in the region.
"Unlike the uniformed Russians, these two had blonde hair and blue eyes.
The militia guys were whiter than any of the Russians I photographed.
They didn't look remotely Asian like some of the others, nor did they quite look like Slavs."
The reason they didn't look like Slavs wasn't because of their skin color but because of the shape of their faces. They didn't have that Slavic "look." That doesn't mean they weren't Russians necessarily, but they stood out as obvious non-Russians to Goltz for whatever reasons.
Keep in mind that body language (etc.) plays a huge role in all this. People in other countries say it's obvious that I am an American, even when I'm in countries where I blend in genetically. And I know how to turn that "off" and blend in if I want to. The longer I stayed in Lebanon, the more often strangers initiated conversation with me in Arabic instead of in English. After a while I was only addressed by strangers in Arabic if they were the ones who spoke first.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 10, 2008 9:26 pm
Microraptor: Should the Georgians ditch Israeli and US military advice and try to be more like Hezbollah?
Leo: These US comentators need to stop thinking American or Israeli and start thinking Russian.
Microraptor is Iranian, and he lives in Britain. He works a lot in Lebanon and Iran. That's why he's thinking of Hezbollah.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 10, 2008 9:29 pm
An amusing article debunking Bernard-Henry Levy's (French intellectual) visit to "destroyed Gori":
http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/Article.aspx?id=2645
...excerpts...
///
"L
Posted by: KolyaV at September 10, 2008 11:40 pm
Posted by: Paul S. at September 11, 2008 12:50 am
According to this wikipedia article:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rus%27_(people)
Slavic sources
According to the earliest East Slavic record, the Primary Chronicle, the Rus' was a group of Varangians among others like Swedes and Gotlanders who lived on the other side of the Baltic Sea, in Scandinavia and as far as the land of the English and the French.[2] The Varangians were first expelled, then invited to rule the warring Slavic and Finnic tribes of Novgorod:
"The four tribes who had been forced to pay tribute to the Varangians
Posted by: programmmer_craig at September 11, 2008 12:52 am
The html tags in this software drive me nuts! Only the last paragraph in the preceding comment is mine. The rest is from wiki, and was supposed to be in italics! Sorry about that.
Posted by: programmmer_craig at September 11, 2008 12:55 am
Should the Georgians ditch Israeli and US military advice and try to be more like Hezbollah?
Since this link was to a question asked by a reporter who was talking to American defense officials, it's an extremely disturbing report.
Is our department of defense seriously thinking of turning the Georgians into another thug/militia/terrorist/'freedom fighter' group? Didn't we learn anything from the 'pious' freedom fighting mujahideen in Afghanistan, the American committee for Peace in Chechnya or from the constant terrorist destruction that is partly the result of Brzezinski/Carter's decision to appease and ally with fascists to fight the commies?
So, okay, let's turn the Georgian army into Hezbollah. We can set them up with some cigarette smuggling operations in North Carolina and Central America to pay some of their expenses, then we can find a friendly Islamofascist regime among our Gulf-state friends to fund the rest. We can set up a militia whose power will soon make it a state within a state, they can beat up the Russians, the Russians can destroy the Georgians, and when it's all over, neo-Hezbollah can take over the ruins that are now Georgia and bully the locals and the neighbors. Brilliant plan, DOD.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at September 11, 2008 6:14 am
"Brilliant plan, DOD"
Is there a plan?
Posted by: leo at September 11, 2008 8:15 am
Is there a plan?
I really hope not!
From the "DODbuzz" article:
A defense analyst I spoke with, who advises American ground forces, said to rebuild the Georgian military along conventional lines might be the wrong approach. Instead he suggested a different force model, that of Hezbollah. What Hezbollah did so effectively, as was shown in the 2006 Lebanon war, was combine modern weaponry with a distributed infantry force that fought in guerrilla fashion...One thing the U.S. military cannot provide the Georgian military, and what Hezbollah had in spades and greatly increased their effectiveness, was very high discipline and motivation. The Georgians will have to come up with that on their own.
Yeah, high discipline, motivation, religious lunacy, Iranian cash and cigarette smuggling. Let's hope the Georgians don't come up with that on their own.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at September 11, 2008 9:01 am
Georgia is not going to imitate Hezbollah.
Here's what Saakashvili had to say about that. This is a real quote.
"Eventually we would have chased them away, but we would have had to go to the mountains and grow beards. That would have been a tremendous national philosophical and emotional burden."
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 11, 2008 10:30 am
"Eventually we would have chased them away, but we would have had to go to the mountains and grow beards.
I'm really starting to like the Georgians..
I don't think they could turn into Hezbollah either, but it's horrifying that people involved with the DOD could even consider a plan like that.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at September 11, 2008 11:16 am
"Eventually we [Georgian guerrillas] would have chased them [Russian occupying force] away, but we would have had to go to the mountains and grow beards."
Is there even remote reason to think so?
Chechens had more experience with beards than Georgians. Did not help them much. Saakashvili is still delusional, still thinks he has a chance.
Posted by: leo at September 11, 2008 11:54 am
FWISW, there are plenty of blue-eyed and blond Russians. Yeltsin was blue eyed. Putin has blue eyes. Heck, I have blue eyes. Not in such a high propoortion as with the Scandinavians, but blue is a common eye color among most Slavs.
I have no doubts that if Russia occupied Geogia, the Georgians would have headed up the hills and fight a guerrilla war against the Russians. Like with most such wars, in time this war would have proven bloody and unpopular in Russia and eventually the Russians would have retreated.
This does not mean, though, that the Russians had any such designs for Georgia. Russia had nothing to gain by doing that. Putin may not be a nice guy and he, like everyone else, makes mistakes, but he's also an intelligent and practical man who is fully aware of Russia's economic and demographic situation.
Posted by: KolyaV at September 11, 2008 12:32 pm
There is no reason for the Georgians to fight a guerrilla war.
Hizbollah exists because (in just about equal parts) it is a bought and paid for Iranian proxy and because the Israelis are civilized players.
We don't have any overarching ideologigical imperative to bleed the Soviet Union. Even if we did, the Soviets, once they recognized the nature of the guerilla threat confronting them, would simply kill every male above the age of twelve within fifty miles of any attacks on their personnel or interests.
So, no guerilla resistance.
Posted by: TmjUtah at September 11, 2008 12:33 pm
Guerilla warfare doesn't necessarily mean adopting the ideology of a terrorist group like Hizballah.
There were western "guerillas" fighting the Germans in Europe during the Second World War.
But we called them "partisans" or "the resistance."
There is a big difference, IMO, between partisan/guerilla warfare and the terrorist warfare that Hizballah and their ilk practice. Polish and Soviet partisans in WWII might have terrorized the local population into giving them food and shelter, but this was out of dire necessity. They didn't use civilians as human shields (not as if it would have done any good, anyway) and strap bombs onto schoolgirls.
I, too, think the Georgians would have conducted a guerilla campaign had the Russians occupied their entire country. And the U.S. would have been justified in supporting them. Just because nowadays "guerilla" means "terrorist" and "popular resistance" means a violent intifada, it shouldn't deprive ordinary people of their right to self-defense.
Posted by: Edgar at September 11, 2008 12:49 pm
TmjUtah: The Soviets...would simply kill every male above the age of twelve within fifty miles of any attacks on their personnel or interests. So, no guerilla resistance.
I disagree. See example of Yugoslavia in WW2. The Nazis were as brutal as you can possibly imagine. Still didn't stop resistance.
A lot of it has to do with how the occupying power treats civilians. When it became clear that the Germans wanted to brutally enslave the Slavic peoples of Europe, civilians started to help the partisans, even under threat of death.
The Russians would have to go back to Stalinist tactics--deporting the entire population of Georgia--to defeat a popular uprising by force, IMO.
Posted by: Edgar at September 11, 2008 12:58 pm
"I disagree. See example of Yugoslavia in WW2. The Nazis were as brutal as you can possibly imagine. Still didn't stop resistance."
You are forgetting, Allies where pushing Germans out too. Had Yugoslavs been alone no amount of bravery and military hardware would've saved them.
Belorussians lost 25% of their population during German occupation to repressions and particularly in response to guerrilla action. Had it not been for Soviet Army liberating them there would be no Belorussians left today, partisan war or not.
If I am not mistaking Russians killed 400,000+ Chechens during second Chechen war and finally put Chechen revolt down. And they have done it in just a year or so.
Georgians will be wise to build strong conventional army instead.
PS. I cannot speak for others but for me 'partisan' and 'guerrilla' always meant the same. Whether they are 'terrorists' or 'freedom fighters' is just relative matter.
Posted by: leo at September 11, 2008 1:56 pm
The html tags in this software drive me nuts! Only the last paragraph in the preceding comment is mine. The rest is from wiki, and was supposed to be in italics! Sorry about that.
Old complaint. I find the best way to handle it is to use a <p/> tag within the blockquote or italic tags to specify paragraphs rather than actual carriage return.
A royal pain, but you do what you gotta.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 11, 2008 2:06 pm
"The original "Rus" were not slavs, but were scandinavians."
This could well be true. Many scholars have studied this issue, but nobody knows for sure where the word Rus came from and whether originally it only referred to the Varangians (Scandinavians) living around Novgorod, Kiev and other river ports of what is now Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Whatever the origin of the word, after a while Rus started to denote the people living in those areas who used a Slavic language as a lingua franca.
And the word "franca" reminds me that the word France derives from the Franks--a Germanic people that conquered some Gallic territories.
Posted by: KolyaV at September 11, 2008 3:46 pm
And the word "franca" reminds me that the word France derives from the Franks--a Germanic people that conquered some Gallic territories.
Yep! And the word "England" derives from the Angles, another Germanic/Scandinavian tribe. Interesting how much influence those old barbarian tribes had on the modern world when you start digging into things :)
Posted by: programmmer_craig at September 11, 2008 6:31 pm
"I disagree. See example of Yugoslavia in WW2. The Nazis were as brutal as you can possibly imagine. Still didn't stop resistance."
Actually it did, sorta. Yugoslavia had 350,000 soldiers in an battle hardened army (Balkan Wars, WWI), yet the CAPITULATED in 11 days, and that included the time to arrange the meeting and to sign the documents. As soon as the Nazis started to bombard Belgrade they caved in. I can't make a judgment 65 years later...but they did. Maybe I would have done the same thing, surrender and hope that they just pass through and leave.
After that, most Chetniks collaborated openly, and as soon as Germans started to kill people in retaliation even Draza Mihailovich stopped fighting and started to collaborate. That's why Churchill supported Tito; Draza was more focused on Muslims and Croats and to support the Serb King, whereas the allies wanted Nazis destroyed. The Chetnik attitude was: let's wait and see, conserve our forces for when the dust clears.
The Communists (Tito's partisans) are totally different, they are like the Jihadists, they fight for an ideology so deaths don't matter that much. Btw, Jews and gypsies mostly made the ranks of the 100 deaths for every German soldier dead.
Posted by: nameless-fool at September 11, 2008 6:46 pm
nameless, the reasons for Yugoslavia's surprisingly rapid and demoralizing defeat are actually quite complicated. First, of course, the German Army was the one that was battle hardened and experienced (39-41: Poland, France, Norway, etc). Compared to the Yugoslavs, the Germans had many more fit and battle-hardened soldiers in their ranks. How many of the Yugoslavian soldiers were WWI veterans (which ended 23 years earlier)? Very few. WWI veterans, whether German or Yugoslavian, were too old to be part of the regular army. (It was only later in WWII than some European WWI veterans ended up serving as front line troops.) Another important factor is that as soon as the Germans and Italians invaded Yugoslavia, the Croats switched sides. That took most Yugoslavians by surprise, since Croatia was integral part of Yugoslavia.
This is not the place to get into it, but what you wrote about the Chetniks, the Croats, the Muslims and Tito's partisans is simplistic to the point of inaccuracy.
Posted by: KolyaV at September 11, 2008 10:17 pm
Hello Michael;
I have no idea how long you'll be in Baku, but if you ever go there for civilian purposes, I can recommend the jazz scene there as being one of the best in the whole of the ex-CIS (next to Siberia, surprisingly).
Rudy
Posted by: Rudolph Carrera at September 11, 2008 10:56 pm
I think the argument is that however strong a conventional army the Georgians decide upon, it will never, ever be a match for the Russian military if they decide to fight it out in a conventional battle.
Therefore, creating a mobile, flexible fighting force, with hi-tech anti-tank/aircraft weapons, with concealed -- as opposed to easily bombable -- bases, could make the opportunity cost of invading Georgia again too high.
There's no suggestion in DOD Buzz that the Georgians become militant Shia Islamists or proxies for Iranian foreign policy... just that they play to their strengths -- and if Russia is the enemy, numerical superiority will never be one of them...
Posted by: Microraptor at September 12, 2008 4:45 am
There's no suggestion in DOD Buzz that the Georgians become militant Shia Islamists or proxies for Iranian foreign policy... just that they play to their strengths
The quote from the article does state that an adviser to the DOD was thinking of using Hezbollah as a role model, and they did say "One thing the U.S. military cannot provide the Georgian military, and what Hezbollah had in spades and greatly increased their effectiveness, was very high discipline and motivation"
He didn't suggest that the Georgians should use genuine resistance groups, like the French Maquis or the Anbar Awakening, as role models.
We have a history of using Hezbollah-style "pious" groups, supported by the Saudis, to fight the Russians and we have a history of not learning from our mistakes. I have no doubt that the adviser to the DOD was really being that stupid.
I, too, think the Georgians would have conducted a guerilla campaign had the Russians occupied their entire country. And the U.S. would have been justified in supporting them. Just because nowadays "guerilla" means "terrorist" and "popular resistance" means a violent intifada, it shouldn't deprive ordinary people of their right to self-defense.
A genuine, non-terrorist resistance could be very effective against a terrorist militia that was invading and occupying a country, but resistance groups do need a larger army and/or world opinion to back them up when fighting a real army with real soldiers, even if they aren't very well fed.
Guerilla tactics worked against the Russians in Afghanistan, but the population and the terrain were completely different than in Georgia.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at September 12, 2008 5:34 am
"I think the argument is that however strong a conventional army the Georgians decide upon, it will never, ever be a match for the Russian military if they decide to fight it out in a conventional battle."
I happened to think that Georgia lost Abkhazia and SO for good. Especially after both will be integrated into Russia.
I also think that however way Georgians will (if they will) choose to battle war with Russia in the future, be it conventional or partisan means, they will lose regardless.
Best approach for Georgia would be to wait for better times while gaining economical and military strength.
Posted by: leo at September 12, 2008 5:45 am
Ok.... without wanting to upset any Georgian nationalists here....
Michael, you spoke to some of the Georgian soldiers and spent time on the ground. Why did the Georgian armed forces perform so badly?
Some reports have them leaving their dead on the battlefield, leaving tanks and artillery pieces in working order all along the route of their retreat (I have seen Russian video footage on LiveLeak or maybe even "War Nerd" of Russian convoys coming across abandoned T-72 upgrade ERA type tanks and having to chuck incendiary grenades down the commander's hatches to disable them), Georgian troops in Kodori Gorge were accused of leaving high quality man portable (and US made) infantry weapons on the battlefield, stripping out of their uniforms and basically disappearing.
And that after the Sarkozy ceasefire came into effect they didn't just cease fire, they seemingly ceased to exist... Where was the Georgian army when the Russians took Gori? Cos they were not heavily deployed around their capital city... or were they?
Is it true there was no proper defensive line to protect Tbilisi? Did a Georgian general cut and run from the battlefield? What happened to the Geogian helicopter gunships that were supposedly quite effective at the beginning, what happened to the highly trained forces that launched the August 8th night assault, this is the country that MADE the SU-25...what happened to their ground attack capability? Is it true they ended up trying to use mobile phones instead of battlefield comms systems?
No offence to the Russians but their tactics seemed rather dated -- and seemed to consist of an artillery barrage (and/or uncoordinated bombing by a scattering of aircraft), then trundle along into "hostile enemy territory" long armoured columns with all the infantry troops sitting hull up on their APCs... they must have been pretty confident that theree would be no resistance...
Posted by: Microraptor at September 12, 2008 8:17 am
OK.... Here's a really interesting and detailed analysis of the war...
http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?t=140546
It's a must read for equipment and battle-tactics buffs... According to the (US based) writer, the Georgian plan was doomed to fail unless everything, but everything went right -- and as every fule no.... the best laid plans of mice and men collape 30 seconds after the gunfire starts....
Posted by: Microraptor at September 12, 2008 10:10 am
Microraptor, I read the analysis you linked to shortly after it came out. Better than most, I guess, but subsequently I read that it contained several errors in its data which, of course, affected its analysis. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen an equally detailed but more up to date and credible analysis. I hope one will come up soon. The Russian analysts I have read so far don't describe the whole operation in as much detail (I'm sure there are out there, I just have not found them). They either take a more general view or get into particular aspects of the operation. All in all, though, the Russian analysts are fairly critical of Russia's performance. They acknowledge some improvements, but overall they are not happy. If anything, like you they are surprised at the bad performance of the Georgian Army. It's not so much that the Russians were great, but that the Georgian military perfomance was unexpectedly awful. I found very little discussion of this. In relation to the undamaged military equipment and weapons the Georgians abandoned the casualties their army suffered were very light.
By the way, I agree with you that vis-a-vis Russia it will be smarter for the Georgian military to change it's approach.
Posted by: KolyaV at September 12, 2008 10:52 am
There is one underlying reason why both the Russian and Georgian armies are pretty mediocre - demographics. There simply aren't that many young people, relative to the population, in either country. And in countries where people have few children, they are increasingly unwilling to risk their offspring and will to pretty good lengths to keep their children out of the military. In both Russia and Georgia the enlisted ranks are mostly second rate - less intelligent, uneducated, or (in Russia's case) ethnic minorities. In 20 years, at current trends, both nations will be hard pressed to field any troops at all.
To Michael's point that the muted reaction toward Russians among Georgians surprised me you need to remember that Georgians enjoyed a fairly privileged position in the Soviet Union compared to most non-Russians. They could and did advance to positions of real responsibility (such as running the whole USSR). And even now there are millions of ethnic Georgians living in Russia, many doing very well. Georgians play a huge role to this day in Russian popular culture, Russia's most popular writer, Boris Akunin, is an ethnic Georgian. And Russians used to mostly admire Georgians - loved their toasts, their joie de vivre, the beauty of their women, their great tradition of poetry, their food (by far the best cuisine in the ex-USSR). The Russian-Georgian relationship is a complicated love-hate relationship, it's nothing like the hate-hate of Albanians vs. Serbs or Kurds vs. Arabs. And the split between Georgia and Russia has arguably diminished both countries.
Posted by: Dyadya Vanya at September 12, 2008 11:05 am
As far as changing tactics, what is it that the Georgians would want to accomplish? If they wish to wage war against Russia with some hope of (marginal) success, then they probably can't do it with conventional forces.
If they wish to try, though, military forces are usually most vulnerable to their opposites. Kinda like a "rock/paper/scissors" game. If the Russians are using armor and mechanized infantry, then highly mobile light infantry raiders would be best. That game ends when the Russians send in their own light infantry, though. If their are enough fanatics in Georgia, then heavy mechanized forces are also extremely vulnerable to guerilla warfare. But how far would Georgians be willing to go? Unless their survival is at stake, I can't see a serious effort at actually defeating Russian forces being undertaken. I could be wrong. But it seems like it would be foolish to try to prepare Georgians for a conflict they don't want to fight.
Posted by: programmmer_craig at September 12, 2008 12:23 pm
Earlier, someone commented on the demographics. I've wondered about the age of the residents of the SO/Georgian villages. From the interviews in various articles, most of the inhabitants seem to be old/retired. Are the young members of the area working outside in Moscow or Europe?
Also, I wonder if the action was a way to obtain property by theft by the Ossetians/Abkas hierarchy, rather than a strictly political conflict? Certainly actions after the Russian takeover, the Georgian owned property has been expropriated by other SO residents, not the Russian government or the SO authorities.
Posted by: nvreader at September 12, 2008 12:30 pm
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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