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Russia: Why Georgia Lost The War
   Next Article → INTELLIGENCE: Britain Refuses To Share

August 10, 2008: To no one's surprise, the  Russians drove back a Georgian attempt to regain control of South Ossetia. There were several hundred military and civilian casualties. The fighting apparently began when some South Ossetia militiamen fired across the border at Georgian troops. This escalated to a Georgian invasion, and a Russian reinforcement of its peacekeepers, and the expulsion of the Georgian troops. All in the space of a week. The fighting continues, with Russian warplanes bombing civilians and military targets in Georgia and moving more troops into another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia. Georgia has asked for a ceasefire, but the Russians have not responded.

Since the early 1990s, Russia and Georgia have argued over who should control South Ossetia, a Georgian province on the Russian border. Just to the north of South Ossetia, is the Russian territory of North Ossetia. The Soviets often split ethnic groups between two provinces (or "Autonomous Republics") to make it more difficult for the people to unite in opposition to the Soviet Union. This, among many similar measures, worked. Since the Russians moved in their peacekeepers in the early 1990s, they have issued Russian passports to the South Ossetians and, in effect, annexed the region.

The Ossertians are a different ethnic group from the ethnic Georgians, as are the Abkhazians. This sort of ethnic mélange is common throughout the Caucasus. During the last years of the Soviet Union (1989-1991), ethnic tensions increased throughout the Soviet Union, as long dormant (and suppressed by a brutal police state) aspirations stirred once more. While the Soviet politicians pulled off an astonishing feat by dissolving the empire without bloodshed (and creating fourteen new countries from portions of the empire that decided not to stay with the new Russia), there were lots of smaller groups that still had separatist grievances. Two of these groups were in Georgia, and occupied the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The populations rebelled against the Georgian government and drove out Georgian officials, troops and ethnic Georgians. Thousands of ethnic Abkhazians and Ossetians fled to the new statelets. Since both of these areas were on the Russian border, Russia saw an opportunity to quiet things down (they did not want an ethnic based guerilla war going on along their border). So Russia offered its services as mediator and peacekeeper in the early 1990s, and peace was restored. The UN agreed all this, and a reluctant Georgia went along. But after that, the Russians refused to leave, or encourage the Abkhazians and Ossetians to work out a deal to become part of Georgia once more. Abkhazians and Ossetians wanted to be independent, and declared themselves so. No one else recognized this. In 2004, Georgia began cracking down on the smuggling and other criminal activity that was keeping the economy in South Ossetia going. This led to more and more gunfire along the border between Georgia and South Ossetia.

Two years ago, Georgia began a major expansion of its armed forces. Officially, the active forces were then about 26,000 troops, already up from about 12,000-14,000 just a couple few years before that. Unofficially, the government has raised strength to about 28,000. This was done by adding more professional troops and increasing the order-of-battle by two battalions of conscripts. The government goal is to increase the active force to about 35,000. In addition, Georgia began building a reserve force.

 

Until a few years ago the "reserves" constituted the entire body of conscripts discharged over the past 15 years. But this pool, of about 250,000 men, was just that, a pool. The "reservists" were not subject to periodic refresher training, and so no more than perhaps 10 percent of them could be considered useful in the event of activation. Beginning four years ago, Georgia instituted a more rigorous reserve training program. An active reserve has been created, which apparently numbers over 10,000 men, and is expected to grow to as many as 100,000 over the next few years, as conscripts (drafted at 18 to 18-24 months) leave active service, and enter 5-10 years of reserve duty. 

While Georgia doesn't have the money for modern equipment (it's stuff is mostly Russian Cold War vintage), it does have enough professional soldiers from the old Red Army, and a military tradition going back centuries. Much to the discomfort of Russia, the United States has been supplying Georgia with military trainers and some equipment. Partly, this is in response to Georgian help in Iraq. Georgia first sent 800 peacekeepers to Iraq, and began increasing that force. Currently there are 2,000 Georgian troops in Iraq, where they obtain useful operational experience.

 

The principal reason for the military build-up is the secessionist regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Georgians wanted the option of trying for a military solution. There are also some Russian troops, leftovers from Soviet Union era garrisons, still in the country. Georgia has been trying get all the Russian soldiers out since the Soviet Union collapsed (and Georgia became independent once more) in 1991. But the Russians have come up with a long string of excuses for delaying a final pullout. To make matters worse, several thousand of those troops are "peacekeepers" in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. To most Georgians, the Russian peacekeepers are there mainly to keep the rebel regions free of Georgian control.

It's not yet clear what the Georgian government was thinking when they allowed the border skirmishing to escalate to a military effort to restore government control over South Ossetia. It didn't work, as the Russians promptly counterattacked and drove the Georgian troops out of South Ossetia. The Georgians can try a guerilla war, and hope that their new relationship with the United States and the European Union will add some measure of protection. That's a false hope. The Russians have made it clear during the last few years that any real, or imagined, Western influence or interference in nations that border Russia (what the Russians call the "near-abroad") will be opposed with lots of noise, followed by some firepower. The recent events in Georgia are an example of that, an example the Russians hope the West takes seriously, even if the Georgians don't.

Russian politicians have been playing the nationalism card, catering to widespread feelings that the Soviet Union should be restored. Most Russians never cared for the communist dictatorship, but they did like being a superpower.  The Russians also feel that those fourteen nations that split off when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, left Russia surrounded by a lot of unstable and vulnerable nations. This sounds paternalistic and paranoid to Westerners, but not to Russians. And the Russians are willing to use force to back up these attitudes, as the Georgians just discovered. Russia still has nukes, and some Cold War attitudes that make for a potentially very dangerous situation.

 

 

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Nichevo    Drunks don't think they're drunk   8/10/2008 1:43:45 PM
And Russians don't think they're paranoid.  Or imperialistic. 
 
The fact that they want something is no reason to let them have it.
 
It would be nice if we had more levers to use on them, but the very fact that we don't shows how secure they are.

Russia has no right to a sphere of influence as they conceive it.
 
As for Russian passports, what a crock!  So all we need to create world peace is to give everybody on earth US passports?
 
At the very least we should send Georgia weapons and intel.  But even that - some suggest the Georgian government is thoroughly infiltrated.  It would be best to avoid being compromised.
 
 
 
Please don't tire me with cries of hypocrisy wrt Kosovo.  I am being perfectly consistent - screw Russia.  When they have withdrawn all the way back into the Viking Rus and learn to act civilized then get back to me.
 
I don't even care about Ossetia, North or South.  If there was a chance in hell of them being free and independent that would be fine.  That is not the choice on offer.
 
 
I am highly vexed at SP's passivity.
 
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trenchsol       8/10/2008 1:52:46 PM
Why would Russia care about couple of districts in northen Georgia ? Some ethnic Russian live there, but could it be the reason ? If Russia is putting pressure on Georgia because of the pipeline how long could it work ? If those provinces become part of Russia, as they claim they will, then there will be no way to apply pressure in the future.
 
What do you think ? What Russia hopes to accomplish ? Are they just trying to send a message ?
 
For the people who want to discuss "right" and "wrong", please don't bother to reply, I don't care. I have chosen sides long ago. This specially applies to Serbs lamenting for Kosovo. My country was in war with Serbia until couple of years ago, so, again, I just don't care.
 
DG


 
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arodrig6       8/10/2008 2:52:36 PM


What do you think ? What Russia hopes to accomplish ? Are they just trying to send a message ?


I would guess the Russian government is playing to two audiences:
 
Abroad) Sending a 'don't mess with Russia' message. Russia sees NATO expansion and the proposed pipelines as weakening its influence and threatening its economic power. Fear of Western invasion goes back to pre-Napoleonic times. And the Russian economy is very petro-based.
 
At Home) Many Russians miss being a superpower. A 'Short Victorious War' helps bolster moral at home and gathers more support for the government. 
 
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Bond       8/10/2008 3:18:10 PM
Glad to see first two posters comment on conflict while admitting they are biased. As long as it screwes Russia regardless if they acted right or wrong. Who gives a shit if countless civilians die, right? Disgusting...
 
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1Bulgarian1    good article   8/10/2008 4:11:59 PM
The article is well written and informative..
 
It should be emphasized, howevere that the Ossetinian and Abhasians are not ethnic Georgian, and that these regions, were never really part of Georgia. They were autonomous regions under Georgian administration given by the Soviets.
 
Georgians have mocking and negative attitude to these people, which results in frequent disregard of their rights.
 
Understandably the osetinian do not whant to be part of Georgia and subjected to  humiliation, when they have larger and stronger Russia nearby .......they prefer to be part of it.
 
The onset of the war clearly demonstrates this.
In the firts days of the war Georgians destroy  the capital Chinvaly with multiple missile launcher causing indiscriminate destruction and loss of humen life..massiv use of GRAD missiles is not a good liberator strategy.
You did not destry you own country that way!!!!
You did not kill people which you claim are your sitizens that way.
 
In general the antirussian propaganda continues in the west generating an  overwelming negative mass culture againts the russions.......and and russions feel threatened.
In addition supporting people like Saskashvili makes this fears stronger. 
So Russians will act brutally. They can not aford to look hesitent. And because the disappointment of the USA in particular (EU is completely different story) is so strong and comes with fear, russions will teach a lesson. And they can not be divertied by that. Fear with the russian do not mean surrender it means that they will attack.
 
So now try to help the georgians afeter sicretly encourageing them to do this suicide.
Russian took the matter so seriously that they will prepare the nukes.
Georgians will suffer at least one more week. After that russions will establishe a buffer zone and will withdrow behind it. The rest will be done by the georgians who will seek panishment to Sascashvili. 
 
meanwile!!!
 Saskashvili put in complete surprise his western allies starting war in their name obviouly without permition.
 
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Lance Blade    1Bulgarian1   8/10/2008 5:59:58 PM
Agreed.
 
How many more people must die before everyone learns that nationalism and brute force does not pay in the long run! Saakashvilli could have sorted his own country out first, made it into an attractive place to live in, invested in the economies of the respublics, and maybe, after years of hard work, they would have welcomed Georgia. It's what the Russians are doing now with Chechnya, and it's working better than the two brutal invasions before that. Win the hearts and minds of the people. 
 
But no, he decided to just go "you don't like us? WHAM!" and subjugate them. It's why he and his party [National Movement] got elected. He must have thought to the very end that the West was coming to save him. And he fooled many Georgians into believing it. But lighting candles in Tbilisi that spell "STOP RUSSIA" in English, is not going to get US fighters over Georgian skies in the nick of time. I feel sorry for the people who died, but the Georgians brought it on themselves when they elected this charismatic clown. He improved the military. It's a pity that's about all he did.
 
My prayers are with the dead civilians. May all this end soon in peace.
 
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dont_tread    the fragile russian ego   8/10/2008 6:18:00 PM
 
An injured Georgian woman calls for help in the town of Gori, 80 kilometres west of Tbilisi, after a Russian warplane bombed an apartment block yesterday. Photo: Reuters
http://ap.google.com/media/ALeqM5gndtQuQaswhho3BRxusAuU-RGhnw?size=m" closure_hashcode_="4" />
 
georgia didn't invade a foreign country, russia did.

south ossetians are not russian citizens. russia simply gave passports to the south ossetian population in order to create a pretext to invade georgia. georgia is too pro-west, too pro-NATO for the fragile russian ego to handle.

 
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dont_tread    the fragile russian ego   8/10/2008 6:20:01 PM
 
Burnt-out Russian tanks on the streets of the South Ossetian capital. Photo: AP
Burned tanks are seen at a street in a town of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway Georgian enclave South Osetiahttp://www.timesonline.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00381/georgia-tv385_381354a.jpg" width="385" border="0" />
Jewish Georgian minister: Thanks to Israeli training, we're fending off Russia
 
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Nichevo       8/10/2008 6:25:24 PM

Glad to see first two posters comment on conflict while admitting they are biased. As long as it screwes Russia regardless if they acted right or wrong. Who gives a shit if countless civilians die, right? Disgusting...


Very good, commie, you noticed that in fact I was talking to you. 
 
Please don't make me laugh, I just got done eating.  Nobody cares or has ever in history cared less about dead civilians than Russia. You would gladly and self-righteously kill everyone in the Caucasus for control of one more drop of oil or gas.  You never hesitated in the past while playing the Great Game.
 
And yes, suppressing Russia's imperialist hegemonic dick-waving is Job One.  You all need to get put back in your cage.  For all your talking about Georgia fixing itself, making life in SO better, and not being so nationalistic...do they have mirrors where you come from or is that too advanced and Western for you? 
 
The problem is of course that when Russia lost, they were not invaded and stomped on as you did to the Germans in 1945.  That's why you haven't learned your lesson.
 
I care nothing for Russian pride.  You don't deserve pride.  If it weren't for oil you'd be another Zimbabwe.  You are shameful and you should be made aware of it.  I used to think that since 1991, China was worse, but now it's very hard to decide which of you to root for.  Probably like Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, the answer is None of the Above.
 
Hope you enjoy our missile defense.   Maybe you think this will decrease CZ & Poland's interest in basing our systems, that is one likely benefit your planners dreamed of.  We will see about that.
 
Do you ever ask yourself WHY all the FSU nations want to get as far away from you as possible?  Of course not.  I'm beginning to be sorry we didn't send Stingers to Chechnya.
 

 

 
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00_Chem_AJB       8/10/2008 6:43:13 PM



Glad to see first two posters comment on conflict while admitting they are biased. As long as it screwes Russia regardless if they acted right or wrong. Who gives a shit if countless civilians die, right? Disgusting...






Very good, commie, you noticed that in fact I was talking to you. 


 

Please don't make me laugh, I just got done eating.  Nobody cares or has ever in history cared less about dead civilians than Russia. You would gladly and self-righteously kill everyone in the Caucasus for control of one more
drop of oil or gas.  You never hesitated in the past while playing the
Great Game.


And yes, suppressing Russia's imperialist hegemonic dick-waving is Job One.  You all need to get put back in your cage.  For all your talking about Georgia fixing itself, making life in SO better, and not being so nationalistic...do they have mirrors where you come from or is that too advanced and Western for you? 

The problem is of course that when Russia lost, they were not invaded and stomped on as you did to the Germans in 1945.  That's why you haven't learned your lesson.

I care nothing for Russian pride.  You don't deserve pride.  If it weren't for oil you'd be another Zimbabwe.  You are shameful and you should be made aware of it.  I used to think that since 1991, China was worse, but now it's very hard to decide which of you to root for.  Probably like Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, the answer is None of the Above.

Hope you enjoy our missile defense.   Maybe you think this will decrease CZ & Poland's interest in basing our systems, that is one likely benefit your planners dreamed of.  We will see about that.

 Do you ever ask yourself WHY all the FSU nations want to get as far away from you as possible?  Of course not.  I'm beginning to be sorry we didn't send Stingers to Chechnya.


 




 






Well by your rules really the only contry fit to have a sphere of influnce would be Austrialia or India, the other powers have all commited acts of burtality and needless violence.
 
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