2008: Russian troops beat the Georgians
on the ground, not so much because of superior numbers, but because the
Russians had more troops with combat experience, and very recent experience in
fighting this kind of war. The Russians got this way by fighting a successful
campaign just across the border, in Chechnya. There, several hundred thousand
Russians and pro-Russian Chechens have gotten valuable combat experience. The
Chechen rebels (a mixture of nationalists, gangsters and Islamic radicals) have
been reduced to a few hundred hard core fighters. The Russians basically use
Chechnya as a training ground where their "contract soldiers" (volunteers,
who are much more effective than conscripts) can get some combat experience.
These volunteers are particularly common in paratrooper and commando
units. Both were apparently used in the
ground operations that pushed the Georgians out of South Ossetia, and conquered
key areas elsewhere in Georgia. Some of the "Russian" troops were
apparently Chechen paramilitary units.
troops had received training and weapons from the U.S. and Israel over the last
few years. But the U.S. training was mainly for peacekeeping operations in Iraq
and Afghanistan. This was of limited use against experienced Russian
counter-terrorism troops. A small number of Georgians received special
operations training, but not enough of these troops were available to defeat
the Russian advance.
Georgians did better in the air and at sea, even though they were greatly
outnumbered there as well. Georgian warplanes shot up the Russians pretty badly
(killing the commander of Russian ground forces, for example) before the
Russians were able to shut down the Georgian air force. But in the process
Russia lost at least four aircraft destroyed, and a number of others badly
Georgian missile boats hit several Russian warships, which had not been
equipped with equipment, or crews, that were capable of dealing with this kind
of threat. Two Russian warships were damaged sufficiently that they had to
withdraw from the area. Within a few days, however, Georgia's miniscule navy
and air force were destroyed, largely by the much larger Russian air force.
ran a large scale Information War campaign, shutting down Georgian access to
the Internet for several days, and blanketing the world media, and Internet,
with Russian spin on what was going on in Georgia and why.
apparently wanted to intimidate the Georgians into electing a less pro-West
government. There are some Georgians who are more inclined to do whatever the
Russians want, but it's unclear if this faction has a majority of the votes
yet. Some Georgians believe that the Russians are still angry about Josef
Stalin, a Georgian who killed more Russians than Adolf Hitler. Stalin is still
a hero to Georgians.
now shown itself to be a bully. Russia has been trying to annex two parts of
Georgia that border Russia, and this war was all about showing Georgians that
Russia would rather fight than give up this land grab. The UN was created to
deal with this sort of thing, but Russia is doing well, so far, intimidating
the UN into inactivity.
It's not a
clear win for the Russians, but, short-term, many things appear to be going
their way. Long term, things are rather more murky. Europeans have been
reminded that the Russian bully they have feared and despised, for so many
centuries, is back in town. That could have interesting consequences down the