Winning: Hidden Victories In Georgia

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August 17, 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.

The Georgian 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.

The 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 damaged.

At sea, 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.

The Russians 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.

The Russians 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.

Russia has 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 road.

 

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