Russia: Still Second Rate And Unloved



August 20, 2008: The Russian military demonstrated great resourcefulness and innovation during its recent campaign in Georgia. This includes the strategic planning, because the war was a set up. Russia used only one infantry division for the invasion, and had held training exercises in July. The increased border violence by South Ossetian forces caused the Georgians think they could retake the lost (in 1991) province. Less than a day after the Georgian forces entered South Ossetia, the Russian force of over 20,000 troops (including combat experienced Chechen counter-terror units and North Ossetian militia groups) came in. The Georgians were not prepared for this, even though the Russians had been making a lot of noise, for weeks, on the Internet about the growing "crises" in South Ossetia. By August 8th, the Russian Cyber War preparations became evident, as most Georgian media and government web sites were shut down by Russian attacks. It was the Internet version of the blitzkrieg, and a blow to military and civilian morale in Georgia. But on the ground, the combat experience of the Russian troops quickly translated in defeats for inexperienced Georgian troops. Despite several years of training under the supervision of Israeli and American combat veterans, the Georgians were still not as effective as the Russians (who have been fighting in Chechnya for over a decade). Although the Georgian anti-aircraft units brought down some Russian jets, the Russians basically ruled the skies and used that to constantly pick apart Georgian units. It was Russian air power the prevented the Georgians from mounting an effective defense.

Russia told the UN that it would veto any UN attempt to pass resolutions urging Russia to hurry up and get out of Georgia. The Russian success in Georgia was very popular inside Russia, where there has been growing unhappiness over Russias loss of empire and superpower status in the early 1990s. Nationalist politicians are talking about rebuilding the empire. This could get tricky, and is one reason the Russians get so excited when another of their neighbors talks about joining NATO. That organization is designed for mutual defense. You attack one NATO member, you attack them all, and two of them (France left NATO in the 1960s, but is considered an associate member) have nuclear weapons.

August 19, 2008: Russian troops began withdrawing from Georgia, slowly. It will probably take them weeks to complete the process. In the meantime, they will continue to loot,  and generally punish, the Georgians, in order to let everyone know who calls the shots in the Caucasus, and anywhere along the Russian border. But this punitive operation did not have the desired effect. The Czechs, Poles and Ukrainians all promptly agreed to work with the West to improve their defenses against Russia, and the possibility of becoming "another Georgia". There was much talk about a return to the Cold War. But this time around, Russia is hardly a superpower. Russia has nuclear weapons, but beyond that, their military is decidedly second rate. Against a third rate opponent like Georgia, that's sufficient. But against the West, not so much. Russia's European neighbors appear ready to side with the West, even in the face of Russian threats.

August 17, 2008: Russian politicians are working on establishing South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations. These two provinces, populated by people who are not ethnic Georgians (the Caucasus has dozens of such groups, which is one reason this is such a violent part of the world) are not large enough to survive economically, and will no doubt eventually ask to become part of Russia. This will annoy the UN, as Russia will have, in effect, taken two provinces from neighboring Georgia, and gotten away with it. Russia has been doing this sort of thing for centuries, and considers it necessary to its national defense, and perfectly all right. This plays well inside Russia, not so well elsewhere.

August 12, 2008: Russia agreed to a ceasefire and ordered their forces to stop fighting. But it would be another week before Russian troops began leaving Georgia.