Russia is so much better at war

by twit

No wonder Kissinger looks so grumpy in this photo:

U.S. President George W. Bush with first lady Laura Bush, left, and daughter, Barbara, right, cheer on the United States' swimmers on Sunday, August 10, 2008, in the games of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing, China. (Michael Goulding/Orange County Register/MC

Michael Goulding/Orange County Register/MCT via McClatchy

From The Guardian on August 10, 2008:

Moscow appears to have calculated that the west, tied up in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and dependent on Russia for oil and gas, will do nothing to support Georgia beyond expressing impotent concern.

It is as if they’ve been waiting patiently. The Guardian reports on August 11, 2008:

In a series of media interviews, [Georgian President] Saakashvili sought to bring the United States fully behind him.

After speaking to Bush by phone, he told Germany’s Rhein-Zeitung newspaper: “[Bush] understands that it’s not really about Georgia but in a certain sense it’s also an aggression against America. The Russians want the whole of Georgia. The Russians need control over energy routes from central Asia and the Caspian Sea. In addition, they want to get rid of us, they want regime change. Every democratic movement in this neighbouring region must be got rid of,” he was quoted as saying.

From Bloomberg on August 10, 2008, another way to put it would be:

The conflict could endanger U.S. aspirations to secure an emerging energy corridor linking Central Asia to Europe and deals a blow to its plans for bringing the former Soviet republic into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s orbit.

… Georgia is a key link in a U.S.-backed “southern energy corridor” that connects the Caspian Sea region with world markets, bypassing Russia. The BP Plc-led Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline to Turkey runs about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

Another way to look at it:

A column of Russian troops on the road to Tskhinvali

A column of Russian troops on the road to Tskhinvali.

Photograph: Yuri Kochetkov/EPA via The Guardian

As Wired points out on August 8, 2008, Georgia is one of our strongest allies:

Since early 2002, the U.S. government has given a healthy amount of military aid to Georgia. When I last visited South Ossetia, Georgian troops manned a checkpoint outside Tskhinvali — decked out in surplus U.S. Army uniforms and new body armor.

The first U.S. aid came under the rubric of the Georgia Train and Equip Program (ostensibly to counter alleged Al Qaeda influence in the Pankisi Gorge); then, under the Sustainment and Stability Operations Program.

Georgia returned the favor, committing thousands of troops to the multi-national coalition in Iraq. Last fall, the Georgians doubled their contingent, making them the third-largest contributor to the coalition. Not bad for a nation of 4.6 million people.

So the US is of course helping out. The Times Online reports on August 9, 2008:

Half of Georgia’s 2,000 troops in Iraq plan to leave the country by Monday to join the fight against separatists in the breakaway province of South Ossetia, with the rest following as soon as possible, their commander said.

“First of all we need to remove 1,000 guys from here within 96 hours, after that the rest of the guys,” Colonel Bondo Maisuradze told The Times this morning.

“The US will provide us with the transportation,” he added.

As McClatchy notes on August 9, 2008, Russia knows how to wage a war:

WASHINGTON — Even as it accuses Russia of using “disproportionate” force in the conflict over Georgia’s rebel South Ossetia province, the United States find itself with few diplomatic or military options to deter Moscow’s ferocious air and ground assault.

In fact, most of the key cards, including the power to veto any United Nations [action], were held by Russia …

Update: a map of the region dated August 12, 2008 from the BBC:

BBC map

Update: via The Guardian on August 11, 2008:

The Georgian authorities said the town of Gori, 40 miles north of Tbilisi, had, in effect, fallen to the Russians, who were also advancing from the breakaway province of Abkhazia in the west into territory previously under Georgian control.

“The Georgian army is retreating to defend the capital. The government is urgently seeking international intervention to prevent the fall of Georgia and further loss of life,” said the Georgian government.

and the Associated Press on August 11, 2008:

The Georgian president said Russia had sent 20,000 troops and 500 tanks into Georgia. He said Russian warplanes were bombing roads and bridges, destroying radar systems and targeting Tbilisi’s civilian airport. One Russian bombing raid struck the Tbilisi airport area only a half-hour before EU envoys arrived, he said.

Another hit near key Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which carries Caspian crude to the West. No supply interruptions have been reported.

and McClatchy on August 11, 2008:

Russian troops were reported in control of Georgia’s main east-west highway outside the central Georgian town of Gori. In the west, they seized Georgia’s main port at Poti, according to the U.S. State Department, and occupied a Georgian military base. In the north, they forced Georgian troops from the disputed city of Tskhinvali. Everywhere, Russian jets had complete dominion of the skies, from which they bombed and strafed retreating Georgians at will.

Update: Via McClatchy on August 12, 2008:

For three days, Russian jets and bombers have unleashed a massive aerial campaign against Georgian forces that, more than anything, dramatically changed the war’s direction.

and via the Guardian on August 12, 2008:

“We do not yet have a peace deal, we have a provisional cessation of hostilities, but this is significant progress,” Sarkozy said after several hours of talks with Medvedev in Moscow and before taking the terms to Saakashvili in Tbilisi.

The key Russian demands are that the Georgian leader pledges, in an agreement that is signed and legally binding, to abjure all use of force in his country in any attempt to resolve the territorial disputes with the two breakaway pro-Russian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia; and that Georgian forces withdraw entirely from South Ossetia and are no longer part of the joint “peacekeeping” contingent there with Russian and local Ossetian forces.

Medvedev also insisted that the populations of the two breakaway regions had to be allowed to vote on whether they wanted to join Russia, prefiguring a possible annexation by Moscow that would enfeeble and diminish Georgia and leave Saakashvili looking crushed.

If Saakashvili balked at the tough terms from Moscow, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said: “We will be forced to take other measures to prevent any repetition of the situation that emerged because of the outrageous Georgian aggression.”

and from the Associated Press on August 12, 2008:

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) – Georgia’s president has told a news conference that he agrees to plan to end the fighting with Russia over breakaway regions in Georgia.

Mikhail Saakashvili told reporters after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy that “there should be a cease-fire.”

The plan was negotiated by Sarkozy and has also been agreed to by Russia’s president. It calls for both Russian and Georgian troops to move back to their original positions.

Some sticking points remain, including the status of Russian peacekeepers in Georgia’s breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.


14 Responses to Russia is so much better at war

  1. lestro says:

    it’s not that they are so much better as much as Putin doesn’t even have to pretend there is opposition or that he cares what they think.
    it’s not that they’re better, just more overt in their motivations…

    but let’s play a game:
    “[Putin] understands that it’s not really about [Iraq] but in a certain sense it’s also an aggression against [OPEC]. The [Americans] want the whole of [Iraq]. The [Americans] need control over energy routes from [the middle east] and the [Persian Gulf]. In addition, they want to get rid of us, they want regime change. Every [even remotely anti-american] movement in this neighbouring region must be got rid of,” he was quoted as saying.

    yep, that’s what i thought.
    maybe if the Bush Doctrine didn’t reverse 230 years of American foreign policy, we might have a leg to stand on. Otherwise when he tries to shake a stern finger at russia, Bush looks like Louis in Casablanca – “shocked and appalled to find gambling” while collecting his winnings.

  2. batguano101 says:

    Takes one to know one.

    Louis in Casablanca pulled the plug on any serious “moral indignation”.

    There is a strategic interest in the energy corridor, Gulf States, huge oil fields in Iraq, etc. by both Russia and the USA, which is the real issue in all that has taken place to date.

    Russia is not that good at war, not since WWII at least.
    We see traditional heavy tanks, artillery, and air power applied to the tiny nation of Georgia. It looks more like an FTX (field training exercise) than a real invasion and war from a distance, but under the falling bombs and shells it is very real war on a tiny country scale.
    It has been pointed out elsewhere that the structure of the Russian Military has not changed since USSR days, just smaller today.

    The Bush family looks happy at the Olympics.
    Kissenger in front has been instructing the president throughout two terms, and probably today closely.

  3. The AFP is reporting today that “US military surprised by speed, timing of Russia military action,” including this bit about the scale of the Russian attack:

    The US defense official said about 8,000 to 10,000 Russian troops have moved into South Ossetia. They also have flown SU-25, SU-24, SU-27 and TU-22 fighters and bombers during the campaign.

    and this seems to make the point about how slow the US has been on the uptake:

    … the extent of the Russian operation remained unclear to US officials on Monday.

    Georgian officials said Russian troops had moved out of South Ossetia into Georgia proper, occupying the city of Gori while Georgian troops were retreating to the capital.

    But US defense officials said they were unable to corroborate the Georgian claims.

    “We don’t see anything that supports they are in Gori,” said a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I don’t know why the Georgians are saying that.”

    considering this news:

    GORI, Georgia (AP) – Russian forces seized several towns and a military base deep in western Georgia on Monday, opening a second front in the fighting. Georgia’s president said his country had been effectively cut in half with the capture of the main east-west highway near Gori.

    … In the city of Gori, an AP reporter heard artillery fire and Georgian soldiers warned locals to get out because Russian tanks were approaching. Hundreds of terrified residents fled toward Tbilisi using any means of transport they could find. Many stood along the road trying to flag down passing cars.

  4. batguano101 says:


    I don’t buy that about being slow on the uptake.
    We have about 150 troops in Georgia, did when this began.
    They are there or were there if now gone, on training missions that were on going, SOP.
    So the “slow on the uptake” is just spin that we are not doing anything about the invasion.

    But what can we do? Our nation is not in tip top economic or military condition due to the drain of on going wars. Bankrupt is not a position of power in the world, and the world knows it if our population does not.

    I am not offended by the spin, but our military takes it’s orders and missions from the civilian authority and is not unaware of a thing.

    We are not sitting pretty primarily due to debt beyond belief or understanding.
    The options are limited by that debt and by the lack of will to do anything.
    “Thems the facts” as they say.

  5. I think that your point that “the “slow on the uptake” is just spin that we are not doing anything about the invasion” is an interesting one.

    Our Bush Administration? Lie to us? you don’t say…

  6. askheaves says:

    The great speed and mobilization of the Russian military is surprising because it’d be impossible to do on a whim. They were amassing and getting ready for this, and goaded the Georgia forces into an attack.

    The Russians have been funding and arming the Ossetian seperatists for a while now, and the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia was in response to an increase in the number of Hezbollah-style rocket attacks into Georgia. Georgia strikes back, Russia runs the 50 feet across the border now with a pretext to flex its muscles and show those uppity former-colonies what they get when they make deals with the West (especially the US).

    They’re “better” at war because they’re more willing to do despicable things and they know nobody will try to stop them. Now they’re going for a full military takeover of the whole country.

  7. I’ve added a map of the area from the BBC to this post. With Russia’s progress so far, it definitely looks like they are going for a complete takeover of the country.

    The Georgian president said Russia had sent 20,000 troops and 500 tanks into Georgia. He said Russian warplanes were bombing roads and bridges, destroying radar systems and targeting Tbilisi’s civilian airport. One Russian bombing raid struck the Tbilisi airport area only a half-hour before EU envoys arrived, he said.

    Another hit near key Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which carries Caspian crude to the West. No supply interruptions have been reported.

  8. askheaves says:

    A couple of good National Review assessments of the situation:
    Georgia on our Conscience

    When Frozen Wars Heat Up

    They informed a good chunk of my knowledge thus far…

  9. Thank you for the links. This line (from the second link) does seem to about sum up why we can expect the US to do nothing much in response:

    There is not enough at stake to risk direct conflict with Russia.

    I also appreciate the mention of the US missile defense system in the first link, because I imagine that our missile defense allies over there find this episode instructive.

  10. askheaves says:

    More fun information about this region:
    Via the War Nerd

  11. From Slate on August 11, 2008:

    Bush pressed the other NATO powers to place Georgia’s application for membership on the fast track. The Europeans rejected the idea, understanding the geo-strategic implications of pushing NATO’s boundaries right up to Russia’s border. If the Europeans had let Bush have his way, we would now be obligated by treaty to send troops in Georgia’s defense. That is to say, we would now be in a shooting war with the Russians. Those who might oppose entering such a war would be accused of “weakening our credibility” and “destroying the unity of the Western alliance.”

  12. batguano101 says:

    On Slate- “we would now be in a shooting war with the Russians”.

    Just as easily, the Russians would not have invaded because Georgia was already in NATO and it would have started a shooting war.

    Interestingly, when Bush called for a ceasefire Russia retorted with condemnation and multiple justifications.

    The minute the EU President, (also French President) arrived in Russia and called for a cease fire it was instantly accepted.

    Looks like the snub was pointedly, Russia listened to the EU and mocked the US.

    Could this mean Russia is not our buddy anymore?

  13. batguano101 says:

    In a direct quote from Gomer Pyle-

    “Surprise, Surprise”

    Nifty pipeline maps.

  14. lestro says:

    actually, the russians forced two additional points on the accord brought in by the french president. the first essentially gives them the right to do whatever they want – instead of having to get out – and the second added point puts in play the “breakaway republics” of Georgia, one of which was not even involved in this conflict.

    also important to note that while the russians apparently agreed to the terms of said agreement, they are yet to actually follow the agreement as two of the first four points – cessation of hostilities and return to pre-war encampments – are being openly ignored by the Red Army.

    yeah, i said Red Army.

    Russia has not been our buddy for years, despite our president looking into the soul of putin and declaring him “straight forward and trustworthy. (though perhaps that is more a statement about Bush’s own soul as i am sure he considers himself the same…).
    starting with Bush pulling out of the anti-ballistic missile treaty and continuing through the president threatening to build a ballistic missile installation along their border, Russia has been kind of doing its own thing again. Russia was also opposed to the invasion of iraq and is quite friendly with Iran. they have also threatened to “go to war” over potential us missile sites in the czech republic and poland.

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