August 7, 2008: Tensions between Russia and Georgia concerning the break-away area of South Ossetia have boiled over. Georgia has ammassed some 12,000 men, including special forces and a tank battalion along the South Ossetia border. Russian peacekeepers in the area reportedly only number 1000 men. Georgian forces began receiving fire from Ossetian units in the city of Tskhinvali.
August 8, 2008: Georgia launches Operation: Clear Field in order to restore its control over Tskhinvali. Three infantry brigades are sent in to do the fighting. In the event, 18 Russian peacekeepers are killed in artillary strikes. Russia responds by invading South Ossetia with approximately 10,000 troops. Russian special forces conduct counter-sabateur operations ensuring that bridges can be used to move tanks to advantageous positions.
The battle in Tskhinvali raged on through August 10, and many were surprised by the stiff Georgian resistance. But the Russians captured the city that day.
This article is not meant to be an in-depth analysis of the Russian invasion of South Ossetia. It is meant to point to some interesting events before and after the invasion.
In the days leading up to the invasion and indeed in the forst days of the war, 127 US military advisors were present in Georgia. They were taking part in a military exercise in which they trained Georgian forces on the use of new Western weapons, including the M4 carbine, Hechler + Koch G36, Israeli TAR-21 battle rifles. They also advised on tactical means.
Russians tend to be very good at pre-fight planning. They gained an enormous strategic surprise with the invasion, giving no notice of the impending fight. Because of a ridged command-control structure though, as the fighting carries on and with little tactical flexibility compared to Western counterparts, things tend to get tougher. However, South Ossetia represented a small enough battlespace so that this weakness was mitigated.
Equipment-wise, the Russians fielded mostly outdated stuff. T-62 and and T-72s. Neither is a match for modern Western battletanks. Some T-80 and T-90s were sighted, though.
While it is true that both sides in this war can be held responsible for the violence, it seems the Russians were planning an invasion since April of 08 and were just waiting for an incident with which to justify an attack. Georgia stepped into the bear-trap (all puns intended) and a shooting war erupted. Both sides too have been accused of war crimes.
This invasion, I think, served as a perfect proving grounds for Russian troops and equipment and President Medvedev planned it this way. Russia could test itself against troops recently trained to Western standards and using some Western weapons. There would be little doubt as to the outcome of the conflict, and the potential of horrendous casualties on the Russian side were exceptionally low.
The single threat that Russia faced was an American-/NATO Alliance retributive action. But Putin is a master analyst. He reads the Western political climate better than anyone–including Western politicians. He is also a master manipulator of the media, able to pull off assassinations of political opponents and barely be called to task. He knew that there was little chance of an American intervention.
When the fighting was done, the Georgian Army had been adequately smashed. Though they had fought valiantly, the fate of the Georgian Army was never in doubt; they could not possibly stand against such overwhelming odds. The Russians gained a clear vision of their deficiencies and strengths. While many of the Georgian fighters consisted of constabulary and militia, the Russian fighters were full-time professionals. But the Russians lost 7 fixwing aircraft in the short engagement. All this with a massive air superiority. Georgian anti-aircraft batteries proved to be very effective, and this is the analysts had seen the situation to begin with.
So now Medvedev has announced an upgrade’s coming for his country’s army. Most alrming is Medvedev’s statement concerning Russia’s nuclear capacities: “The primary task is to increase the combat readiness of our forces. First of all, our strategic nuclear forces.”
In the coming years of America’s new administration, Russia is likely to make a few power-plays. Cooperation and assistance of America’s enemies, such as Iran and North Korea will be Russia’s primary means of preventing another Unipolar Moment. Russia is at once paralyzed and energized by its inherent nationalism. The people cannot help but vote for someone they see as adequately Russian; that is, someone that wants Russia to be separate from the West, and at the same time, they wish to out-do the West in some manner. It seems we have a Cold War Redux. Only this time, one of the contenders is a bit lukewarm.