Georgia's fait accompli failed

Georgia’s main aim in its offensive in South Ossetia appears to have been a swift advance on the separatist capital Tskhinvali to seize Ossetian territory and achieve a fait accompli before Russia is able to respond.

The timing may have been chosen to coincide with Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing for the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Given Mr Putin’s significant role in Russian foreign policy, Georgia may have hoped that his absence would slow down any Russian response.

In the fighting so far, Georgia has used its superiority in artillery and air power to drive the poorly equipped Ossetian forces from villages near Tskhinvali. This has allowed it to surround the city and, barring a short ceasefire so civilians can withdraw, continue its assault.

The Government of President Saakashvili has increased its spending on Armed Forces in recent years.

Together with military aid and training from the US, Britain and Turkey and the experience of its forces in Iraq, this has helped to modernise and improve the professionalism of certain units. However, many units, including the large reserve forces, remain poorly equipped and trained.

Georgia has been able to overrun the comparatively weak Ossetian forces, but a potential conflict with Russia would be a very different affair. Russia’s forces are overwhelmingly superior and their equipment more modern and more serviceable than Georgia’s.

Should Russia involve itself more directly in the conflict, its likely strategy would be to secure all land and air entry points into the region and then build up its ground forces.

Such operations could be supported by guerrilla attacks by surviving South Ossetian militia units.

This would quickly give Russia air and artillery superiority relatively and it is unlikely that Georgian forces would be able to withstand any such assault for long. Indeed, Georgia’s forces would be forced to withdraw within a matter of days.

It is unlikely that Georgia wants to engage Russian forces directly and if it does seize Tskhinvali, it will want to obtain some form of ceasefire.

The situation remains extremely volatile and there is a real risk that Georgia and Russia will become embroiled in direct conflict. This would have wideranging and damaging implications for the region and may put at risk major energy projects, such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, threatening European


[Source: By Matthew Clements is Eurasia Editor for Jane’s Information group, The Times, London, 09Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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