Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When You Start to Take Tbilisi

The Russians won on the battlefield, but at a higher cost that showed deficiencies in the Russian military. But the Russians have lost the war.

The Russians are pledged to pull out of Georgia by Friday, but are dithering as they wage a stealth war on Georgia (and they openly plan to remain inside Georgia despite their pledge to pull out):

Russian soldiers were setting up camp Wednesday in at least three positions in west-central Georgia. Further east, soldiers were building a sentry post of timber on a hill outside Igoeti, 30 miles from Tbilisi and the closest point to the capital where Russian troops have maintained a significant presence.

A top Russian general, meanwhile, said Russia plans to construct nearly a score of checkpoints to be manned by hundreds of soldiers in the so-called "security zone" around the border with South Ossetia.

And at a military training school in the mountain town of Sachkhere, a Georgian sentry said he feared Russian forces will make good on their threat to return after a confrontation the day before.

The sentry, who gave his name only as Corporal Vasily, said 23 Russian tanks, APCS and heavy guns showed up at the base on Tuesday and demanded to be let in. The Georgians refused and the Russians left after a 30-minute standoff but vowed to return after blowing up facilities in the village of Osiauri, he said.

So the Russians will retain Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which they already had before the war; failed to overthrow the Georgian government, just using enough force to anger Georgians and remind them of the Russian threat without destroying Georgia; and angered the West rather than cowed it with their partial invasion. All the Russians got was a short-term dose of self-esteem that will wear off as the reality of Russian weakness eventually becomes apparent.

But other than that, the war is going just swell for Moscow.

If Russia had gone all the way to Tbilisi and installed a puppet regime in a week of fighting while the West was dithering, we might be able to say that Russia won the war. But Russia didn't go for the Gold, for whatever reason.

When you start to take Tbilisi, take Tbilisi.