Wednesday, August 13, 2008

They Have More Territorial Ambitions

The Russian ceasefire has not led the Russians to cease firing. Or advancing into Georgia apparently, where a Russian motor rifle battalion (what we'd call a mechanized battalion) based on reports of 50 armored vehicles moving into the city and television video showing lots of BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles moving into the city:

Russian troops and paramilitaries rolled into the strategic Georgian city of Gori on Wednesday, apparently violating a truce designed to end the conflict that has uprooted tens of thousands and scarred the Georgian landscape.

The troops may have pulled back:

Georgian officials said Gori, a central hub on Georgia's main east-west highway, was looted and bombed by the Russians before they left later in the day and camped nearby.

Or perhaps the Russians just let their South Ossetian allies do the looting.

And American supplies will flow into Georgia in a sign of support:

In Washington, President Bush said the United States planned a massive humanitarian effort involving American ships and aircraft, includiung a C-17 military cargo plane loaded with supplies that landed on Wednesday.

This on top of our airlifting the Georgian regiment that had been deployed in Iraq back to Georgia. The effect will be to signal limits to what Russia should do. We won't support military action to restore Georgian control over their lost regions, but our initial presence signals that we would do more if needed.

Taking Gori would effectively split the country, apparently, as the main east-west artery:

This map is from the Institute for the Study of War.

I assume there must be minor roads that go around Gori, but that would be more difficult to use.
The Russians have naval and air superiority over the small Georgian air and naval elements.

On the ground, the situation may not be as bad as you'd assume by looking at the overall strength between the two countries.

Georgia has two motor rifle regiments, a recon battalion, a special forces battalion, one full Marine battalion, an artillery regiment, and a peacekeeping battalion (whatever that is, I assume some type of light infantry unit with special training). There is a reserve motor rifle regiment, that I assume is being called up or already called up. The Georgians have about 250 tanks and armored vehicles plus about 250 artillery, rocket, and heavy mortar pieces. Count another 20,000 border troops, interior ministry troops, and reservists who could fight as mostly static light infantry.

While the Russian military is far larger, it is scattered across a continent and mostly useless conscripts. The nearly 400,000 in the army include 190,000 conscripts and only 35,000 paratroopers. They maybe have only a half dozen decent divisions including their airborne units. The airborne units are mechanized, with infantry fighting vehicles smaller than the BMPs, and called BMDs. So Russia doesn't have an awful lot to lose if the going gets tough.

It seems that the Russians have two airborne regiments and a motor rifle regiment moving in to support what may total the equivalent of a motor rifle regiment already inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I assume special forces are involved, too. And there are local allies that may amount to thousands of light infantry militias.

Another couple Russian motor rifle regiments and a tank regiment plus artillery should be available from the parent division of the motor rifle regiment sent in. And more airborne units could be airlifted in.

I don't understand why television reports say Tbilisi is unguarded. Unless the Georgian military has unraveled, they should be able to dig in in light infantry in urban areas along the road to the capital, with mobile units prepared to strike the flanks of any attackers that get enmeshed in street fighting.

Like I noted, the Russians don't have the weight of numbers in practice that you might think. Their few good ground units have a lot of area to cover from the Baltic to the Pacific. Georgia is clearly outclassed, but if they have the will to fight, they could give Russia a bloody nose fighting on Georgian home soil with American forces visibly providing non-military aid. I can only hope that when we airlifted the Georgians from Iraq back home we jammed lots of hand-held anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles on the planes. And I hope that Turkey is shipping in weapons to Georgia to keep their traditional enemy away from the Turkish border.

The war is young. Georgia was not going to be able to hold their fingerholds over their rebellious regions in the face of Russian power and local resistance to Georgian control. But if the Russians escalate to attempt a conquest, the easy part will be over for Russia.

Well, the easy part will be over as long as the Georgians will fight the Russians, that is. Much depends on the Georgian people. And the Russian people, too, if they suffer a bloody nose in a longer war.

UPDATE: I still don't have a feel for the war. The reporting thus far has been about troops moving to one place or another without any real details on how the fighting is going.

Are Georgians putting up stiff resistance? Are the Russians showing signs of skill? I'm sorry, but it is not useful reporting to know that there is looting in Gori. Even knowing the Russians seem to be holding Gori now does not tell me anything about the fighting.

Early in the war I saw video of Georgians in retreat with one tank towing another tank. This seemed to show orderly retreat rather than panicky rout, but that was days ago and just a hint.

And what of that Roki Tunnel on the map? It appears to be a crucial choke point for the Russians. Why aren't the Georgians sacrificing their tiny air force to try and close off that tunnel?
UPDATE: This article has Russian admission of casualties after less than a week of war:
Moscow's general Staff says it lost 74 soldiers in the fighting, with 171 wounded and 19 missing.
A force of what I figure totals 12,000 troops lost 74 KIA in 5-6 days? That seems fairly heavy to me.
UPDATE: Strategypage writes that Georgian air defenses have taken a toll:
While Georgian ground forces have been pushed around by the recent Russian invasion, Georgian air defenses have been noticeably more effective. The Russians have admitted to losing four aircraft (three Su-25 ground attack bombers and a Tu-22 bomber flying a reconnaissance mission.)
Right now the Russians seem to be tooling around inside Georgia at will. What are the Georgian ground forces doing? My guess is they are preserving themselves while not giving the Russians an excuse to drive on Tbilisi, counting on American diplomatic support to halt the Russians.