Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When You Start to Take Tbilisi, Take Tbilisi Airport?

A Russian military analysts believes a second war between Russia and Georgia is inevitable:

Felgenhauer predicts that the next Russian assault on Georgia will be a "war to a victorious end." He predicts its main theater could be the road between Gori and Mtshketa just outside Tbilisi. But, Felgenhauer says, Tbilisi itself would not be the Russian army’s top strategic objective: "What is important is not so much Tbilisi. But west of Tbilisi there is the Tbilisi international airport [and] many airfields." This is important, Felgenhauer said, "because right now in South Ossetia we do not have a single permanent airstrip, as the terrain is highly uneven."

The closest Russian air base is currently in Beslan, in North Ossetia.

The best time for war, according to Felgenhauer, would be between June and August, when high mountain passes are free of snow. He said Russian forces would also need at least two months in hand to wind down operations before winter returns in October.

Felgenhauer discounts the eventuality of an intervention on the part of the United States. He notes President Barack Obama’s main goal is victory in Afghanistan, to effect which he will need to transit supplies and men through Russia and countries in its sphere of influence. In exchange, the thinking in Moscow goes, the United States will be willing to trade its interest in Georgia.

Thus, to Felgenhauer’s mind, a war is all but inevitable. "The only way you could avoid it," he says, "is if there’s regime change in Tbilisi -- or regime change in Moscow."

Trades like that are always mistakes--even aside from the morality of assigning some unfortunate souls to the wrong side of a new iron curtain. If we make such a trade, Russia will get their part fairly soon, while we will need Russia for years ahead in Afghanistan. What else will Russia want to "trade" for Afghanistan? And how soon will it be before Russia decides the only other thing it wants is America out of Afghansitan, and there is nothing to trade?

The article certainly shows that Russia learned the lesson of failing to complete the war they started last August.

And having failed to finish their war under the first deadline NATO gave Russia for conquering Georgia, I imagine the Russians and many in NATO are eager for Russia to finish the job before Georgia is invited to join NATO.

Still, the second war may not be imminent. The Russians probably think they have about four years, at least, to do the deed. Georgia needs to become a hard target as fast as possible so that if war comes, they wage war, too.