Diary

Russian treachery and bullying

Russians play chess, and the Putin government orchestrated a chess match when it came to Georgia, and they’re levering their actions in Georgia by bullying America into making a choice. The Russian government also has a choice, [i]if[/i] they can get over their bellicosity, paranoia and imperialist tendencies. Ralph Peters has interesting take on Russia’s readiness to invade Georgia:

Let’s be clear: For all that US commentators and diplomats are still chattering about Russia’s “response” to Georgia’s actions, the Kremlin spent [i]months[/i] planning and preparing this operation. Any soldier above the grade of private can tell you that there’s absolutely no way Moscow could’ve launched this huge ground, air and sea offensive in an instantaneous “response” to alleged Georgian actions. As I pointed out Saturday, even to get one armored brigade over the Caucasus Mountains required extensive preparations. Since then, Russia has sent in the equivalent of almost two divisions – not only in South Ossetia, the scene of the original fighting, but also in separatist Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast. The Russians also managed to arrange the instant appearance of a squadron of warships to blockade Georgia. And they launched hundreds of air strikes against preplanned targets. Every one of these things required careful preparations. In the words of one US officer, “Just to line up the airlift sorties would’ve taken weeks.” Working through their mercenaries in South Ossetia, Russia staged brutal provocations against Georgia from late July onward. Last Thursday, Georgia’s president finally had to act to defend his own people. But when the mouse stirred, the cat pounced. The Russians know that we know this was a setup. But Moscow’s Big Lie propagandists still blame Georgia – even as Russian aircraft bomb Georgian homes and Russian troops seize the vital city of Gori in the country’s heart. And Russian troops also grabbed the Georgian city of Zugdidi to the west – invading from Abkhazia on a second axis. Make no mistake: Moscow intends to dismember Georgia. This is the most cynical military operation by a “European” power since Moscow invaded Afghanistan in 1979. (Sad to say, President Bush seems as bewildered now as President Jimmy Carter did then.)

The Economist called it a “scripted war”:

Russia was prepared for the war not only militarily, but also ideologically. Its campaign was crude but effective. While its forces were dropping bombs on Georgia, the Kremlin bombarded its own population with an astonishing, even by Soviet standards, propaganda campaign. One Russian deputy reflected the mood: “Today, it is quite obvious who the parties in the conflict are. They are the US, UK, Israel who participated in training the Georgian army, Ukraine who supplied it with weapons. We are facing a situation where there is a NATO aggression against us.”In blue jeans and a sports jacket, Mr Putin, cast as the hero of the war, flew to the Russian side of the Caucasus mountain range to hear, first-hand, hair-raising stories from refugees that ranged from burning young girls alive to stabbing babies and running tanks over old women and children. These stories were whipped up into anti-Georgian and anti-Western hysteria. Russian politicians compared Mr Saakashvili to Saddam Hussein and Hitler and demanded that he face an international tribunal. What Russia was doing, it seemed, was no different from what the West had done in its “humanitarian” interventions. There was one difference, however. Russia was dealing with a crisis that it had deliberately created. Its biggest justification for military intervention was that it was formally protecting its own citizens. Soon after Mr Putin’s arrival in the Kremlin in 2000, Russia started to hand out passports to Abkhaz and South Ossetians, while also claiming the role of a neutral peacekeeper in the region. When the fighting broke out between Georgia and South Ossetia, Russia, which had killed tens of thousands of its own citizens in Chechnya, argued that it had to defend its nationals.

More from The Economist here. At Small Wars Journal, Bob Killebrew looks at Russia’s coordinated operation:

From a military perspective, the first impression is that the Russians laid an effective “strategic ambush” for Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvilli, inciting anti-government attacks in South Ossetia by local militias and then responding to the Georgian offensive with a well-planned and rehearsed offensive of their own. Even when viewed through the imperfect lens of news media scrambling to catch up to events, military experts understand that the joint and combined-arms attacks Russia staged in the opening hours of the war were anything but spontaneous. For historians, a retrospective on Nazi Germany’s offensive to “protect” the Sudaten Czechs shows a striking similarity of purpose and method.The Georgian armed forces were obviously not prepared for the Russian counteroffensive. Having recently purged older, Soviet-trained officers from its top commands, the Georgian military lacks doctrine, cohesion and experience; U.S. military assistance has been focused on preparing Georgian soldiers for duty alongside U.S. forces in Iraq, not in larger-scale, combined-arms warfare, and it shows. At this writing, the Georgian armed forces have virtually disappeared, their patrol boats sunk at their docks and their infantry collecting somewhere near the capitol city; Russian forces have broken contact and breakaway militias are rampaging in areas in and around South Ossetia and Abkhazia.To observers familiar with the sight of Russian troops riding to battle on the back decks of BMPs, the Russian campaign looked like previous warfare in Afghanistan and Czchneya. [b]But in this case, the familiar Soviet-style, firepower-intensive armed campaign was preceded by a sophisticated cyberattack against Georgian information systems and, more ominously, a prelaid global information campaign that both advanced the Russian argument for its right to intervene and fed both the news media and wavering Western politicians with trumped-up details of Georgian atrocities.[/b] Look for the information campaign to intensify as Russian troops settle into positions in Georgia, where their location will become negotiable in the next phase, which will clearly be to drive the pro-Western Saakashvilli government from power. The Russians have “got” modern war, however outdated their “kinetic” operations may appear. In their operational concept, the information war preceded, and is superior to, actual combat operations on the land and sea. Western military authorities, whose ability to influence information operations of this type are nonexistent, can only look on in frustration.

Emphasis mine. Thom Shanker at the New York Times offers similar observations:

So along with the old-school onslaught of infantry, armor and artillery, Russia mounted joint air and naval operations, appeared to launch simultaneous cyberattacks on Georgian government Web sites and had its best English speakers at the ready to make Moscow’s case in television appearances. If the rapidly unfolding events caught much of the world off guard, that kind of coordination of the old and the new did not look accidental to military professionals.”They seem to have harnessed all their instruments of national power — military, diplomatic, information — in a very disciplined way,” said one Pentagon official, who like others interviewed for this article disclosed details of the operation under ground rules that called for anonymity. “It appears this was well thought out and planned in advance, and suggests a level of coordination in the Russian government between the military and the other civilian agencies and departments that we are striving for today.”In fact, Pentagon and military officials say Russia held a major ground exercise in July just north of Georgia’s border, called Caucasus 2008, that played out a chain of events like the one carried out over recent days.”This exercise was exactly what they executed in Georgia just a few weeks later,” said Dale Herspring, an expert on Russian military affairs at Kansas State University. “This exercise was a complete dress rehearsal.”

The Washington Post goes further in debunking Russia’s claims that Georgian were engaged in genocide in South Ossetia:

This charge was initially leveled by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and has been taken up by others, including President Dmitry Medvedev, who on Thursday came up with the interesting formulation that South Ossetians “had lived through a genocide.” Mr. Medvedev has referred to “thousands” killed, and Russian officials frequently have cited 2,000 South Ossetians killed (out of a population of 70,000). They have said Georgia razed the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. These purported depredations are given as the main motivation for Russian military intervention. A researcher for Human Rights Watch who visited Tskhinvali reported as follows: “A doctor at Tskhinvali Regional Hospital who was on duty from the afternoon of August 7 told Human Rights Watch that between August 6 to 12 the hospital treated 273 wounded, both military and civilians. . . . The doctor also said that 44 bodies had been brought to the hospital since the fighting began, of both military and civilians. The figure reflects only those killed in the city of Tskhinvali. But the doctor was adamant that the majority of people killed in the city had been brought to the hospital before being buried, because the city morgue was not functioning due to the lack of electricity in the city.”

Even today, on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is trotting out the lie that Russian “peacekeepers” were watching acts of genocide. More on the Russian “peacekeepers” and whom they enabled:

This formulation has alternated with repeated Russian statements, repeatedly disproved, that Russian forces were not in Georgia at all, or were leaving, or were about to leave. In fact, journalists, human rights observers and others have documented that Russian troops have ranged far into Georgia, including the city of Gori and the port of Poti. They have razed, mined and looted Georgian army bases and destroyed civilian houses and apartment buildings. Militia forces under Russian control include South Ossetians and others brought in from Russia itself — what Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza described as “the North Caucasus irregular forces that the Russian military inexplicably encouraged to enter South Ossetia to murder, rape and steal.” They have attacked civilians in Gori and engaged in ethnic cleansing of Georgian-populated villages in South Ossetia. Remarkably, the Russian-allied “president” of South Ossetia acknowledged the ethnic cleansing yesterday in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant, although he did not acknowledge the killings of Georgian civilians that others have documented. Eduard Kokoity said that his forces “offered them a corridor and gave the peaceful population the chance to leave” and that “we do not intend to allow” their return.

Who knew that the Russian model for peacekeeping included ethnic cleansing. So far, Russia’s withdrawal from sovereign Georgian territory has been negligible. All it would take is for some perceived slight and the Russians could use it as a pretext for continuing their occupation and ethnic cleansing.

So does Putin deserve all the blame? No, but most of it, and he’s been agitating against the Saakashvili government from the beginning, as Matthew Continetti has documented. Saakashvili proved to be too impetuous, goaded into an ill-advised decision, so he shares some blame for poor judgment. It looks like the U.S. did not adequately consider the Russia reaction to Kosovo’s independence, as well as the expansion of NATO into former Soviet states, so we share some blame for getting caught flat-footed. But Russia planned their invasion and how they would handle the aftermath, all well in advance. It has all the markings of an operation masterminded by a KGB agent.

So what to do? We can’t do much. Bailing out of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi is bone stupid because it punishes athletes who have nothing to do with international politics. Bringing Ukraine and Georgia into NATO at this time would not be smart, but I wouldn’t take the issue off the table. Maybe later. Should we move to take Russia out of the G8? Yes. The intent of the G8 is to have a working group of the largest industrialized democracies come together to advance common interests. Russia is not a free country, its industrialization is anemic, and its interests appear to be diverging from the other seven nations. The pictures don’t lie.

As Engram noted:

A rating of 1 indicates free, whereas a rating of 7 indicates not free. Again, does one country again stand out as being not like the others?Why, yes, one country clearly does not belong in this group, and that country is, quite obviously, Russia. I think it is past time that we demote that country by excluding it from future meetings of the G7. We obviously need to talk to the Russians about many issues, but we don’t need to artificially and inappropriately elevate their status by pretending that they belong in a meeting of economically advanced democracies.

India and Brazil have much lower per capita GDP than the G7, but they have free or partially free governments and their economies are moving in a favorable direction.

What else? We have the levers of sanctions, diplomacy and media to encourage Russia to move away from their belligerent behavior. The Russians engaged in some serious information operations, and we can definitely push back on that, but our other options are pretty limited.