Ossetians provoked Georgians intentionally, and any response, tough or mild, would have been used anyway as a pretext for attack. Even if Georgians had taken it lying down, then Abkhazians would anyway have started their prepared operation of cleaning-up the upper Kodori. When the war is planned, there is always the pretext.
By August, significant part of the men-of-war of the Black Sea Fleet had been ready for long combat cruise and the constant-ready units of land forces, air borne forces and marines had been ready for being pushed forward. The last readiness check was done on 2 August in the course of military exercise named “Kavkaz-2008” and carried out near Georgia borders just a week before the war. Simultaneously, by the end of August the railroad engineering forces had finished repairing the railway lines that were used for transporting our tanks, heavy materiel and the supplies to Inguri, for the group of capacity of 10,000 people that intruded on the western Georgia without any pretext or formal reason. Of course, the urgently repaired railroad was not used for economic purposes, as it was announced officially by Moscow. The state propaganda apparatus had also made its preparation, influencing the population with constant messages about imminent Georgian attack, informing that it’s the US and the West – who really did not need that conflict - to be behind it.
Naturally, it is not possible to keep the troops and Fleet in 24-hour readiness for too long. In October the weather gets worse and the snow covers the passes of the Main Caucasian Ridge. This is why second half of August was the ultimate term for beginning the large-scaled war with Georgia.
In April’s NATO summit in Bucharest, where Putin took part personally, it became clear that joining the alliance by Georgia and Ukraine is inevitable, though it was delayed. Russian civil and military officials warned the West and the authorities in Tbilisi and Kiev, that attempts of “pulling” into NATO the countries that have always been considered by Moscow as its traditional domain, would lead to a crisis. It was announced that Russia would use any means available to prevent Georgia from entering NATO, but that had no effect on Mikhail Saakashvili. Then the course of developments followed with increasing speed.
Putin commissioned the government to “develop measures for rendering substantial aid” to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which was a judicial refusal of the state sovereignty of Georgia. Then a Russian fighter shot down a Georgian unmanned aircraft in the Abkhazian sky. Under a disguise of peacemakers the Russian military units with heavy materiel were put into Abkhazia, then the engineering railroad troops. Then followed a series of maneuvers, intrusions by Russian aircraft on the Georgian sky, factual refusals of diplomatic settlement of the conflict under hollow pretexts and finally the war spread out, that was to clean finally Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the Georgian population; Tbilisi was planned to be cleaned from Saakashvili, while trans-Caucasian region was to be cleaned from NATO and Americans. In principle, Moscow is even ready to keep formally the territorial integrity of Georgia in a form of some confederation and to give Georgians opportunity to elect democratically anyone to be their president; desirably, such a candidate should be approved of by Moscow too.
Same way the Russian leadership was preparing intrusion on Chechnya in 1999. Then in early spring, according to former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, a principal decision had been taken to start a war in August-September. All summer there was engineering and other kinds of preparative working going on intended for further enrollment of the attacking units. Then Putin and his team were restoring the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. Today they seem to be engaged in building up the post-soviet space.
This time, an unexpectedly powerful stroke by Saakashvili – instant defeat of the Ossetian formations – messed up the contract. Moscow could not pretend any longer that it’s just brave Ossetians to have been fighting with the Saakashvili’s regime, while Russians are only trying to make peaceful arrangements and this is why the Russian troops are brought in. Russia had to start open intrusion, to suffer losses and to become subject to pressure by the West undesirable for the Russian bureaucracy, integrated into the world financial system.
The troops had to be put into action in relatively small units. Huge jams appeared near the 6-km Rokskiy Tunnel where only one-directional movement is possible at a time. The outdated soviet heavy broke down constantly. Evacuation of the wounded and the civilians, arriving of unneeded in this situation volunteers – all that has caused a serious and continuous crisis of supplies, while the advanced and no numerous detachments had to be thrown into action in parts, right from the wheels.
Even with mass use of artillery, tanks and aviation it took almost two days that the elite units, including special air borne paratroopers, pushed out to Tskhinvali on 8 August, were able to dislodge the Georgians from the city. Even the commander of the 58th Army General Anatoly Khrulev was wounded. Georgian troops left Tskhinvali only after the retreat order was given by the Georgian political leadership. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy Commander General Staff, has admitted that today Georgian army is not that weak formation it was during the previous war with separatists of 15 years ago. “At the time being this is a modern and well mobilized group, equipped with updated weapons” he said.
After leaving Tskhinvali the Georgian troop continued their retreat. By 11 August almost all the army had been concentrated around Tbilisi. By that time, about 20,000 Russian troops had been brought to Georgian territory, including Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Russian advanced detachments approached Gori, took Zugdidi, entered Senaki and destroyed a Georgian military base there. The Russian advanced reconnoitering squad entered the city-port of Poti. Georgian troops have been retreating everywhere, not engaging in battle. Russian troops have gone too much ahead of their supply bases, and their number is too small for successful occupation. Their movements on the Georgian territory became useless and led to losses of the heavy due to constant breaking down. So with its ordering to retreat the Georgian leadership saved the standing army that has raised its prestige in the society with its lightning stroke defeating the Ossetians. Having saved his army Saakashvili seems to think he has also saved the united Georgia and the basis of his regime. In the meanwhile he has left it for western leaders and diplomats to see what to do about the Russian intrusion.
During his history the Georgian people has often lived between the quarreling world empires and it has learnt to be flexible in the survival matters and to use different strong enemies against one another. And some of our today’s leaders only imagine themselves to have been acting like Stalin, in terms of successful foreign policy.
The destroyed Georgian military bases and other infrastructure will be restored with the western money, which will create new employment facilities. The broken radars and weapons will be replaced with newer and better stuff. Along with that, Saakashvili has achieved his main strategic objective – he has finally internationalized the Ossetian and Abkhazian problems, which might lead to ousting Russia and reduction of her influence in the region.
At the end of June the French Ambassador in Georgia Eric Fornie stated in Tbilisi in the presence of a Novaya Gazeta correspondent that Ossetian and Abkhazian matters are to be solved by Russia as a key player in the region. Now the situation has changed dramatically. French President Nicolas Sarkosy has forwarded a peaceful plan, arranged with NATO and Japan. The plan provides for unconditioned cease-fire, return of all refugees including those fled previously from Abkhazia, full withdrawal of the Russian and Georgian troops from the conflict zone and introduction of international peacemaking forces, which will include a Russian contingent. The previous format of sole Russian peacemaker’s activities is unacceptable for the West now. So our aggression has spoiled everything. For common people in the Caucasus – Ossetians, Georgians, Abkhazians - such an outcome would mean the real peace, safety, big foreign aid for restoration and development of the region. For Russia it would mean a military and political defeat resulting out of seemingly successful intrusion.
Naturally, the French plan was rejected first by our ambassador in the UNO, Vitaly Churkin, but then Moscow began to maneuver. Today’s Russia, talking so much of her revived power, in reality depends on the West too much. The matter is not that our old materiel breaks down constantly and Georgians are capable of shooting down our strategic supersonic bombers. The matter is that Russian leaders presenting both “enforcers” and “liberals” factions are actually the businessmen-billionaires. Their interests are related with the West and with the exchange quotations. Their political goal being modernization of Russia, the intrusion on Georgia is obviously ruining them and threatens with troubles in the future. Keeping on opportunity of integration with the West, Dmitry Medvedev announced on Tuesday about “termination of the operation of coercion to peace in the South Ossetia”. According to Mr. Nogovitsyn, that means cease-fire.
However, nothing is finished yet. Moscow still hopes to remove Saakashvili, which is unlikely to happen. Besides, any possible successor, the exiled Irakly Okruashvili for example, with whom Saakashvili has reconciled publicly, would not be better for Russia. The conflict seems to be complicated with personal enmity between Saakashvili and Putin. They say in Tbilisi’s diplomatic and political circles that Saakashvili has run down the Kremlin’s people, which was witnessed. During my meeting with Saakashvili, he told me and gave his consent to publishing this information that he had heard of such rumors but he had never said anything like that, and all that is just a provocation by Russian special services.
It seems to be unbearable to reconcile with the fact that the insidious Saakashvili – the man who has put Georgia out of CIS, declared Abkhazia and the South Ossetia to be officially occupied territories, and who is too hard to compete with in the street public politics – will remain in power in Tbilisi. The near-Kremlin’s circles demand that a special international tribunal gets formed for investigation of crimes in the Caucasus (By the way, Novaya Gazeta considers it to be necessary under condition that investigated will be all the sides of the conflict – P.F). However, even in case such a tribunal gets formed (despite the fact there is the International Criminal Court, engaged also in military crimes), its jurisdiction would be applied also to the Russian military political leadership, affecting it for the past and present deeds in the Northern Caucasus. Once instituted, the International tribunal would not depend on the Russian authorities; it would be guided with the international law only.
According to testimony by witnesses, the missile brigade of the 58th Army was put on the Georgian territory through Rokskiy Tunnel. This brigade is equipped with the MLRS “Uragan” and ballistic missiles “Tochka-U”. The “Grad” systems with caliber of 122 mm, unlike the more powerful “Uragan”, are little effective when striking cities or dug in troops. The “Tochka-U” (with the range of 110 km) is capable of reaching Tbilisi and vicinities from the district of Tskhinvali. Its high-explosive and fragmentation warhead covers 3 hectares, while the cassette one covers 7 hectares.
MLRS “Uragan” and “Tochka-U” were used in mass for shooting in Chechnya in 1999 and 2000, which caused mass death of innocent civilians and the destruction. Last week some targets in the Western Georgia were shot at from Abkhazia with the use of rockets “Tochka-U”. The launches were registered by the American global system of monitoring the missile launch. Abkhazian authorities stated it’s them to have done that shooting. Now Russia may allege it’s Ossetians shooting at Tbilisi as a revenge for Tskhinvali. Similar attacks, undoubtedly, would cause a terrible panic in Tbilisi, which might help overthrowing the Saakashvili’s regime.
Cease-fire is going to be unsteady till the moment the international peacemaking contingents enter Georgia.