Tuesday, August 12 2008

From Russia, With Love

I was uncharacteristically kept from my usual news junkie habits over the last weekend;  I again attended the Otakon anime convention in Baltimore from Thursday through Saturday, and spent Sunday recovering.  (Pictures and my impressions will hopefully follow this Thursday.)  I returned and found that I had missed the start of a war.  I'll leave the pundits to explain the big picture, but I'll throw out some of my thoughts.

1. It's amazing how many times I found myself thinking of the war as "the Soviets invade Georgia".  I don't know if that's my taking in too much World War II history or just a general commentary on the state of affairs in Russia these days.  If we had been given that headline (or even a more proper "Russians invade Georgia") forty, thirty, or even twenty years ago, how many people would have thought "Atlanta" and not "Tiblisi"?

2. I think the whole affair will turn out to be a net negative for everyone except perhaps the Russians.  Given how much work China has put into the Olympics, how must they feel that someone is stealing their headlines?  The US has a close ally attacked and realistically couldn't do anything to stop the Russians besides diplomatic pressure; had the Russians not stopped but pressed on, there would have been no stopping them.  For the US, the best bet is a return to prewar conditions, but writing off the two breakaway sections of the country.

3. For the Russians, the results depend on why they stopped, and who figures out why they stopped.  If they stopped because the Georgians gave up enough concessions, they've probably scored a major victory.  There are rumors, however, the Russians stopped in part because the Georgians had dug in real well and the Russians couldn't advance on them without inordinate casualties.  If this is true, and it gets out, the Russian victory is lessened.  It would be nice to know how much longer the Russians could sustain their operational tempo; if they were pushing the limits of their air force, particularly, this could prove a major embarrassment.  If they stopped because they feared that US military advisers in country could draw the US and NATO into the conflict, this war is a net loss compared to what they could get had they waited until the next administration, and I can see the Ukraine and Georgia asking for more US military advice in the future.

4. For the Georgians, and to a lesser extent the Ukrainians, the results depend on what happens now.  US mutual assistance guarantees aren't going to be viable without NATO cooperation (which isn't going to happen), but we can still work to beef up training their military and helping them improve their equipment.  A little modern air defense could make the Russians think twice, if it turns out their air power was the decisive factor.  If I were Georgia, I'd also try to strike a deal with China, perhaps trading oil for Chinese military equipment (such as air defense systems). 

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 46 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 Oddly enough, StrategyPage reports that the Georgian air defense was the most successful part of their war, with much of the hardware coming from the Ukraine. 

What's perplexing about this is that the equipment Georgia was using was Russian-made.  I suspect that if the US was involved in an air war where the other side was using US-made equipment (Sidewinders, AMRAAMs and so forth), we'd have a pretty good idea on how to defeat it.  So why didn't the Russians?

Russia has admitted to only losing four planes: three Su-25s (their version of the A-10) and a Tu-22 on a recon mission.  The Frogfoots you can understand: close air support is dangerous, after all.  But the Backfire?  That's like the US losing a B-52 or a B-1 in combat, something that hasn't happened in decades.

There's more to this than is coming out of Russia, methinks.  Could it indicate that, indeed, the Russian Air Force was running at or beyond their limit?

Posted by: Wonderduck at Aug 16 13 55 (AW3EJ)

2 The Backfire seems an odd aircraft for reconnaissance missions against a neighboring country with a limited military force.  I wouldn't expect a high-speed strategic bomber to be a useful photo platform for tactical reconnaissance, and I don't know what strategic assets the Georgians would have that the Russians would need that much info on.  And that's before speculating on what brought the plane down...

This blog entry was written before events on the ground changed.  I had read reports of the Russian ceasefire, but obviously they didn't actually begin ceasing fire on Tuesday, and their government only recently signed any kind of treaty.  And I haven't seen any status updates that have said the Russian forces in the field have ceased firing.  Are the Russians just getting in a few last licks against Georgia, or is the peace negotiation a scam to delay meaningful international response?

One of the things that worried me on Tuesday, and still worry me today, is that the Russian government may not have full control of its forces, specifically its army.  This may be exacerbated by nominally pro-Russian Ossertian insurgents, who are not under any direct command from Moscow, and would have no reason not to continue operating against Georgian civilians.  If Ossertian insurgents are still fighting, is that going to keep Georgia and Russia in the fight?

Posted by: Civilis at Aug 16 16 09 (Q7aHY)

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