Monday, August 25, 2008

Georgia's story investigated

It is clear by now that what happened in Ossetia was no new Operation Storm. It was too chaotic. But as I can't imagine that the trainers did not discuss how to retake the secessionist areas the question remains.

But this time my focus is on the Georgian version of what happened. It looks like propaganda but it is good to analyse it:
- before 8-8-8 there was a gradual increase in Ossetian attacks. Just before the date you saw heavy shelling of some ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia that seemed intended to drive the villagers out.
- some days before 8-8-8 Ossetians started to leave Tskhinvali - suggesting that they had been warned of an imminent attack.
- Russian troops started to enter Ossetia before the Georgian attack.
- Shortly after Saakashvili's infamous promise on television of negotiations and no war he was confronted with US satellite images of the Russian invasion. This made him change his mind.
- The attack on Ossetia was meant to form a defense line just above Tskhinvali. It was a desparate measure as there was no time to send additional troops.
- The Georgian also attacked the Kurta bridge just north of Tskhinvali at 6 a.m. on 8-8-8 to stop the Russians. The attacks destroyed the bridge but the Russians managed to repair it quickly. The presence of Russian troops at that time suggests they had been underway for some time.

The first question is what the Russians planned to do. If the Georgian scenario is true the most probable scenario is that they intended to help the Ossetians take control of those areas of South Ossetia that they don't control. It is very improbable that they intended to invade Georgia proper. I heard also reports that at least some of the Russian troops drove straight from Chechnya to Gori (in 4 days). This suggests improvisation.

Then there is the Georgian inconsistency. In the first week we heard mainly the familiar voices about Georgia's territorial integrity and their right to retake the seceded territories. The action was presented as a Georgian action to retake territory - not as an action to stop the Russians. On the contrary: the Russians were presented as those that reacted - faster than expected. Only when the Russians went deeper into Georgia did they change their story.

Also it was Russia that first went to the Security Council. They proposed a simple (3 sentences) resolution that called the parties to stop hostilities and renounce the use of force. The US, the UK, France and Georgia opposed the resolution because they didn't like the "renounce the use of force" part. This sounds like Operation Flash in Croatia when the US blocked a SC condemnation.

The US satellite images raise many questions:
- No American official ever confirmed the story about the satellite images. One should expect Bush to be current and to react in such a situation.
- The obvious reaction would have been to seek publicity. If you can't win with the army you need the moral pressure of the world to prevent more Russians to enter South Ossetia. If Georgia had first presented Russia as the aggressor and then had taken some military action it would have had a much stronger position. Now it was the clear aggressor.

The alleged departure of the inhabitants of Tskhinvali raises also many questions:
- the Georgian attack seems not the most logical answer. That raises the question why the Ossetians should expect a devastating Georgian attack.
- that raises the possibility that there were Georgian war plans that included such an attack. If there were the Russians - who have a good intelligence - probably would know.
- in this respect I am sorry that the Western observers in Tskhinvali don't tell anything about what they saw.

The Georgian attack is presented as an effort to do at least something in order to keep the Georgian claims on the area intact. But that raises many questions:
- Given their military weakness and strategic position in the hills around the city it seemed more logic for the Georgian troops to stay where they were. It seems more logical to concentrate on parts of Ossetia where the Georgian army had a strong position - like the south-east.
- Starting a fight that you can't win in an ethnic conflict is a rather sure way to get your citizens cleansed. Specially in a ethnically mixed area as that around Tskhinvali.
- The bombing of Java in the north of the South Ossetia by Georgia suggests a wider agenda.
- Only a month ago Georgia cut off the water supply. This suggests escalation from the Georgian side.

All together I doubt that things went exactly the way the Georgians present them. If it really went that way the Georgians would have been extremely incompetent. The Russian blogosphere too doesn't see any reason to doubt that the Georgians started. Only Pavel Felgenhauer defends that Russians had planned their actions. But he doesn't provide the level of detail that would make his position credible. He is also the author of the articles on Jamestown.

Postscript 1: This article gives an overview of Georgian propaganda claims and prove that the claim were false.
Postscript 2: Here you have another pro-Georgian conspiracy theory. This time by Andrei Illarionov, who is presented as former economic advisor to Vladimir Putin. Since 2005 he works at the Cato Institute in the US. He says that Russia was planning a coup in Georgia and that Saakasshvili's attack prevented this.

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