South-Ossetian standoff. Results and forecasts

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military observer Ilya Kramnik) - Russia has completed its "peace enforcement" operation on the territory of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia. The country's political leaders and military commanders have announced that they are withdrawing troops from the conflict zone.

It is still too soon to speak about an end to the conflict between Georgia and the unrecognized republics, but the results of Russia's military operation can already be summed up. Likewise one can sum up the results of some world processes and consider possible future developments.

So, the contradictions that have been building up between Russia and the West, especially the U.S., since the late 1990s, have erupted to the surface, the masks of beatific political correctness and cooperation in the global war on terror are off. And we witness the start of a new spiral in history - once again the history of confrontation between two superpowers, each trying to build the world to its taste.

Like every avalanche, this one began with a spec of sand, Georgia's attempt to establish "constitutional order" in South Ossetia. That operation merits a closer look. The omnibus term "establishing constitutional order" can mean almost diametrically opposite things at different historical junctures. Nonetheless, though, there are some basic characteristics that must be present in any operation that claims that name.

To what extent did Georgia's operation to restore constitutional order in South Ossetia meet these characteristics? The first characteristic is selective fire on illegal armed units and minimization of civilian casualties. Obviously, this operation does not qualify: the Georgian artillery shelled Tskhinval and the surrounding villages, and many facts of murder and violence against civilians are known.

The second and no less important characteristic is the humanitarian component, namely, a commitment to early restoration of law and order and life support for civilians in the zone of operations. That component takes the shape of deployment of a network of medical aid centers, field hospitals, and stocks of food, water and other prime necessities in the area to ease the suffering of innocent civilians in the context of a military operation. Georgia did none of these things.

On balance, Georgia's actions before and during the invasion of South Ossetia suggest that the aim of the Georgian leadership was to exterminate South Ossetia's non-Georgian population or cause it to flee to Russia. Under the Russian Criminal Code such actions are described as genocide.

In addition, Georgia directly violated international norms by opening fire on Russian peacekeeping units, and what is more, Georgian peacekeepers took part in firing. Based on these combined characteristics, the Russian response to the shelling and subsequent invasion by Georgian troops which began in the early hours of August 8, 2008 was absolutely legitimate: the troops of the 58th Army of the North Caucasus Military District moved to help the peacekeepers. As early as the night of August 8 there were the first reports of air strikes on Georgian troops. Many military experts believe that without these raids the South Ossetian militia would not have beaten off the first assault on Tskhinval.

After midday Russian ground troops began to be deployed in the city area and the first military groups approached Tskhinval and engaged in fighting. A "distribution of roles" took shape: the fighting in the towns and villages was done by the local militia and volunteers, while Russian troops only engaged with more or less large Georgian army groups that were more than a match to the militia. Russia also undertook to suppress the Georgian artillery and the Russian Air Force launched strikes on Georgia's logistical infrastructure.

Russian special units were set the task to counter Georgian commando raids. According to available information Russian special units prevented Georgian saboteurs from blowing up the Roki Tunnel, the main link between Russia and South Ossetia. The destruction of the tunnel would have greatly complicated operations, as the capacity of the other roads is not sufficient.

Fighting in the Tskhinval area lasted for three days and nights, by the end of which Georgian artillery was either destroyed or had left its positions from which it could shell the city, and Georgian ground troops pulled out of the city.

Throughout the operation the Russian Army was bound by a number of political restrictions that prevented it from using heavy weaponry against populated areas, which seriously limited its capacity to neutralize artillery batteries.

Throughout the operation, until August 12 inclusive, the Russian Air Force bombarded Georgian military infrastructure to prevent its Armed Forces from continuing the war. The Navy was also involved in the operation: a group of Black Sea Fleet ships patrolled the coasts of Abkhazia and Georgia.

By August 11 the Georgian Army ceased to exist as an organized force: pictures of the flight of Georgian troops from South Ossetia, Gori and other regions were shown throughout the world. The troops escaped to the south, mainly to the Tbilisi area, abandoning their vehicles and equipment. Meanwhile the Russian Armed Forces, jointly with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian units, took the fighting into Georgia proper, seizing abandoned armour and destroying what remained of the military infrastructure.

On August 12 Dmitry Medvedev announced that the operation was complete.

The five-day war revealed both the Russian Army's strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, the speedy deployment, the methodical and planned way in which it suppressed Georgian artillery and infrastructure, the success of its anti-sabotage actions and the quick disintegration of the Georgian Army are to the credit of the Russian command and staff structures at all levels. On the other hand, some shortcomings were revealed: the Georgian anti-aircraft systems air force were not fully neutralized, the army units lacked modern weapons and vehicles, and its communications were obviously obsolescent.

The Russian military command admitted some of the shortcomings: Colonel-General Nogovitsyn, who covered the Russian actions for the press throughout the operation, admitted that the loss of a TU-22MR bomber had exposed shortcomings in the Air Force personnel training.

In parallel with the military operation, an information and diplomatic war was unfolding, as the Russian representatives at the UN and NATO, Vitaly Churkin and Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Russian Prime Minister and President appeared on all channels defending Russia's position and substantiating its actions. Combined with the practically unanimous position of the Russian press, it enabled Russia to avoid the unqualified defeat in the information war that has invariably happened over the past 20 years: even some in Western Europe took the Russian side. In fact only the U.S., Britain and some East European countries unreservedly backed Georgia, and that support did not go beyond words of sympathy and demands that Russia immediately pull out its troops.

Thus the West demonstrated to the whole world that it was not united on such a fundamental issue as the "defense of a young democracy." And a new geopolitical reality came into being, a bloc - if only a temporary one - of Russia and Western Europe (Germany, France, Italy and partly Spain) against the U.S. and the East European countries. Even Russia's traditional geopolitical adversary, Turkey, expressed support for Russia. The Turkish Premier, who flew to Moscow for talks, backed Russia's efforts at pacification of the region. Later reports said that Turkey had refused to allow American naval ships into the Black Sea.

But despite these successes, Russia can hardly claim to have won the information war: the opposing flood of information is too powerful. Most likely the outcome of the information war can be described as a tie.

It is hard to predict how the situation will develop. The positions of the main players in the world arena - in this case unquestionably Russia and the U.S. - look irreconcilable. Russia is clearly seeking recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the criminal investigation initiated by the Russian law enforcement bodies into charges of "Genocide" implies the responsibility of those who initiated the operation from the Georgian side, including its leaders. Neighboring countries have also been drawn into the conflict: one such country is Ukraine, where there are clear signs of a deepening political crisis.

While recognizing that any forecast in this volatile situation is sure to be inaccurate and most probably wrong, one can still try to predict the overall directions in which the situation may develop. Obviously, the past two weeks have changed the world dramatically: the contradictions between Russia and the U.S. that for a long time were hidden behind the veil of political correctness have come to the fore. Neither Russia nor the U.S. intends to yield ground, which suggests a new spiral of the Cold War and global confrontation between the two powers from the post-Soviet space to Latin America.

The fact that the U.S. missile defense system is directed against Russia became obvious after Poland hastily agreed to deploy U.S. interceptor missiles in exchange for the delivery of modern air defense systems to protect against a hypothetical Russian strike. In turn, Russian officials reaffirmed their warning that in the event of a conflict the deployment sites of the missile defense systems would be the priority targets.

As for the region itself, one may expect to see another change of power in Georgia in the foreseeable future. Mikheil Saakashvili, who has lost the war and whose personal behavior was far from impeccable, is unpopular in his country and in the West. One should not however entertain illusions that pro-Russian forces will win: their present position in Georgian society is too weak to hope for anything serious.

One may also see a dismantling of the CIS in its present form, as Russia's allies will probably strengthen cooperation within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which may soon have new members.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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