Friday, August 8, 2008

Georgia vs. South Ossetia - an overview

by Ilya Kramnik for RIA-Novosti

The very real possibility of full-scale war between Georgia and South Ossetia raises questions about its possible outcome.

At present, the Georgian armed forces have more than 30,000 men, including 20,000 ground forces. They are equipped with more than 200 tanks, including 40 T-55s and 165 T-72s, which are currently being upgraded. Apart from tanks, the ground forces have 200 combat armored vehicles, including about 180 infantry combat vehicles and armored personnel carriers (APCs). The ground troops can receive artillery support from 120 artillery pieces of 122 mm-152 mm caliber, 40 multiple-launch rocket systems, and 180 mortars.

The Georgian Air Force is equipped with five Su-25 (Frogfoot) close support aircraft, 15 L-29 and L-39 combat training aircraft, which can be used as light assault planes, and 30 helicopters, including eight MI-24 attack helicopters.

Available estimates put the South Ossetian forces at a mere 2,500 officers and men, or 16,000, including reservists. They are armed with 15 T-55 and T-72 tanks, 24 Gvozdika and Akatsiya self-propelled artillery units, 12 D-30 towed howitzers, six multiple-launch rocket systems, four 100-mm Rapir anti-tank weapons, and more than 30 mortars. In addition, the South Ossetian army has 22 infantry combat vehicles, 24 APCs, and six combat patrol vehicles.

The infantry is equipped with small arms of Soviet or Russian make, and has several dozen Fagot and Konkurs anti-tank rocket systems. Its air force consists of four MI-8 multi-purpose transport helicopters. South Ossetia can defend itself against air attacks with four to six Osa, three Tunguska, three Shilka, and six Strela-10 air defense rocket systems. It also has 12 23-mm ZU-23/2 twin antiaircraft guns (some of which are mounted on GAZ-66 trucks), and up to 100 Igla and Strela man-portable air-defense missiles.

A forecast of the outcome of this war (as well as a potential conflict with Abkhazia) cannot be based on mathematics alone. In the mountains, even a very small unit can resist a numerically much stronger enemy. In this case, the outcome of the conflict will primarily depend on the training of forces and the influence of third parties.

The training of the Georgian army is not likely to have changed much in the last two months and, with the exception of a few units, it is not rated too high. Like the Abkhazian armed forces, Ossetian armies are better trained and motivated. Moreover, the Abkhazian leader has already expressed readiness to support South Ossetia in a war against Georgia.

Georgia can win only if it is backed by the United States and its other allies. And even with such support, its victory will mean heavy losses, and entail lengthy guerilla warfare.
Commentary:Kramnik does a decent job of comparing the capabilities of Georgia and the South Ossetian separatists. What this analysis overlooks, probably very deliberately, is what role Russia could play in the conflict.

My guess is that Saakashvili gravely miscalculated Russia's reaction. Only yesterday a presumably expert analyst wrote "what will Russia do if there is a military strike against South Ossetia? Directly, I suspect it will do very little. It should be completely ruled out that Russia will use military force". Clearly - he was wrong.

The strongest indication that Russia fully means business is the fact that the C-in-C of the Russian Ground Forces has set up a special operative HQ in Vladikavkaz to personally take charge of all Russian military operations. There is absolutely no need for such an arrangement if all that Russia intends to do is sent in a single column of APC and some tanks into South Ossetia.

One should also keep in mind that the Russians have been warning about the Georgian military preparations right across the South Ossetian/Georgian border for weeks now. This means that the Georgian attack was not a surprise for the Russians and that they had plenty of time to prepare.

It appears that, at least for the time being, the South Ossetian resistance has managed to hold on to at least parts of the city of Tskhinvali and that the Georgians have not acheived their objectives. Considering that the South Ossetians are heavily out-numbered and out-gunned it is way too early to conclude that the Georgian forces have been defeated.

What could Russia do if the Georgian attack continues?

1) Close the airspace over South Ossetia
2) Deploy an Airborne troops inside Tskhinvali
3) Strike at Georgian positions threatening Tskhinvali

Does that sound extreme?

Keep in mind that Russia did ask for the immediate intervention of the UNSC but in vain - the US and the UK predicabtly quietly supported the Georgian attack. Since Russian peacekeepers were killed (and some executed in cold blood), Russia now has the right to use military force in self-defense and my guess is that Moscow is fully prepared to do so.

As I said above, I believe that Saakashvili badly miscalculated and that he will pay dearly for his mistake. Whether the current military conflict lasts any longer or not - he has clearly made himself a total enemy of Moscow and I expect the Russians to use all their resources, including economic, political and covert, to get rid of him.

The Saker