Saturday, August 9, 2008

Interesting Reuters report

Reuters reports:

Fighting gripped Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia for a third day on Saturday, but it remained unclear just who was in control of the rebel capital Tskhinvali. Russia announced it had seized control of the city, but Georgia denied that, saying Tskhinvali was in its hands.

Separatist officials, who are supported by Russia, appeared to contradict each other. Eduard Kokoity, self-styled president of the separatist region, said a "second attempt" by Georgian forces to retake the town had been beaten back. "We set ablaze a lot of their military hardware," he told Russia's Interfax news agency. But, as he spoke, Boris Chochiyev, deputy head of the South Ossetian government, told reporters that Tskhinvali was now in the hands of Georgian forces. "The city has been lost. We have been betrayed," said Chochiyev, visibly shaken. He gave no details.

A Tskhinvali resident calling himself Soslan said by telephone that Russian troops had never actually entered the city to take control of it. "The Russians, their tanks and artillery, are outside the city. They have not entered it," he said, adding that he had seen several dead bodies on the streets.

"Everyone is hiding in basements. No one is taking care of the bodies. There are snipers everywhere."

Russia said the death toll stood at 2,000, and 30,000 refugees had fled across the border to North Ossetia in Russia.

A correspondent for Russia's state Vesti television said there had been no fighting inside Tskhinvali, but that bouts of firing were resounding in the town. Clashes erupted periodically on the outskirts.

Television footage showed scenes of destruction and commotion throughout the town, its streets strewn with rubble, burned out tanks and smashed vehicles. Rubble and twisted metal piled up on street corners and in parks
Commentary: if this report is correct, then the picture of what is actually going on is becoming clearer. All the Russians have done so far is:

1) Made contact with the HQ of their peacekeeping forces
2) Brought elements of the 58th Army to the northern outskirts of Tskhinvali
3) Bombed various locations inside Georgia

Most of the resistance to the Georgian forces must have been composed of South Ossetian elements and while some "Russian" tanks have been sent into Tskhinvali this does not appear to be an attempt by Russian forces to seize the city back.

If this interpretation is correct - and that is still very much up for discussion - then I am less than impressed by the Russian Air Force's performance. Here are all the facts which make me rather dubious:

1) The tiny Georgian Air Force still exists. Georgian SU-25 jets have been seen today bombing Tskhinvali. Question: why did the Russians not succeed in destroying all the Georgian aircraft and airfields overnight?! How can *any* aircraft is allowed to take off from anywhere in Georgia (Russian has more then enough means to totally close down the Georgian airspace 24/7).

2) The Russian Air Force has succeeded in loosing between 2 and 5 aircraft. Question: how could the quasi nonexistent Georgian air defenses bring down very strong Russian aircraft such as the SU-24 and SU-25?!

3) The assembly points of the Georgian forces are well known to everybody. Why has the Russian Air Force not succeeded in destroying Georgian reinforcments headed for Tskhinvali?

Something is wrong with this picture. No matter now well trained and courageous the Georgian forces could be, the situation in the air over Georgia and South Ossetia should have been decided overnight.

As for the Russian decision not to enter Tskhinvali is could be motivated by a desire to not to repeat the mistake of the disastrous first storming of Grozny in Chechnia and by a desire to get better trained troops in before the assault.