Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Russians have shown that they can defeat a U.S.-trained force

Following the lead of the New York Times, now it is Stratfor's turn to finally start deciphering the writing on the wall. Check this out:

Editor’s Note: The following is an internal Stratfor document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus.

As night falls in Georgia, the conflict is entering a new phase. Intermittent fighting continues in South Ossetia as isolated pockets of Georgian troops are mopped up or try to exfiltrate. The Russians are heating up the situation in another Georgian breakaway region, Abkhazia, in order to intensify pressure on Georgia, and they are creating military options for further operations inside Georgia proper. But the primary issue now is a political one.

With its South Ossetian operation, Russia has demonstrated three things. First, it has shown that its military is capable of mounting a successful operation — something that outside observers had expressed doubts about. Second, the Russians have shown that they can defeat a U.S.-trained force. And third, they have demonstrated that the United States and NATO are in no position to intervene militarily.

Moscow’s primary audience for these messages was the rest of the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, the rest of the Caucasus and Central Asia. These messages also were intended for Poland and the Czech Republic, who are hosting U.S. ballistic missile defense systems. Russia is certainly not threatening to invade anyone else; instead, it is inviting everyone to reconsider their assumptions about the correlation of forces in the region.

The real issue now is what comes next. There are indications that the Russians do not intend to invade Georgia proper, but that they are asking for a regime change in Tbilisi as the bargaining price. (Or, if not a regime change, then at least the replacement of Georgia’s president and other figures Moscow dislikes.) The Russians can achieve this only if they appear ready to attack — and the Georgians will test them to find out whether they are bluffing. Therefore, the Russians can’t afford to bluff.

The situation thus remains extremely volatile, and it is not yet clear whether Russia is satisfied with the outcome. Moscow might want more, and it might use force in the process of going after it; even now, the Russians continue to eviscerate what remains of Georgia’s military capability. Various diplomatic initiatives are under way, including French and German attempts at mediation. But the more diplomatic initiatives that emerge without being backed by threats of force, the more credible the Russians will be.