What did we learn from the Russia – Georgia conflict?

Here are some useful comments about the conflict between Russia and Georgia.  IMO just Russia reasserting is traditional sphere of influence, into which the US was foolishly expanding.


  1. The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power“, George Friedman, Stratfor, 12 August 2008
  2. South Ossetia, The War of My Dreams“, Gary Brecher (The War Nerd), The Exile Online, undated
  3. The South Ossetian War: Some thoughts“, Helena Cobban, ‘Just World News, 10 August 2008
  4. On US over-stretch“, Helena Cobban, ‘Just World News, 12 August 2008
  5. Prudence, Perhaps“, Joshua Foust, Registan, 13 August 2008:
  6. Another Hard Landing for Russia?“, Eugene Rumer, Washington Post, 13 August 2008


1.  “The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power“, George Friedman, Stratfor, 12 August 2008 — Excerpt:

The Russian invasion of Georgia has not changed the balance of power in Eurasia. It simply announced that the balance of power had already shifted.

The United States has been absorbed in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as potential conflict with Iran and a destabilizing situation in Pakistan. It has no strategic ground forces in reserve and is in no position to intervene on the Russian periphery. This, as we have argued, has opened a window of opportunity for the Russians to reassert their influence in the former Soviet sphere. Moscow did not have to concern itself with the potential response of the United States or Europe; hence, the invasion did not shift the balance of power.

The balance of power had already shifted, and it was up to the Russians when to make this public. They did that August 8.

2.  “South Ossetia, The War of My Dreams“, Gary Brecher (The War Nerd), The Exile Online, undated — Except:

There are three basic facts to keep in mind about the smokin’ little war in Ossetia:

1.  The Georgians started it.
2.  They lost.
3.  What a beautiful little war!

… The Georgians bided their time, then went on the offensive, Caucasian style, by pretending to make peace and all the time planning a sneak attack on South Ossetia. They just signed a treaty granting autonomy to South Ossetia this week, and then they attacked, Corleone style. Georgian MLRS units barraged Tskhinvali, the capital city of South Ossetia; Georgian troops swarmed over Ossetian roadblocks; and all in all, it was a great, whiz-bang start, but like Petraeus asked about Iraq way back in 2003, what’s the ending to this story? As in: how do you invade territory that the Russians have staked out for protection without thinking about how they’ll react?

… Most likely the Georgians just thought the Russians wouldn’t react. They were doing something they learned from Bush and Cheney: sticking to best-case scenarios, positive thinking. The Georgian plan was classic shock’n’awe with no hard, grown-up thinking about the long term. Their shiny new army would go in, zap the South Ossetians while they were on a peace hangover (the worst kind), and then…uh, they’d be welcomed as liberators? Sure, just like we were in Iraq. Man, you pay a price for believing in Bush.

… The biggest American aid project was the GTEP, “Georgia Train and Equip” project ($64 million). It featured 200 Special Forces instructors teaching fine Georgia boys all the lessons the US Army’s learned recently. Now here’s the joke – and military history is just one long series of mean jokes. We were stressing counterinsurgency skills: small-unit cohesion, marksmanship, intelligence. The idea was to keep Georgia safe from Chechens or other Muslim loonies infiltrating through the Pankisi Gorge in NE Georgia. And we did a good job. The Georgian Army pacified the Pankisi in classic Green-Beret style. The punch line is, the Georgians got so cocky from that success, and from their lovefest with the Bushies in DC, that they thought they could take on anybody. What they’re in the process of finding out is that a light-infantry CI force like the one we gave them isn’t much use when a gigantic Russian armored force has just rolled across your border.

… Luckily, South Ossetia doesn’t matter that much. I’m just being honest here. In a year nobody will care much who runs that little glob of territory.

… What’s happening to Georgia here is like the teeny-tiny version of Germany in the twentieth century: overplay your hand and you lose everything. So if you’re a Georgian nationalist, this war is a tragedy; if you’re a Russian or Ossetian nationalist, it’s a triumph, a victory for justice, whatever. To the rest of us, it’s just kind of fun to watch.

Veteran journnalist and writer Helena Cobban (bio) has published two articles of interest about the G-R fighting at her blog ‘Just World News’.

3.  “The South Ossetian War: Some thoughts“, Helena Cobban, ‘Just World News, 10 August 2008 — Excerpt:

The final outcome on the ground from this nasty and damaging little war are still far from clear. But some of the broader implications for world politics of what has been happening are already emerging:

1. The “west” is hopelessly over-stretched, what with all its current commitments of troops in Iraq, a crisis-ridden Afghanistan, and (still) in the Balkans. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was most likely relying to a great extent on the NATO forces pulling his chestnuts out of the Ossetian fire if they should start to burn there. But NATO is in absolutely no position to do that. All the US could do to give him any concrete help was to gather up and return to his country the 2,000 Georgian troops who had previously part of their occupation coalition in Iraq. That airlift is happening right now. But it will do little to affect the balance on the ground in the Caucasus, while it will certainly cause considerable disruptions to the US project in Iraq.

2. Russia is coming back as a force to be reckoned with in world politics. This is no longer the 1990s– which for Russians was an era of economic mega-crisis, dismemberment, and rampantly atrocious (mis-)governance. The Russia of the years ahead will not have the great weight in world politics of the Soviet era. But neither will it be the confused, resource-starved pygmy of the Yeltsin era.

3. Westerners who thought they could easily redraw international boundaries as they pleased, without consequence for their own interests, will have to rethink the wisdom of that tactic. The national boundaries drawn up and laid down in, basically, the post-1945 era, are in many places highly imperfect. (Especially throughout Africa!) But the system of boundaries and sovereignty that they represent acquired its own logic, however imperfect. Tinker with one, and the whole system threatens to unravel. I tried to argue that point — among others– back in February, when I expressed my criticism of the move that many western nations made toward recognizing (and even encouraging) the Kosovars’ declaration of independence. Lots of food for thought there for the Iraqi Kurds, too…

This latter point about the wisdom of the tendency many westerners have shown in recent years to encourage secessionist movements– especially those seeking to secede from countries they disapprove of– is worth a lot more exploration.

4.  “On US over-stretch“, Helena Cobban, ‘Just World News, 12 August 2008 — Excerpt:

So what does it all mean?

It means that this conceit that members of the US political elite of both parties have nearly all entertained for the past 15 years: that the dominance of the US military over just about the entire globe is really, kind of the natural order of things… and that yes, of course, our country has “vital” interests in very distant parts of the world that yes, of course, we need to be able to protect — on our own, if necessary — now, that entire conceit is no longer going to be sustainable.

… So we need a radically different model of how the world’s countries can act in response to the security challenges that just about all of our countries face.

As it happens, this model exists. It is one that the US itself created, back in 1945. It is one based on the unassailable foundations of a commitment to finding nonviolent ways to resolve thorny international conflicts, and a deep respect for the equality of all human persons and all nations. It’s called the United Nations.

These reports contrast with the floods of nonsense.  First, traditional kubuki by the US government (playing for the delusional folk in the audience who take this seriously). 

5.  Joshua Foust looks at the US government’s reaction in “Prudence, Perhaps” at Registan, 13 August 2008:

President Bush just interrupted the Olympics — I guess no more slapping asses at the beach volleyball court? — and called Russia out, saying it is not behaving like a responsible member of the international community. He sternly warned Russia that he expects Russian troops to safeguard Georgian civilians “of all ethnicities” (a nice dig to claim that Abkhazians are as Georgian as Georgians), and that he is sending Condoleeza Rice to Paris and then Tblisi to confer with Sarkozy and demonstrate support for Sarkozy.

As if Putin cares what we do.  Bush “calling Russia out”, sending Rice to Paris — these things are just theater.

Experts are equally capable of shallow analysis.  Here we have one who sees the future only as a repeat of the past, blinded by the shining illusion of American hegemony.  Perhaps Russian’s petro-power will prove supreme.  Perhaps American (not Russian) attitudes must change.

6.  “Another Hard Landing for Russia?“, Eugene Rumer, Washington Post, 13 August 2008 — Excerpt:

The Russian military is showing off its newfound strength, punishing the Georgians for their sins, the greatest of which is forgetting in whose back yard they live. Moscow has warned Poland and the Czech Republic not to deploy U.S. missile defense components on their territories. The Kremlin has also told Washington that it should mind its own business.

We have seen something like this before, though. Thirty years ago, flush with oil and gas revenue, the Soviet Union was threatening Europe and challenging the United States. In 1979, Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan and seemed poised to keep going to fulfill centuries-old Russian ambitions of reaching the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

… But who is to say that Russia’s victory in Georgia will not lead to another disaster in a few years?

There is plenty of trouble brewing in Russia, not unlike the trouble to which Moscow turned a blind eye 30 years ago, as its tanks rolled into Afghanistan and caused a break in relations with the West. … The conditions in Russia look different from the conditions of 30 years ago, but Russia’s reality is still grim. Moscow may have more billionaires than other European capitals, but the Russian population is still shrinking, the average Russian man is not expected to live past 60, oil still dominates the country’s economic future, and the taps are running dry.

No matter how the current crisis is resolved, the consequences for East-West (that Cold War term again) relations will be far-reaching. The stain on Russia’s reputation in the West will not be erased for years. It will take a very different — and most improbable — Russian attitude to repair the damage. … It will take skill and patience to get Russia to a soft landing from its present high.

Rumer is a senior fellow at National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Prevous posts in this series

  1. The Russia-Georgia war threatens one of the world’s oil arteries, 10 August 2008
  2. Perhaps *the* question about the Georgia – Russia conflict, 10 August 2008
  3. Keys to interpreting news about the Georgia – Russia fighting, 13 August 2008

Click here to see a list of all posts about strategy and military theory.

49 thoughts on “What did we learn from the Russia – Georgia conflict?”

  1. To Maximillian : SOLUTIONS please, I’ve haven’t got any real world ones, well, short of armed revolt (People in Arms). Methinks Tom Grey would like that.

    FM just created a new post ’bout “Fixing America : Solutions – Elections, Revolt, Passivity “.

    Worth your while.

  2. 1) Take individual RESPONSIBILITY and demand the same of political, bussiness, judicucial and military leadership.

    2) Honesty.

    3) Put even some slight measure of self interests second to the greater good.

    As crazy and entirely alien as those two concepts sound. There’s a start.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This was the state of philosophy in the ancient world. The world was seen as impossible to reform until the nature of people changed. And that never happened, nor has anyone devised a way to make it happen. This is the point of the Plato’s Republic: the impossibility of reform through changing people’s characters. Thousands of years of history are evidence that he was correct.

    Modern philosophy broke away from previous western thought, both philosophical and Christian, with Machiavelli and those who followed him. They believed that it was possible to build a better society through structural political reform. England and eventually America are the results of that experiment.

  3. Max : that’s gonna take a LOTTA WORK, dude.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Before taking a lot of work, we need a method to make it happen. That is to say, this is not a solution — just a vague hope. Like wishing for a good 5 cent cigar, or drugs for nothing and chick for free.

  4. The L8est about Afghanistan: {snip — The comment policy asks that they be brief, civil, and topical. This is not even remotely related to this post}.

  5. “Max : that’s gonna take a LOTTA WORK, dude.”

    Yeah, so ? If it was easy, then any idiot could do it ! That’s not the American way,,,. MaX
    Fabius Maximus replies: History is long, with people all over the world seeking a good political regime. Your comments show no appreciation for this, in a sneering way asking us to do what no other people have ever done. No further comment is necessary, IMO.

  6. To Maxi : I’m BETTIN’ on the American Peoples to RESTORE their state to one deemed worthy for their descendants. By instillin’ good ol’ HONESTY, RESPONSIBILITY & GREATER GOOD ABOVE PERSONAL INTEREST. Values that you’ve propagated. Perhaps you are the “Lenin” of the 4GW Movement?!?

  7. Geez, it’s kinda scary. Like we’re the only dudes readin’ the blog right now, Max. Where’s the rest of ’em?

  8. “Perhaps you are the “Lenin” of the 4GW Movement?!?”

    I’ll pass on that one, moreover I’m no lefty, it’ just that the US political landscape is so skewed currently, by the gravitational influence of 9-11 and those who exploited the fear. To that I give “them” credit, they’ve done so well, on the other hand, fear mongering is the oldest trick in the book, and comes easily. M

  9. “Like we’re the only dudes readin’ the blog right now,”

    A lot of pepole are on vacation this time of year, I’m in transit just having worked on an NFL pre-season game. M
    Fabius Maximus replies: Traffic at this site is running at average levels, and exhibits little seasonality — except right around holidays. It is just the nobody else is bothering to post on this thread.

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