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Posted on Aug 11, 2008 in War College

Assault on Georgia! Exclusive Military Analysis on South Ossetia Conflict

By Ralph Peters

Russian Su-27 attack fighter. Department of Defense photo.Ralph Peters is a member of Armchair General’s Board of Advisors and the author of 23 books, including the new adventure-travel memoir, Looking for Trouble, which features several chapters of his experiences in Georgia and the Caucasus.

In this ArmchairGeneral.com exclusive, he applies his knowledge to show the Russian invasion was not a sudden response but an action planned and prepared in advance. Despite those preparations, the Soviet military performance has that of a sledgehammer sloppily applied.

The inept performance of the Russian air force may have been the most striking feature of the war thus far.

As I write, Russia continues its invasion of free, democratic Georgia with overwhelming military force. Given the raw power Russia has been willing to apply, there’s no question as to which side will win. But one of the many untold stories of this fateful war is how poorly Russian forces are performing—despite careful planning and extensive preparations.

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First, let’s explode the myth disseminated by the Russian government (and accepted by many in the Western media) that Georgia started this fight by “invading” South Ossetia. Setting aside the fact that South Ossetia is legally a part of Georgia, this fight began with a set-up worthy of Hitler’s machinations in Czechoslovakia and Poland. Having created, funded and fully backed the South Ossetian separatist movement since the Soviet crack-up, in late July the Kremlin ordered the local militias they own to provoke the Georgians.

In the week prior to the invasion, South Ossetians, aided by Russian “peacekeepers,” had shelled and raided Georgian villages beyond South Ossetia. In Tbilisi, the freely elected president, Mikheil Saakashvili, a pro-Western leader, took the bait and walked into Moscow’s trap—he ordered Georgian forces to go in and clean out the areas where the South Ossetian militias were operating.

Within hours, the Russian military was on the move.

Anyone seeking proof of who orchestrated this war has only to consider how swiftly Russian ground, air and naval forces “responded” to Georgia’s attempt to protect its citizens. Even the U.S. military—which is vastly better prepared, better trained and better organized than Russia’s—could not have launched so broad a coordinated assault from a standing start. Not only was this invasion planned in detail, but elements of Russia’s 58th Army, headquartered in Vladikavkaz, just across the Caucasus Mountains from Georgia, had task-organized an initial armored brigade for the invasion’s spearhead—soon followed by the equivalent of a full division, augmented by paratroopers from Russia’s strategic reserve. The 58th Army had adequate warning time to replace deadlined vehicles, perform pre-combat maintenance of the rest, distribute full combat loads of ammunition (beyond what was already on the tanks and other armored vehicles), shift troops between garrisons, deploy forward logistics elements, and disseminate tactical plans.

You don’t do that in a couple of hours. That takes several days for the very finest military unit—and weeks for most others.

[continued on next page]

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34 Comments

  1. Ralph Peters

    Could you write a few more facts instead of nonsense like “Putin is a brilliant calculating madman”.
    Russian politics are complicated, and Putin is influenced by many parties in Russia Like American presidents are influenced by many parties in the US. And in no way a madman. On a military analyst site I would like to read something about anti aircraft capacity and anti tank capacity of Georgia. What kind of weapons do they have? What kind of weaponry they bought from the Israeli’s and Americans.
    Osetia is as mountainous as Tchetjsnia so could things turn out to be a bit similar as far as military outcome is conncerned? What kind of strategy is Georgia expected to aplyis there anything known about that. No doubt they did anticipated the possibility of today’s attack. So rather facts than fiction
    Greetings William

  2. “South Ossetia is a legal part of Georgia.”

    oh, I see. Like Kosovo ia a legal of Serbia? Like Golan is a legal part of Syria?

    methinks, that despite the analysis, that may or may not be correct, we are talking again about double standards.

    next thing will be that Russia is full of islamic terrorists or communists! anything to win the neocon war on resources… tsk tsk tsk

  3. The Ralph Peters is peddling is a tough one for me to swollow. Are we to believe Russia wasn’t planning for eventualities on it’s boarder? Of course it wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. You are a fool if you thought it would be. If you have conflict on your boarder you plan for dealing with it if gets out of hand. I was at an military exersise practicing defending Saudi Arabia from an Arab Attacker when I heard about Iraq invading Kuwait. If you dont think Russia is planning contingentcies you are a fool. As far as Mr. Peters’ implacation that we should some how be feeling rightous indignation over Russia’s actions in Georgia, I think he needs to go re-read our actions in Kosovo. Heck Kosovo wasn’t in our back yard and certainly not a part of a former republic. Yet we planned and exacuted a military stompping on the weak Serbs to ensure they let a “legal” part of their country break away cause they were friendly to the West. How do you reconcile that Mr. Peters? Our High Horse is kinda dirty these days, maybe we ought not try and jump on so fast.

  4. Russian bear alive and well I’ll powered no brains. You can bet.that the Ukraine the Baltic countries. will be spending a lot of money on armament. I don’t think the Ukraine will be so easy to bring back to mother Russia.I always thought. That Russia would be a great democracy. But I guess I don’t have any brains neither. I guess the new games have begun tally Ho

  5. Regardless of who’s winning or not, does this altercation prove Europe’s ignorance of military preparedness albeit NATO? Why rescue Europe when they were so ambivalent in their commitment to Iraq?when The so-called EU now faces a menace from the east.

  6. How about the cyberwar that preceeded all other attacks?

  7. As I see it, The west has leaned towards supporting independence for ethnic groups in majority in a region if they are are using armed struggle, as seen i Kosovo.
    Belgium where just at the brink of splitting up without anyone fearing any severe stratigic consekvense. The IRA stopped their armmed struggle for territorial independence. Theese are examples of the development where national borders has a devalueted importance in the face of both economic and cultural integtation. Whats more, is that we in the west has experienced succeses with this ” live and let live`” policy. I am norwegian and we started of as a independent nation from Sweden peacefully 103 years ago. Mike mentioned dobble standards, I add a consisting line i Europe of allowing a divorce where difrences are inconsiveble. I most certainly agree on a russian active role in this conflict, but beyond that there seem to be a real wish of independence from from the South Ossetian side. Should we jump in old trenches or apply simple standards.
    Svein Ole Aase

  8. Simple standards won’t work here, Russia keeps acting like it’s in the 19th century. At the same time recommending digging old-trenches could anger the beast a little bit more. We don’t want to do that. If things do escalate, at least this time we have Germany on our side.

  9. This article is one of the most biased things I have ever read. It amazes me that someone would call this a military analysis. We could write the same of the 2003 US war on Iraq and it would still be a load of nonsense. As has been pointed out, are we supposed to believe the Russians have no contingency plans in place for everyone of their neighbours? Doesn’t the US – and in regards to much more than their neighbours?

    What about the attempt on Western Powers to surround Russia with NATO alliance members, which the Russians view suspiciously? What would the any other government do if their country got surrounded by perceived hostile forces?

  10. This is nothing more than crude propaganda imagining Russia was still the USSR presented as “analysis”. It also has many glaring errors.

    First of all, if one is to believe the line that Russia’s quick response proves it provoked the conflict, one has to accept that Russia had no inteligence of Georgian military plans, know knowledge of Georgian troop movements etc, and no contingency plans of its own such as pre-prepared list of air-strike targets. That would seem highly unlikely.

    Further, it is filled with errors such as the claim that Russia had taken Gori, when no independent observers confirmed this and indeed western diplomats denied it. Given this, one cannot give much weight to this “analysis”.

    Modern Russia is not the USSR. It is a democracy where the government enjoys very broad support, albeit not a democracy of western standards by a long way yet but it is a very long way from the Russia of Soviet or Tsarist days. In addition the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia overwhelmingly reject Georgian rule.

    However Russia cannot sit idly by and allow a hostile NATO to encroach right up to its borders in the Caucasus. The west should recognise this and avoid such an unnecessarily provocative action and stop thinking as if this was the 1970s. It was one thing to have NATO defend Western Europe from a real threat, but Georgia today is quite a different matter and not vital to our defense by a long way.

  11. Armor analysis: Russian tanks still use roads and usually travel in columns. As far as we have seen airpower has been limited to maintaining command of the air rather than attacking in conjunction with the tanks.

  12. I opened the article in hope of a genuine military analysis and stopped reading less than half way through. This is not even remotely analysis – at best, poor and unprofessional anti-russian propaganda. Delete from the search engine, do not waste peoples time.

  13. A few days ago I read Mr. Peters’ analysis and thought he was just one of many jumping on the anti-Russian band wagon. But today, with Russian forces clearly ignoring the cease-fire, and trying to “punish” Georgia as much as they can, I can’t help but think that Mr. Peters is on to something.

    I can almost hear the Russian ground commander saying, “cease-fire, we don’t need no stinkin cease-fire”

  14. Russian armour still shown in pictures “wearing” ERA panels. Any good against modern tank rounds ? Anyone has a view ?

  15. The Russian troops look like their fathers storming into Berlin. Riding on tanks with their automatic weapons looks old fashioned and barbaric, but it still works.

    The tanks are 20 years old and the airpower was not professional. Frogfoots flying way too high. I think the helicopter gunship work was done better, though.

    In a mountainous country, armour must travel in columns on roads. What you don’t see is the overwatch by Hinds above.

    This is a proficient army that crushed the Chechens and isn’t afraid to fight. That is its strength. It also has some tactical ability and is much improved from the Grozny debacles 15 years ago.

    They still do not have helmets or body armour. They would be cut up without air supremecy, but that could also be said for our ground forces.Increasingly in the modern world, the side that has a proficient military, maybe not the best, but is willing to use it and to take casualties, ill be the winner. The Georgians basically broke and ran, worse than France 1940, and more like the Italians in North Africa against the British.

  16. RPG-7s have been effective against heavy tanks with reactive armor.

  17. Georgia attacked, backed by 150 US and almost 1000 Israeli “instructors” , international accepted peacekeepers just a few hours after initiating(!) and agreeing to a ceasefire. Georgia has been world leading in increasing their military budget since their democratic(?) President was taking over in a bloodless coup 2003. Today they spend 30(!) times more on their military then before 2003. Weapons bought and given mainly from US and Israel.
    This is just one more example of USrael aggression in the world that is sold by big lies thru so called western media. Period!

  18. I must say that I have to agree with most of what everyone else has said on here. This is not a military analysis; it is a biased, anti-Russian political op-ed piece written for no other reason than to portray Russia as still being the big bad USSR and the US as being the noble Cold War-era warriors of truth and justice.

    Mr. Peters should read up on his history, and then he would realize that Ossetia is basically a different country than Georgia: different religion, different ethnic make-up, etc. He would also realize that the people of Ossetia, Armenia and even at one point Georgia have always turned to Russia for protection against any kind of encroachment. Mr. Peters would also realize that, in the past, an opulent and capitalist Georgia has pressured a poor Ossetia into giving up and caving in, restricting power and water supplies. He would also realize that Georgia agreed to a peace with South Ossetia earlier on in the same week in which it attacked, and that part of the reason that the U.S./the “West” is so interested in Ossetia is due to the oil in the region and the large investments Israel has in the Ossetian/Georgian economy.

    Please stop to read and ponder on history next time you begin to write one of your screeds Mr. Peters.

    Regards,
    Alex
    CC

  19. I’m afraid I have to agree with the majority of posters here, that Georgia is not only clearly the aggressor here, but I must also say, that I am disappointed with McCain, and Obama, for shooting from the lip, although Obama did show some restraint. We can hardly castigate Russia from our own high horse. The facts is, that Georgia sent troops into Iraq, where it has absolutely no interests, as leverage to get into NATO. The United States, desperate to assemble a “coalition of the willing” accepted troop support from such military superpowers as Moldava and Fiji, to give the appearance of legitimacy and world support for this unnecessary war. Georgia hoped that sending 2000 or so troops would fast-track their application for entrance into NATO, and once under the NATO umbrella, their bluster and rhetoric could be transformed into real a real threat to Russia. Remember that Russia has had a stranglehold on Georgia’s energy requirements, and winter is just around the corner. In any case, despite Russian tactical incompetence, the collapse of the Georgian military without much of a fight, is problematic for the United States, which has been helping train the Georgians. I expected much more from a small, well trained military operating from within their own borders, with modern anti-tank weapons and night-vision capability. On a final note, how quickly we’re forgotten, that we need Russia to help us deal with Iran, if not as a partner with mutual interests, then at least as a neutral observer. Antagonizing Russia may tempt them to aid or support Iran, or create mischief in Iraq or Afghanistan, by proxy.

  20. Mr.Peters, I regret to admit that there is no military analysis in your article but rather just a primitive one-sided propaganda in support of US government’s policy in the region. I fully respect your opinion of a “good” american citizen if it is viewed by you as an unconditional support of any steps taken by your government in any part of the world. But I am afraid that other good american citizens will not aggree with you. Poor sources, nothing to discuss from military point of view. If you pretend to be an “independent military expert” behave accordingly and provide balanced analysis of the warfare and not a distorted politicised picture of events presented by a couple of TV channels. Very unprofessional for a military expert but may be satisfactory for professional brain washing.

  21. Georgia is not our fight.

  22. I suppose it is possible to see this as nothing more than a very elaborate Russian plot to sucker in the Georgians and which went exactly according to plan, but if your paranoia level is high enough, all acts can be made to support almost any thesis.

    For example, this was presumably nothing but an attempt to get Georgia to use force against South Ossetia so that Russia could respond with overwhelming force. Now if Russia was intent on using overwhelming force from the start, I’m not sure why they needed to invent a pretext, or trap Georgia into acting first — it’s not as if anyone is exactly applauding their invasion, and it’s not as if the Russians seem to give a damn what anyone thinks about it. But leave that aside for now. The real interesting question is this: why did Russia ask for a security council resolution shortly before the Georgian attack calling on all parties to the conflict to solve the problem through diplomacy and renounce the use of force?

    How does that fit into their elaborate plot use force? If we had gone for it, it seems as if it would have stopped their diabolial master plan right at the starting gate. Unless this was an elaborate form of maskirovka because they knew we wouldn’t go for it and so it would provide cover for them and so on. That starts to look less like a diabolical plot, however, and more like a Rube Goldberg machine. And as I said, if your paranoia is high enough, any possible action, no matter how aparently contrary it is to the theorized plot, can be made to seem to fit the plot, can’t it? If they say they want war, it proves they want war. If they say they want peace, it REALLY proves they want war.

    So why did they propose the resolution? I don’t pretend to have the answer, but I suspect that the situation is more complicated than it appears to some.

    Another question, of course, is why in the world the USA, Britain, and Georgia opposed the resolution, and thus stopped it dead in its tracks. Georgia objected to the language requiring them to renouce the use of force, and we supported them. But why?

    The answer to that is, I think, much easier to find, and we don’t need to postulate a western equivalent of a mad genius sitting behind the throne and spinning his evil web of plot and counter-plot. Mind-numbing stupidity is a far more convincing explanation.

  23. The bias in these comments is shocking.
    The critics in these comments should note Mr. Peters track record. His analysis of other conflicts have proven dead on. For example, his articles on the situation in East Africa, and predictions of what would happen. On scene witnesses have verified what Peters said would happen has indeed occurred.
    Also note that having contingency plans and strategies in place is a far cry from having specific materiale pre-positioned for an attack. To see where conflict is coming, measure the movement of ammunition and boby bags. The insight from an intel pro like Peters on the Russian preparations for this political and military conflict is invaluable.
    Those looking for a detailed military report should have read the introduction, which stated the article would specifically address the question of “who started” the conflict.
    Moral comparisons to Kosovo, etc. are interesting, but irrelevant. We need to know what is happening in Georgia now. If you want to critique previous US (and other) administrations for being involved in other conflicts, please do so. However, if indeed there were immoral conflicts, that in no way justifies further immorality.
    What is clear is that the Russian government is playing hardball. They have an energy stranglehold on Western Europe. They are using military force to impose their will. They have also demonstrated a willingness to violate trade agreements and let people freeze in order to have their way.
    Friends in the Ukraine are watching this conflict very closely. They do worry that they are next.
    It is vital that we have an understanding of what is actually going on. Or, as Soviet diplomacy was once defined, “Who is doing what to whom?”

  24. Everyone please note THREE interesting facts.
    1) Russia’s cyberwar on Georgia, just like Estonia was well planned and crippling to Georgia’s internet assets. We in the West (I live in Chicago, IL USA) should be very worried about this threat.
    2) Russia’s air force dismal showing. The Georgians had old Soviet built radars and jets and the the Russians lost 2 to 10 aircraft (http://www.strategypage.com says four). The Russians knew exactly the capability of the opposing equipment and still lost aircraft. This does not bode well for them fighting a foe with modern Western made hardware.
    3) Motive. Russia wanted to increase its “nationalism” at home, and to stir up trouble to increase oil prices. If the West responds well to this (kick Russia out of G8, suspend stock trading in Russian state owned companies, reduce oil drilling technology sales, limit diplomatic contacts, and MOST importantly allow more countries in to NATO) this “adventure” may prove to be expensive.

  25. This article is hogwash, of course the Russians had a plan here, that by no means excuses the Georgians for responding to minor provocations with extreme brutality – using Grad multiple missile launch systems on a densely populated civilian target. That’s simply criminal.

    @Barton

    2) The Georgians were using modern Ukrainian air defence systems. Anybody taking on a country with them should be pretty worried. US arrogance about military superiority will cost them one day, maybe when they come up against a real enemy that can’t be bombed into oblivion before they set foot in the country.

    There was also a comment about how the hardware is all 20 years old. The most modern equipment wasn’t used in this conflict. It’s not really a demonstration of what the Russians are capable of. Any half-decent analyst would see that, but then again as others have already pointed out, this writer is no analyst, he’s an inept propagandist.

  26. Mr Peters seems to be so firmly locked into cold war thinking that there is no point in trying to debate things. Shame.

  27. What a joke of an article. Thanks for wasting my time.

  28. Thanks for your article, Now there is more reason to comment than ever before! This is a great fir for our project!

  29. Several points are worth reiterating, in hindsight:

    1. Two terms of Bush and the neo-cons mean we respond to Russian actions with an empty moral reservoir: Kosovo and Iraq have seriously eroded our ability to shape the ethical argument on the world stage, and that stage should still count for something.

    2. Even if the Georgians were provoked into action, it is clear that they acted without consulting their US benefactors. Had they done so, they would have surely been advised that they were playing right into Russian hands.

    3. The Georgian leadership is quickly establishing a track record of “shoot-from-the-hip” cowboy politics, much akin to Bush and his cronies. We would be foolish to engage in political “brinksmanship” on Russia’s doorstep with a Georgian partner who apparently acts first and then consults with allies.

    4. If this article was, as asserted, a “hot wash” of unfolding military current affairs, perfect accuracy should not have been expected. Actually, it was fairly well on target. It might have created less of a reaction from third party observers, however, if many of the references had been couched in more neutral language, as has been pointed out by many responders.

  30. During the initial assault by Russian forces that was captured on various news outlets, I too noticed the ‘slovenly’ appearance of the Russian soldiers. They appeared to be more of a well armed corporate-mercenary militia than a professional military. Watching the lines of Russian armor and trucks being backed up along many winding roads, I was amazed that Georgians didn’t take the chance for ambushes. Prior planning on the Georgian’s part could’ve set up the Russian’s for a deadly ambush on many of those winding mountainous roads. I’m sure the PRC’s-PLA watched and learned and are adapting for their future battles with Russia on this part. LTC. Peters did a great job at analyzing the whole Russian gambit that was played out on Georgia.

  31. Author is a hired agent of the failed western powers, trying to hogwash this debacle of Georgia
    This is what I understood from your -so- called “analysis”
    Andrei

  32. I have never read so much crap in my life. Talk about a one eyed view.
    The Russians were ready – Yes – so would any sensible Country living next to Georgia backed by the USA with its own vested interests in the region.
    It took Russia 3 days to respond. Agressors respond immediately.
    Russia contacted the USA before going in asking them to intervene – Fact – the USA did nothing or could not get Georgia to respond. Fact.
    Russia has said – the EU can send all the Peacekeepers there they like – the more the better – is that the actions of someone with designs on Georgia. No – only one Country would like to have influence there for obvious reasons and some of Europe.
    Fact – the Ossetians etc. are ethnically differnent to Georgians and much closer to Russians. Fact. Many Ethnic Russians did live there and still do live there.
    They all through history have been independent or under the Russian Empire umbrella by there choice. This was changed by Stalin about 70 years ago. A Georgian who forced them to be part of the Georgian State.
    Since when does the USA support Stalin and his actions.

    Fact – all independent Reporters who have gone there since know the Ossetians are very happy to have had Russia come to there rescue. They comprised 90% of the Population. Sue they had Russian Passports. What were they supposed to do – go nowhere – nobody recognised them – Georgia would not give them Passports since 1991. Russia did – so what?? What crap you go on with.

    Bullshit – your General goes on about how the Russians operate.
    From where does he get this knowledge. The only time the Russians ever commited troops overseas in action since WW2 [ leave out the Chechoslovakia uprising] was in Afghanistan. An entirely different setup and different war.
    How the hell does he know how the Russians would operate today?? Many reforms there in the last 18 years and Putin has managed to clean out most of the old Cold War [Hawks] over the years gradually. Something the USA is only recently starting to do.

    I have never read such crap in all my life. I have been there also.

    The real culprit here is the USA – always trying to ram there crap and what they want down the neck of others.
    O’Bama thank heavens will change that hopefully.

    I could write pages – but what is the point. Some people only want to see what they want to see.

    One more Fact – the bulk of the Refugees fled to Russia – do you flee to the Enemy? – news to me.
    Typical USA twisting of the past. USA disinformation.

  33. The author of this piece of propaganda can not be serious about what he just wrote. If he is, he is totally ridiculous, which makes this site a joke! A bad joke. In this case at least, it provides a cheap and shallow entertainment. Poor are those who rather believe such a heap of nonsense.

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