Georgia/Russia: Gori and Senaki by bomblight


(Source: BBC)

Russian troops have now moved far inland into Georgia from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, launching attacks on the towns of Gori in the North and Senaki in the West. I just got off the phone with a guy who works at an NGO in Washington, and he’d just got off the phone with Georgia government types in Tbilisi, and they confirm what the BBC is reporting.

Here is a blog the Georgia Foreign Affairs Ministry is running with constant updates on the conflict. Readers should of course be aware that the Georgian government is one of the belligerents in a shooting war and you can’t take every word they put on their blog to the bank. But if nothing else this blog will give you a hint of the scale of the carnage.

QUICK UPDATE: From the Georgia government blog, a map of alleged Russian air strikes against Georgia ground targets, up-to-date as of late yesterday (click to embiggen):


Georgia/Russia: Gori and Senaki by bomblight

  1. I wonder when Russia says (and this is still their claim I believe) that their forces (sorry, “peacekeepers”) haven’t moved beyond South Ossetia just how specific they’re being? I presume, frankly, that the Russian troops attacking Gori are actual Russian ground troops, but could they TECHNICALLY be Russian armed and trained “South Ossetians”. Are the Russians attacking Senaki actually Russian supplied and trained Abkhazians, and not, TECHNICALLY “Russian forces”?

    Presumably all the aerial bombing is being done by the Russian air force (though, do either of the secessionist groups have air power at all?).

    Now, I kinda doubt the Russians are being that subtle. I suspect the Russians doing the attacking are actually regular Russian forces. But I do wonder whether the Russians are conveniently referring to the South Ossetians as “Russian citizens” when it’s time to leap to their defence, but as “South Ossetians” when it comes time to deny that Russian forces are attacking inside undisputed Georgian territory. If you’ve armed and trained the separatists, is there a need for your “peackeepers” to leave South Ossetia if you want to attack inside Georgia?

    Presumably the naval engagements have been clearly Russia/Georgia affairs.

    I’m also still fascinated by the huge discrepancy with regard to the number of Russian warplanes shot down. The Russians apparently say they’ve lost 4, the Georgians claim they’ve shot down around 20. Even if you split the difference it manes the Georgians have shot down around 10 Russian warplanes. That seems like pretty serious fighting to me.

    Scary stuff.

  2. Thanks very much for this map.

    Interesting questions, milord. Yesterday I thought the Russians would never dare *invade* Georgia proper; today they’re doing some sort of Guderian-style thrust.

    Now I’m wondering if they’d be willing to just annex Georgia (I mean, “protect” it and its pipeline indefinitely).

    One thing is clear: no way the Georgians told the US about this beforehand. Or if they did, the Bushies are even more incompetent than I had conceived (which by now is saying something).

    The Olympics are now officially Overshadowed.

  3. Two interesting points in that BBC article to me.

    One is that Georgian defence officials claim their forces are puling back to Tbilisi to defend the capital, which suggests that they’re in danger of losing the country (and if THAT’s true, how much of a threat are they right now to the separatist regions?).

    Meanwhile South Ossetian sources claim Georgia is still attacking Tskhinvali with helicopter gunships (and I mean, if THAT’s true, how much control do the Russians have in South Ossetia?).

    The Russians seem to be saying the Georgians are still a big threat, so they need to keep fighting. The Georgians say they want to stop fighting, and are pulling back to defend their capital. Some of both could be true, but the idea that the Georgians are getting their butts kicked and the Russians have decided to just keep on kicking and overthrow their government just seems more plausible to me then that the Georgians are still holding their own.

  4. I think we can drop the Kosovo comparison now: never in hell would NATO have overrun Serbia to force a change of government! Which of course highlights the fact that Yugoslavia was adjacent to nobody, whereas Georgia is very much adjacent to Russia.

    BBC: “Nato’s Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has accused Russian of using disproportionate force and violating Georgia’s sovereignty.”

    I wonder what the mood is like in the Baltic states this morning.

  5. On a more general note, it now seems that bombing an enemy belligerent’s cities is taken for granted once the first rifle is fired.

    “Shock & Awe” 2003
    Lebanon 2006
    Georgia 2008
    Iran (TBA)

    The Geneva Conventions are just so much toilet paper now, eh?

  6. Gori, quite significantly to those in the region, is the hometown of Stalin. The tall baroque tower you see in some of the news photos is in fact part of the Stalin museum.

    Russians had de facto control through local bases of South Ossetia and to some extent Abkhazia. Georgian sovereignty has been compromised in these areas (and in Adjhara, which has since returned to the Georgian fold) since 1992. In many ways, it was before Misha came to power, becoming a virtual state.

    While I appreciate and understand the editor’s proviso on lack of impartiality of the Foreign Minister’s blog, it is tough to accept a characterization of Georgia as a belligerent as Moscow pours tanks and weapons into a small state that was no threat.

  7. Now maybe I missed it, but shouldn’t there be a statement from the Canadian government on all of this?

  8. It’s only 45 miles by road from Gori to Tblisi; from what I could tell from Google Earth, it’s open terrain (gentle river valley) until Mtskheta, just outside Tblisi, where there are some steep escarpments.

  9. Kelly O:

    “Rather than acting as a neutral peacekeeper, Russia has escalated the hostilities through its attacks on Georgian towns and cities outside the conflict zone,” Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson said in a statement.

    “Canada calls on Russia to respect Georgia’s borders and to desist from any further encroachment on Georgia’s territorial integrity.”

    From the G&M.

  10. Please, Kelly. Prime Minister Harper is concered with much more important things, like making sure a band with a naughty word in their name doesn’t get any exposure overseas.

  11. Thank you, I was looking for that for an hour.

  12. It’s a long 45 miles, at least the way my cabbie drove it last December.

    Point taken on “belligerent,” Chad. I meant only that in a war with two parties, Georgia is one.

  13. Jack M

    I, too, have been checking out google earth to see what the terrain’s like in Georgia. I often look at google earth but I just had a moment where I thought ‘technology is awesome’. Here we are half a world away, sitting at our desks, and we probably have as good info on terrain as the Georgians/ Russians do. We are not in kansas anymore!

  14. Nice use of “embiggen”.

  15. This is a replay of the Russian conquests of the Caucasus back in the 19th century, with Putin playing the Tsar.

    Plus ca change! What will the West do? Probably what they did before – look on nervously and act not.

  16. “It’s a long 45 miles, at least the way my cabbie drove it last December.”

    Can I say “trumped”?

    Wouldn’t you know it, jwl, but the image panel between Gori and Mtskheta is low-res! Or maybe Google is trying to keep pace with the Russian advance and we’ll see high-res by sundown.

    I keep hoping the news reports will say something like “Russian 621st Motorised Division with 42 tanks and 21 APV’s,” like in WWII histories; whereas I suppose that’s more after-the-fact info. And of course both sides are wishing they had that info themselves (often enough about their own troops).

    Apart from the appalling human carnage, and the troubling omens for international law, it’s an interesting test of two modern armies and their weaponry: there hasn’t been anything like it for a long time (Yom Kippur War? China vs. Vietnam?). The Georgians may be hopelessly outnumbered, but they have modern weapons and apparently US training. I wonder what is actually happening on the ground, tactically.

  17. Message to former Soviet republics: Western goodwill and contributing troops to the Iraq conflict, plus $1.50, will get you a cup of coffee.

  18. Perhaps Uzbekistan should pull down the blinds and lock the doors. Entirely too cooperative with The War on Terror and all.
    For years we heard “why can’t Russia be more like the US”. Well,I read somewhere that US troops invaded Latin American countries something like eighty times through the twentieth century.
    Time to start keeping score?

  19. “I keep hoping the news reports will say something like “Russian 621st Motorised Division with 42 tanks and 21 APV’s,” like in WWII histories”

    I have been looking for those type of reports as well. Looking at newspapers a bit but I am focusing on the war blogs. I thought they might have some of that type of detail on the blogs but it’s not happening yet.

  20. Israeli training, too, Jack, for the Georgians:

    Note what the IDF vets quoted in this story say about Georgia’s war preparations. Both sides were itching for a, if not exactly this, conflict.

  21. Assuming that the Russians are thrashing the Georgians (which I think seems reasonable, although it is of course not certain), I think the question becomes “what next?”

    The West has proven that it lacks the will or ability to do more than stand on the sideline and frown disapprovingly. If you’re Putin and you just walloped an uppity republic with nobody raising an arm in protest, what do you think about next time Lithuania makes a fuss?

    And if you’re one of those former Soviet republics, aren’t you cuddling a lot closer to Moscow just for the sake of your own survival?

  22. Does NATO really want to go to war with Russia? Not likely. Even the Georgians know this.

    Beating the heck out of Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq are one thing. Russia is an entirely different story.

    Additionally, judging by the continuing backlash against NATO’s involvements in these other conflicts which resulted in a few thousand NATO casualties, it’s hard to imagine that the citizens in NATO countries are prepared to suffer the casulaties of a larger conflict.

  23. And speaking of the Olympics, Sochi (2014 Winter Games host) sure ain’t very far from Abkhazia. The IOC isn’t saying too much, but the Telegraph does recommend that the West ask the IOC to (threaten to) pull the Games.

    Of course then they might have to pull them from Britain in 2012 for invading Iraq without UN sanction.

  24. Interesting note for anyone wondering why the Foreign Ministry of Georgia is running their website on blogspot: their .ge domain names have come under cyber attack (gosh, who could be behind that?) and have moved their websites to blogspot because of Google’s solid infrastructure. Estonia is also hosting a few sites.

    Info here: http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/08/civilge-the-geo.html

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