The Duck of Minerva

The “lessons” of Kosovo?

15 August 2008

Via email: according to Simon Saradzhyan of the Moscow Times, the Russia-Georgia War revealed the obsolescence of major aspects of the Russian military machine;

The technical sophistication of the Russian forces turned out to be inferior in comparison with the Georgian military. While Georgia’s armed forces operated Soviet-era T-72 tanks and Su-25 attack planes, both were upgraded with equipment such as night-vision systems to make them technologically superior to similar models operated by the Russian Ground Forces, said Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

“The Russian forces had to operate in an environment of technical inferiority,” Makiyenko said.

Another area where the Russian military appeared to have lagged behind the Georgian armed forces was in electronic warfare, said Anatoly Tsyganok, a retired army commando and independent military expert.

The Georgian forces were also well-trained, with many of them drilled by U.S. and Israeli advisers.

These factors helped the Georgian military easily take the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, located in a basin, after more than 10 hours of intensive air strikes and artillery fire on Aug. 7. The shelling of the city was probably carried out with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for targeting — a capability that Russia’s armed forces have yet to acquire.

This dovetails with other scattered reports of Russian officers warning against undue criticism of the Georgian military (but keep in mind that they don’t want to diminish their victory).

So why did the Russians prevail? Tsyganok agrees with many a puzzled blogger that the Georgians dropped the ball in not doing something to seal off the Roksky Tunnel, hut also lists a number of other reaons:

The Georgian attack failed because President Mikheil Saakashvili and the rest of Georgia’s leadership miscalculated the speed of Russia’s intervention, defense analysts said. Tbilisi also underestimated the South Ossetian paramilitary’s determination to resist the conquest and overestimated the Georgian forces’ resolve to fight in the face of fierce resistance. The Georgian military also failed to take advantage of the fact that Russian reinforcements had to arrive via the Roksky Tunnel and mountain passes, which are easier to block than roads on flat terrain.

Another reason the Georgians lost was because the Russian military used knowledge gleaned from past conflicts, including the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and its own reconquest of Chechnya. “Russia has learned the lessons taught by NATO in Yugoslavia, immediately initiating a bombing campaign against Georgia’s air bases and other military facilities,” Tsyganok said

So now I’m paging Rob Farley for his expert opinion (I mostly do “soft” security rather than the “guns and bombs” stuff).