Is Russia Itching for War with Georgia?
Ryan Maurо May 22, 2012
No one expected Russia to become a major campaign issue in 2008 when it went to war with Georgia, ripping away the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Now, there are signs that Russia is itching for a rematch that would finish off the pro-American Georgian regime led by Mikheil Saakashvili.
Russia recently announced that it seized 10 caches of arms on May 4 and 5 in Abkhazia which were to be used in dramatic terrorist attacks in Sochi, where the 2014 Winter Olympics are to take place. The stockpiles included: 10,000 rounds of ammunition; 15 kilograms of TNT; 50 grenade fuses; 39 hand grenades; 36 mortar shells; 29 grenade launchers; 15 landmines; 12 improvised explosive devices; 3 surface-to-air missiles; 2 anti-tank missiles; 2 assault rifles and a sniper rifle, mortar and flamethrower.
The Russian government says that the man responsible for the planned wave of attacks is Doku Umarov, a Chechen terrorist leaderinvolved with Al-Qaeda. He ordered an end to attacks on Russian civilians earlier this year. Georgian intelligence helped Umarov’s terrorists smuggle the weapons through Georgian territory from Turkey, the Russians claim. Georgia dismisses the accusations as “absolutely absurd.” The accusation provides a clear rationale to remove Saakashvili from power.
This development comes while Russia is preparing for a possible strike on Iran. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin explained, “Iran is our neighbor. If Iran is involved in any military action, it’s a direct threat to our security.” Reportedly, Russia has drawn up plans to send forces to Armenia in such an event, which requires going through Georgia, toppling Saakashvili on the way.
In 2008, Russia’s annual Kavkaz exercises were used as a cover to deploy and train the forces that invaded Georgia the next month. This year’s exercises are to take place in September. Russia announced that Spetsnaz units will be sent to the North Caucasus region for the exercises and airborne assault forces and attack helicopters will deploy to Base 102 in Gyumri, Armenia. One report claims that the families of soldiers at the base have already been evacuated.
It is quite possible that Russia will provide assistance to the Iranian regime from Armenia in the event of a conflict. After all, Saddam Hussein awarded medals to former Soviet advisors for helping him to prepare for the 2003 invasion. Russian Spetsnaz units were deployed to Iraq and are suspected of having helped cleanse the country of documents and incriminating materials. The Russians alsogave Saddam Hussein details about the U.S. war plan, retrieved through a spy at CENTCOM. Russia continues to arm Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and deployed an “anti-terror” unit to assist him in March.
There are also strategic and economic benefits for Russia and Iran if Georgia is invaded. Europe gets about 1 million barrels of oil per day from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan through a pipeline that goes from Baku to Tbilisi, Georgia to Ceyhan, Turkey. It goes around Russian and Iranian territory. In the 2008 war, Russian aircraft were witnessed bombing it. By invading Georgia, Russia gets control of that critical pipeline.
The Russians have sought the overthrow of Saakashvili ever since the 2008 war and has consistently claimed that he’s sponsoring jihadist terrorism to justify future action. One Russian lieutenant that was interviewed during the last war said, “It [South Ossetia] will be Russia. And Georgia used to be Russian, too.”
In 2009, Russia warned Georgia of severe consequences if it permitted NATO to hold military exercises on its land. In April, Russian forces moved to within 25 miles of Tbilisi. The next month, a coup was launched against Saakashvili from a base near the capital but it was quickly quelled. One of the participants, a former special forces major, told his interrogators that Russia had engineered it. The Russians planned to send 5,000 soldiers to reinforce the rebels as they approached the capital, he said. The Georgian government said the coup plotters were paid by Russia.
In August 2009, Russia accused Georgia of orchestrating an Al-Qaeda suicide bombing in Ingushetia. Russia immediately cast suspicionon Georgia after the March 29, 2010 subway bombings in Moscow. The Deputy Foreign Minister said that Saakashvili is “unpredictable” and could strike at any moment.
Hypocritically, it’s Russia that’s been sponsoring the covert attacks. A secret U.S. intelligence report from 2007 reveals that the Russian GRU has been behind a number of violent “active measures” in Georgia since 2004, including the killing of Georgian cops, a 2005 car bombing, two attacks on the Georgian-Russian pipeline in 2006, the sabotage of a vital power line and the arming of separatists. Russia was also responsible for an explosion next to the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi on September 22, 2010.
In February 2011, Saakashvili asked the U.S. to put anti-ballistic missile radar in Georgia, infuriating Russia. If Russia threatened to militarily destroy any ABM systems put into Eastern Europe, you can imagine how seriously Russia takes a request to assemble them in Georgia.
Russia has made no secret of its desire to get rid of Saakashvili once and for all. In 2005, Vladimir Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. That is the mindset we’re dealing with.
A further irritant to Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili is the prospect that Russian assault airborne troops, or VDV units, with helicopters could be moved into Georgia's two breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two provinces were taken by the Russian military during the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war. Initially they were declared by Moscow to be independent countries, but now the Kremlin is indicating they may be annexed to Russia.
With Vladimir Putin returning to the Russian presidency, the prospect that he again would order an attack on Georgia as he did in August 2008 also has become a possibility, these informed sources say.
The Russians believe that Georgia would cooperate with the United States in blocking any supplies from reaching Military Base 102, which now is supplied primarily by air. Right now, Georgia blocks the only land transportation route through which Russian military supplies could travel.
Fuel for the Russian base in Armenia comes from Iran. Russian officials believe this border crossing may be closed in the event of a war.
"Possibly, it will be necessary to use military means to breach the Georgian transport blockade and establish transport corridors leading into Armenia," according to Yury Netkachev, former deputy commander of Russian forces in Transcaucasia. Geography of the region suggests that any such supply corridor would have to go through the middle of Georgia approaching Georgia's capital of Tbilisi given the roads and topography of the country.
"The air force in the South Military District is reported to have been rearmed almost 100 percent with new jets and helicopters," according to regional expert Pavel Felgenhauer of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation.
In 2008, Felgenhauer pointed out, Kavkaz 2008 maneuvers allowed the Russian military to covertly deploy forces that successfully invaded Georgia in August of that year.
Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov already has announced that new Spetznaz, or Special Forces units, will be deployed in Stavropol and Kislovodsk, which are located in the North Caucasian regions.
Similarly, Lt. General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the VDV, has announced that Russian troops in Armenia will be reinforced by paratroopers, along with attack and transport helicopters.
"The Russian spearhead (from the Transcaucasia region) may be ordered to strike south to prevent the presumed deployment of U.S. bases in Transcaucasia, to link up with the troops in Armenia and take over the South Caucasus energy corridor along which Azeri, Turkmen and other Caspian natural gas and oil may reach European markets," Felgenhauer said.
"By one swift military strike, Russia may ensure control of all the Caucasus and the Caspian states that were its former realm, establishing a fiat accompli the West, too preoccupied with Iran, would not reverse," he said.
"At the same time, a small victorious war would unite the Russian nation behind the Kremlin, allowing it to crush the remnants of the prodemocracy movement 'for fair elections,' and as a final bonus, Russia's military action could perhaps finally destroy the Saakashvili regime."
Putin has made no secret that he despises Saakashvili and with his return to the presidency, he may consider taking out the Georgian president as unfinished business. Just as in 2008, Putin will not have much to worry about if he sends Russian troops into Georgia, since there was muted reaction from the U.S. and the European countries to the Russian invasion and subsequent occupation.