The Georgian Government, defeated in the five-day war with Russia, has been adopting a two-pronged approach in its information strategy: trying to prove that the war was initiated by Russia on August 7, and frequently praising the might of the Georgian Army, which inflicted 10 times more on damage Russia than Russia did on it. These are just words, however. The history of war cannot be built on folklore.
Georgian TV stations have no footage showing the capture of Tskhinvali, destroyed lines of Russian forces, or shots of actual battles.
Although Russia does not have chronological footage of combat either, it does have war trophies. Since the Georgian Army stopped resisting, the Russian Army has removed large amounts of military equipment, arms, and ammunition from Gori, Senaki, Poti, and Upper Abkhazia.
Meanwhile, the Georgian Government claims that Russia’s propaganda purposefully exaggerates the damaged done to the Georgian forces. “We have managed to save 95 percent of our armed forces despite the five-day war,” said Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili at an awards ceremony for Georgian military personnel at the Defense Academy of Georgia (Rustavi 2 TV, Georgian Public Broadcasting TV, September 17). The Georgian government does not like to talk about the losses; but unlike Russia, it is impossible to conceal them for long in such a small country. It is also impossible to hide the serious shortfalls in the management of the Georgian Army, poor organization of reserve services, and the lack of coordination between various sectors that was revealed during the war.
According to statements by the Georgian government, the Georgian Army faced 80,000 military personnel near Tskhinvali, but how realistic is this figure? “There is a term called ‘Operational Capacity,’ according to which it is impossible to station such a large army in such little space. When citing such numbers, the Georgian Government is simply lying, to justify its failure,” said the Military Expert Kakha Katsitadze (see Akhali Taoba, September 19).
Indeed, the Russian 58th Army with up to 70 000 personnel was engaged in the military activities against Georgian forces near Tskhinvali. The number is twice the size of the entire Georgian armed forces. Furthermore, the 58th Army was well prepared for the war. Military exercises, Caucasus 2008, were conducted in the Northern Caucasus at the end of July, using the theme of resistance to Georgian military aggression over South Ossetia and the destruction of the opponent on its own territory.
At the same time, the Georgian Army never conducted any exercises pitting its military forces against the potential adversary—the 58th Army troops. The Georgian Army was not ready to occupy the city of Java, the most fortified raion of the Ossetian separatists. “At the Georgian Army headquarters, there were no calculations on how to block the Roki Tunnel, connecting North and South Ossetia. Furthermore, the bulk of the Georgian Army, its elite brigade of 2,000 personnel, was in Al-Kut, Iraq; and their gradual return to Georgia was not completed until August 12, when hostilities had already ended,” Giorgi Tavdgiridze, an expert on the military, said (see Kvela Siaxle, September 18-24).
It was a serious strategic mistake to carry out a full-fledged offensive against Tskhinvali, which the Georgia Army maintained only for one day and with serious losses. “On the very first day of the war, the Georgian Army’s costly communications system failed—it was later found to be useless in mountainous regions. Army officers were receiving and transmitting orders via mobile connections, which were easily tapped by Russian radio-electronic radar. Their coordinates were transferred to the aviation forces, which carried out targeted bombing of the Georgian positions,” according to military expert Irakli Seaisashvili (see Tbiliselebi, September 22-28).
Georgian artillery was quite efficient in the five-day war with Russia, although the Georgian air force was hardly used. Georgia’s small fleet of Su 25 jets flew only once in the direction of the Roki tunnel, but they were later dismantled and hidden away, so that they would not fall into Russian hands.
Moreover, the arrival of 10,000 Georgian reservists to Gori on August 9 was poorly organized. “The goals and aim of their actions were not defined. In the end Georgia reservists returned to Tbilisi on August 10 and returned their ammunition” (see www.humanrights.ge, September 12). At the squad and battalion levels, Georgian soldiers indeed fought well, but the Georgian government did not ensure proper news coverage of the war. There are nearly no video materials of the military actions, prompting Georgian journalists to call this the war “that was hidden from history.”
From August 11 to 20, after the Georgian Army had stopped resisting, the Russian Army started destroying Georgia’s military potential. In the form of war trophies, Russian forces confiscated 150 pieces of military equipment, including 65 tanks. According to Russian Army headquarters, 20 tanks were destroyed on the site, while 44 tanks were sent to Russia through Tskhinvali and Sokhumi.
The Georgian people watched live pictures on television of the Russians transporting five units of the 2nd Ground Brigade’s Osa air defense complexes. The Russians took 1,728 firearms, including 764 American–made M-4 fully automatic assault rifles, 28 M-40 machine guns, and 754 Russian Kalashnikov machine guns.
Russian trophies also included American Humvees—armored vehicles that the American military took to Georgia for military exercises. As a result of the aerial bombardment in Senaki, two Georgian helicopters were destroyed and the runway of the military airport was blown up along with several hangers.
The Russian forces destroyed the military capacity of the marine forces and command center of the coastal defense. Up to 15 navy vessels belonging to the Georgian navy were destroyed, while nine Amfibia speed boats were transported to Abkhazia (see Radio Tavisupleba, August 24)
“As a result of the Russian military aggression, the Georgian Army suffered material losses worth $250 million,” Georgian Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili said. As to the men in uniform, 270 perished in the five days and more than 1,000 were wounded. The Georgian Army suffered the heaviest casualties on August 8 and 9 as a result of Russian air raids
On September 3 The New York Times quoted Saakashvili and Georgian Defense Ministry officials as listing measures to be taken to upgrade the effectiveness of the armed forces, including more intensive training of officers; adding an additional four combat brigades; and acquiring more modern equipment, including air-defense
systems, modern anti-armor rockets, and night-vision devices. The newspaper quoted Kezerashvili as estimating the combined total cost of those measures at between $8 billion and $9 billion (see RFE/RL, September 24).
The United States recently announced that it would supply Tbilisi with a $1 billion aid package for reconstruction and humanitarian aid, but it remains unclear whether and to what extent Washington will contribute to rebuilding Georgia’s military potential.