Pavel Felgenhauer on Russia’s Preemptive War Planning

Pavel Felgenhauer is a respected Russian military reporter and generally well known man-about-town among the opposition, and his latest piece in Novaya Gazeta about Russia’s early war planning for the invasion of Georgia is making quite a stir, and has gotten picked up by numerous other sources. Below is an exclusive English translation of the original NG piece. novayagazeta081608.jpg“This was not a spontaneous war, but a planned one” By Pavel Felgenhauer, columnist for Novaya Gazeta Today it is perfectly obvious to me that the Russian incursion into Georgia was planned in advance, moreover the final political decision to complete preparation and begin the war in August was, it would seem, taken already in April. And the Ossetians intentionally provoked the Georgians, and any response, tough or mild, would have been used in the capacity of an excuse to attack. And if the Georgians had endured without complaining, then the Abkhazians would have begun, like now, a long prepared operation for the «mopping up» of the upper part of the Kodori Gorge. If a war has been planned, an excuse will always be found. Towards August, a significant part of the ships of the Black Sea Fleet was ready for a lengthy battle outing, units of constant readiness of the Land forces, the airborne-landing forces and the marine infantry were ready to move out, while during the course of the «Caucasus-2008» training, which ended on 2 August, a week before the war, the forces of the military-air forces, the military-sea fleet and the army completed on a locale at the Georgian border the last readiness inspection. Concurrently towards the beginning of August the Railroad troops in Abkhazia completed repair of RR routes, along which this week were flipped over to Inguri tanks, heavy equipment and items of supply for an approximately 10-thousand-strong grouping, intruded without any excuse or formal reason into Western Georgia. Naturally, not for any «national-economy aims», as officially declared Moscow, the rapidly repaired railroad was used.

The state propaganda apparat likewise carried out preparation, working over the controlled population with constant reports about the inevitable Georgian attack and about how behind this stand the USA and the West, for whom this conflict was absolutely unneeded.Naturally, one can not endlessly hold troops and the fleet at 24-hour readiness to advance. In October the weather will get bad, the snow will close the passes of the Main Caucasian Range. Therefore the second half of August was the deadline for the start of a full-scale war with Georgia.In April at a summit of NATO in Bucharest, in which Putin took personal part, it became clear that the accession of Georgia and Ukraine to the alliance, although for now the decision is deferred, is unavoidable. Russian civilian and military chiefs honestly warned both the West and the authorities in Tbilisi and Kiev that attempts to «drag into NATO» (in the words of our diplomats) countries that in Moscow are considered traditional patrimonial estate would lead to a crisis. It was declared that Russia «using any means» would not allow the entry of Georgia into NATO, but this did not have an effect on Mikhail [sic] Saakashvili. Then events started to develop with growing speed.Putin entrusted the government to «elaborate measures with respect to the rendering of targeted assistance» to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which juridically abnegated the state sovereignty of Georgia. Then a Russian fighter shot down in the sky of Abkhazia a Georgian drone. Into Abkhazia under the guise of peacekeepers were introduced combat units with heavy attack weaponry, then – RR troops. There followed a series of maneuvers, incursions of Russian combat airplanes into the Georgian sky, a factual rejection of a diplomatic settlement of the conflict under contrived pretexts and at last the war, which was supposed to liberate Abkhazia and South Ossetia once and for all of a Georgian population, Tbilisi – of Saakashvili, and the Trans-Caucasus – of NATO and Americans. In principle Moscow is even prepared formally to preserve the territorial integrity of Georgia in a form of a kind of confederation and to give the Georgians the opportunity to democratically elect themselves as president anybody whom, preferably, they will approve in Moscow as well.In precisely the same way did the Russian leadership prepare in ’99 the incursion into Chechnya. Then already in early spring, according to the witness of former premier Sergey Stepashin, was adopted a principled decision to start the war in August-September. All summer went on engineering and other preparation for the deployment of shock groupings. Then Putin and his team were restoring the territorial integrity of the RF, today, it seems, they have taken to getting the post-Soviet space in line.In ’99 the incursion of Chechen fighters into Daghestan became the excuse for war, but its unexpected initial success led to a crisis and to the replacement of Stepashin with Putin.Today the unexpectedly mighty strike by Saakashvili – the instantaneous rout of Ossetian formations – also seriously messed up the cards. Moscow could no longer pretend that this is the brave Ossetians slugging it out with the Saakashvili regime, while our side is merely attempting to keep the sides separated, establish peace and only for this is introducing troops. It became necessary to start an overt incursion, bear losses and subject oneself to western pressure, impossible for the Russian bureaucracy integrated into the world financial system.The troops it became necessary to throw into combat in relatively not-large detachments. In the Roki Tunnel (6 km in length), which due to narrowness can be used alternately only for one-way traffic, on the road to Java and to Tskhinvali there arose enormous traffic jams. The outdated, dilapidated Russian equipment was constantly breaking. The evacuation of wounded and civilians, the approach of volunteers absolutely not needed in the given situation – all led to an enormous and continuing today crisis with supply, while the vanguard relatively small-numbered forces had to be thrown into combat on a just-in-time basis by units.The elite units, including air-landing forces spetsnaz, pulled forward towards Tskhinvali on 8 August, for nearly two days could not dislodge the Georgians from the city, despite the massed use of artillery, tanks and combat aviation. Even commander of the 58th army general Anatoly Khrylev, who set out to the vanguard to bring order, the Georgians wounded. Georgian regula troops came out of Tskhinvali, only obeying the order of the political leadership. Deputy chief of the General staff Anatly Nogovitsyn admitted that the armed forces of Georgia are not those who 15 years ago lost the war to the separatists: «In the present moment this is a modern, well mobilized grouping, outfitted with modern weaponry».After coming out of Tskhinvali the Georgian troops continued the retreat. Towards 11 August nearly the entire army was concentrated around Tbilisi. By that time on the territory of Georgia, including Ossetia and Abkhazia, were pulled out up to 20 thsd. of our soldiers. The vanguard detachments came up to Gori, occupied Zugdidi, entered into Senaki and demolished there a Georgian military base. Vanguard intelligence entered into the city-port Poti. Georgian troops nearly everywhere were retreating, not engaging in combat. Russian troops got far away from bases of supply, there are too few of them for a successful occupation, their movements through Georgia lost meaning and only led to further losses in equipment due to constant breakdowns. Having ordered a retreat, the Georgian leadership saved the regular army, which with the lightning-like rout of the Ossetians had elevated its prestige in society. Having saved the army, Saakashvili preserved, as it seems to him, a united Georgia and simultaneously the foundation of his own regime, while dealing with the Russian incursion he left to the western leaders and diplomats.All of its history the Georgian people has lived at the crossroads of warring world empires and has learned a flexibility in questions of survival and the use of one strong opponent against another that is beyond our wildest dreams. Some of today’s Russian leaders only imagine that they are acting like Stalin.The demolished military bases and miscellaneous infrastructure will be restored for western money, and in so doing there will appear new jobs as well. The smashed radars and weaponry will be replaced with newer and better ones. In so doing Saakashvili has successfully solved his main strategic task – he has internationalized the Ossetian and Abkhazian problems once and for all, which in the end result may lead to the gradual displacement of Russia and reduction of its influence in the region. Already at the end of June in Tbilisi French ambassador in Georgia Eric Fornier was declaring in the presence of a «Novaya» correspondent: «The international community does not consider Abkhazia and Ossetia a serious problem. We have got Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq. Nobody in Brussels regards the possibility of the deployment of international peacekeeping forces in the region. In any case, the EU does not have spare solders for such a little-important question. This is altogether the affair of the Russians, Russia is the key player in the region».Now all has cardinally changed, the Russian incursion has roused Europe. President of France Nicolas Sarkozy advanced a peace plan, coordinated with NATO allies and with Japan, which envisages an unconditional cease-fire, the return of all refugees, including to Abkhazia, the full withdrawal of Russian and Georgian troops from the zones of conflict and the introduction of international peacekeeping forces, who will likewise include a Russian contingent. The previous format of sole Russian peacekeeping is now completely unacceptable for the West, our aggression has crossed everything out. For simple people in the Caucasus, for Ossetians, Georgians, Abkhazians and others such an outcome signifies real peace, security, huge foreign assistance for the restoration and development of the region. For Russia this can signify a military-political defeat as the result of a successful apparent incursion.It is understandable that the French plan was rejected out of hand by our ambassador in the UNO Vitaly Churkin as unacceptable, but then Moscow began to maneuver. Today’s Russia, dependent on the West, can speak a lot about its resurgent might, but in practice things turn out a bit different. The matter is not only in that the old equipment is constantly breaking down, while the Georgians are turning out about to knock down our supersonic strategic bombers. All Russian leaders, both from the faction of the «siloviki», and the «liberals» – are in essence businessmen-billionaires, their personal interests are connected with the Wets, with stock market quotes, their main political goal – the «modernization of Russia», while the incursion into Georgia is ravaging all of them today and clearly threatens even greater unpleasantnesses in the future. Retaining the possibility of the integration of Russia with the West, on Tuesday president Dmitry Medevedev declared «about cessation of the operation with respect to coercion to peace in South Ossetia». In the words of Nogovitsin, this signifies cease-fire.But nothing yet is finished. In Moscow they are still hoping to depose Saakashvili, although this will unlikely happen, and any successor of his, for example the exile Irakli Okruashvili, with whom Saakashvili has publicly made peace, will be no better. The conflict is complicated, apparently, by the personal strong enmity between Saakashvili and Putin. In Tbilisi in diplomatic and political circles they are talking about how Saakashvili disparagingly in front to witnesses responded about «the Kremlinites». In a personal meeting Saakashvili told me and permitted to publish that he had heard about these rumors, but he himself had never said anything like this, and «this is all the provocations of the Russian special services».It is insufferable to come to terms with the fact that the viperish Saakashvili, who took Georgia out of the CIS, declared Abkhazia and South Ossetia officially occupied territories, with whom our leaders can not compete in public street politics, nevertheless remains in power in Tbilisi. In circles around the Kremlin they are demanding the creation of a special international tribunal on crimes in the Caucasus. («Novaya gazeta», by the way, considers this imperative, under the condition that the investigation touches upon all sides of the conflict. – P.F.) However, even if such a tribunal will suddenly be created, although there already exists the International criminal court engaging in war crimes, then its jurisdiction will extend too to the Russian military-political leadership, which can in first order find itself under the blow for previous doings in the North Caucasus and for current ones. Once founded, the International tribunal will not depend on the Russian powers, but will be guided by law.According to the witness of eyewitnesses, onto the territory of Georgia has been introduced through the Roki Tunnel a missile brigade of the 58th army – «Uragan» systems of salvo fire (RSZO) «Uragan» and «Tochka-U» ballistic missiles. «Grad» RSZO systems (122 mm caliber) are extremely little effective during strikes on cities and on entrenched troops, as opposed to the significantly more powerful «Uragan» (220 mm). From the rayon of Tskhinvali the «Tochka-U» can hit Tbilisi and surrounding rayons. The high-explosive-fragmentary warhead of the «Tochka-U» covers three hectares, the cartridge type – 7.The «Uragan» RSZO and the «Tochka-U» missiles were massively applied for the bombardment of Chechnya in the years 1999 and 2000, which led to the mass death of peaceful inhabitants and demolitions. Last week, targets in Western Georgia were pelted from Abkhazia with «Tochka-U» missiles. The launches were registered by the American global system for monitoring missile launches. The Abkhazian powers declared that it was they who had produced the launches of the ballistic missiles. Now our side can likewise assert that it is the Ossetians (and not the 58th army) who are delivering strikes against Tbilisi in revenge, supposedly for Tskhinvali. Such strikes, without a doubt, will evoke in Tbilisi a frightening panic, and perhaps it will still be possible to succeed in overthrowing Saakashvili’s regime.The cease-fire will be very shaky until that moment when foreign peacekeeping contingents enter Georgia.