I suspect President Putin hoped this would be the title of books celebrating his invasion of Ukraine last year. Instead, it is Mark Galeotti's new Osprey study of the earlier Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. While given the massive disparity of forces, this was a predictable Russian victory, many of the problems exhibited in Ukraine were on show in this conflict.
Georgia is an ancient kingdom cursed by its strategic position, resulting in its being dominated by its neighbours for much of its history. It regained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but Russia regards it as within its sphere of influence. It also has significant ethnic minorities, which the Russians sought to exploit. The Adjarans of the southwest would be quickly subdued in 2004, but the Abkhazians of the northwest and the South Ossetians of the north were another matter. Georgia had orientated itself towards the West and NATO, leading to a decision in Moscow that something had to be done. As a result, military exercises and wargames started in 2006.
The Georgian armed forces had inherited standard Soviet equipment. By 2008 they had invested heavily in upgrading that equipment and buying new kit. For example, 120x T-72 SIM-1 tanks were upgraded by Israel with fire control and other improvements. The USA and Britain helped with small unit training, but more senior commanders were still wedded to Soviet doctrine. Russian troops came from the 58th Army in the North Caucasus Military District. They also had armed militias in the breakaway regions, supplemented by 'peacekeeping' units stationed in those areas.
The Georgian plan was the encirclement of the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali to present the Russians with a fait accompli. However, local resistance was more stubborn than expected, and Russian air attacks blunted the advance, even though the Russian army response was slow. With no AA assets, the Georgian units panicked and withdrew. Units deployed to defend the Georgian capital, but the Russians decided to halt well short of that.
The Abkhaz front was guarded by a few Police units due to the concentration of effort in South Ossetia. However, Moscow took the opportunity to break Georgia’s small navy, provide a distraction from the campaign in South Ossetia, and drive the Georgians out of the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge.
In summary, this conflict was a badly-planned Georgian attack, falling into a carefully-orchestrated Russian trap. While, man-for-man, the Georgians were often skilled and determined, the much more numerous Russians were also able to use their advantages in the air and at sea to good effect. Nonetheless, Russian blunders from crashed communications to ‘friendly fire’ incidents and an epidemic of breakdowns – foreshadowed the challenges that would still beset them in their invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
This book is an excellent overview of the fighting and an analysis of both sides' challenges. For the wargamer, there are ORBATs and plenty of illustrations and colour plates. I struggle to paint modern camouflage patterns, and there are a wide array of options available here.
|Some of my 20mm Russian infantry.