The country of Georgia has launched a new offensive to seize the breakaway republic of South Ossetia – territory that just happens to be part of Russia.
Yes, Russia: That great, terrible ogre of an empire that happens to have most of Asia – not to mention the silver medal in Most Vicious And Plentiful Weapons Systems – in its sprawling grasp. Georgia, a nation more famed for its history as being the last haven of the redoubtable “Chalybes” – the tribes that helped introduce steel and iron to the west – than for its current exports – namely mobsters – has attacked it.
…the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali was devastated.
“I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars,” said Lyudmila Ostayeva, 50, who had fled with her family to Dzhava, a village near the border with Russia. “It’s impossible to count them now. There is hardly a single building left undamaged.”
They did so by shelling a civilian population center that had been largely unaware. Apparently the Georgians counted on surprise to carry the day. The rag-tag defenders of South Ossetia, used to be hit from behind by the likes of al-Qaeda, dug in quickly:
Russia responded by rolling tanks into the region and slamming Georgian air bases with aerial bombardment. Georgia has since been focusing on breaking up any Russian forward elements – read, “scouts” – by shelling the villages on either side of the border.
Ten Russian peacekeepers were killed and 30 wounded when their barracks were hit in Georgian shelling, said Russian Ground Forces spokesman Col. Igor Konashenkov. Russia has soldiers in South Ossetia as peacekeeping forces but Georgia alleges they back the separatists.
Civilians, allegedly in the hundreds, have been killed. Because Georgia deliberately waited until the world’s attention was on the Olympics, there was no warning for people – Georgians and Ossetians alike.
“I saw them (the Georgians) shelling my village,” said Maria, who gave only her first name. She said she and other villagers spent the night in a field and then fled toward the Russian border as the fighting escalated.
The Georgian offensive has since expanded to include aircraft and armor. The South Ossetian capital is, I reckon, as good as gone. This next phase will be the most crucial, as this is the kind of war that gets decided fast, but drags on a long time: Air Supremacy.
If Russian can get Air Supremacy, it can interdict Georgia’s build up in the Ossetian territories that it’s seized. That would allow Russian armor and infantry to shatter any Georgian gains and send them toppling back toward their border. Already there have been clashes, suggesting that Georgia’s going to have a tough time digging in before the Bear charges.
If the Russians do get their act together quickly, dominate the skies and cruise in soon, they could dislodge Georgia. Otherwise, this stands to be a long and very bloody war. Georgia apparently has a massive hankering for Ossetia, and Russia for sure does – it’s the gateway in Chechnya, and Russia’s not about to give that up any time soon.
What’s our stake, you ask? This isn’t just another fly-swept sob story to gather dust on your end table like those magazine pieces on Darfur or Myanmar. Even though most Americans think it’s only the name of just another Red State, the US is up to our knees in Georgia.
First off, they are the third largest contributor of combat forces to Iraq. We’re just as invested in them, too – a thousand Marines are in Georgia, training them in counter-terrorism. Just recently, Georgia was considered for NATO membership.
Naturally, the White House is trying to tamp down the fires in the Caucasus Mountains – we don’t want to be on the wrong side of this conflict, and it’s hard to say which is the wrong one. But if this war continues like the dust-ups in that region usually do, it will be a barbaric affair that goes on far, far longer than it should.
That in mind, my best wishes for safety go out to a friend of mine doing peacekeeping work in the region – Cliff Volpe. Take care, Cliff.