This post will try to continue gathering information on events in Georgia as they develop. The most important development is that the Georgians have been driven from Tskhinvali, though it is not clear whether they have given up all positions on the surrounding high ground. Tskhinvali is the “cork in the bottle” leading from the Caucasus passes to the long plain that runs west to east across Georgia. Sky News now says the Georgians are falling back on Gori, which is the key to keeping Georgia intact. If Gori falls, Georgia will be cut in half with Tbilisi to the east and the Black Sea ports to the West. On the map at least, the battle for Gori will be the battle for Georgia.
Whether or not the Russians move on Gori depends on Moscow and international power politics. A map (click on the thumbnail for a big image) below the “Read More” is provided for the reader’s convenience. In my opinion, while it may take a while for the Russians to bring up enough force through their tenuous road link back across the Caucasus, they will eventually be able to marshal enough force to take the Georgian positions. The clock is ticking. Reuters reports the Georgians saying they will fight for positions around Gori.
The BBC is now reporting that Georgia is seeking a ceasefire with Russia. No response from Russia has yet been recorded. “Georgia has ordered its forces to cease fire, and offered to start talks with Russia over an end to hostilities in South Ossetia, Georgian officials say. Earlier Georgia said its troops had pulled out of the breakaway region and that Russian forces were in control of its capital, Tskhinvali.” The Georgian offer may be twinned to the following statement released by Deputy National Security James Jeffrey:
“U.S. President George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser, James Jeffrey, said it will be key to see the Russian reaction to the withdrawal of Georgian forces from the South Ossetia breakaway region. ‘We’ve made it clear to the Russians that if the disproportionate and dangerous escalation on the Russian side continues, that this will have a significant, long-term impact on U.S.-Russian relations,’ Jeffrey said.”
This may be a “thus far and no further” signal by Washington issued in coordination with a Georgian offer to negotiate the fate of South Ossetia. “It will be key to see the Russian reaction to the withdrawal of Georgian forces from the South Ossetia breakaway region”. The unanswered question is what happens if the Russians don’t stand down their forces in response to the Georgian withdrawal.
Russian forces have continued to attack despite the Georgian withdrawal from South Ossetia and their unilateral ceasefire. The BBC reports:
Russia has continued air raids deep inside Georgia, after it rejected Tbilisi’s announcement that it had called a ceasefire and wanted talks. ets bombed targets near Tbilisi, including the airport, and Russia said its warships had sunk a Georgian boat that approached and tried to attack.
On the ground, the NYT says the assault on Gori has begun. “Russian tanks and troops moved through the separatist enclave of South Ossetia and advanced on the city of Gori in central Georgia on Sunday night, for the first time directly assaulting a Georgian city with ground forces after three days of heavy fighting, Georgian officials said.”
Earlier, to the west in Abkhazia, another breakaway republic seen to be supported by Moscow has announced it will open hostilities to force the Kodori pass. The pass is currently in Georgian hands. Once opened, the Kodori gorge will provide a route for Russian forces to get in behind the Georgian Black Sea ports. If the ports are taken or Gori is reduced, Georgia would have essentially been conquered in the conventional sense.The NYT quotes Georgian sources as saying it expects attacks at three points: two in Abkhazia and one from the recently abandoned Ossetia. “Georgian authorities said Sunday morning that they expect Russian attacks to come on three fronts — from Gali and Zugdidi, two spots on the Abkhazian border, and from Ossetia, according to Gigi Ugulada, the mayor of Tbilisi. They also expect more bombing on the Kodori Gorge, the only part of Abkhazia that remains under Georgian control.” Attacks on Gali and Zugdidi, near the Black Sea coast, would threaten the ports. The Russian menace from Ossetia would be aimed at cutting Georgia in half.
In the Black Sea area, Russia is accusing Turkey of aiding Georgia. “Russian Izvestya newspapers has claimed that Turkey was among the countries that supported Georgia in the recent strife in South Ossetia, by supplying the country with weapons, CNNTurk reported on Sunday. The Russian newspaper cited a Russian Defense Ministry report published three months prior that claims over the past four years Turkey has supplied Georgia with $45 million in weapons and ammunition, as well as training Georgian army officers. Interfax Agency also reported that Turkish naval ship has entered in to Georgian territorial waters off the coast near the city of Batumi.” Moscow is feeling its oats and not shy about warning Turkey off.