The answer to what the Russians plan to do with Georgia has been given. They plan to conquer it. Russian troops took the key town of Gori after the Georgians fell back on Mtskheta, a town only 10 miles east of Tbilisi. Reuters reported that “Russian forces had captured the Georgian town of Gori, 60 km (35 miles) from the capital Tbilisi, but Russia denied it and Reuters witnesses saw no troops in the town.”
Two Reuters reporters in Gori said they saw no evidence of a substantial Russian presence in the town. One said he saw Georgian soldiers leaving in convoys.
The second reporters said: “We are right now driving through the town and I see no trace of troops or military vehicles. It is absolutely deserted.”
The reporter said he later saw a Georgian armoured personnel carrier on fire east of Gori on the highway to Tbilisi. A long convoy of Georgian military trucks was heading away from Gori towards the capital.
Georgia — under its old borders — has effectively been lost to Russia. Moscow now sits aside the transportation links joining Tbilisi to the Georgia’s Black Sea ports. A Russian column has also reached the Senaki, at the western end of Georgia’s main flatland, the Kolkhida Lowland. The heartland of Georgia is now split in two. But the Georgian army remains apparently intact.
But the Russians have repeatedly failed to “bag” or encircle the Georgian Army, whose losses appear to be relatively light. The Georgians may have decided to avoid a ruinous battle for Gori, preserve their army and keep their state alive — even at the cost of abandoning their Black Sea ports and Kolkhida Lowland — in favor of a withdrawal behind the second of their major mountain ranges: the Lesser Caucasus.
The Lesser Caucasus runs parallel to the Greater Caucasus range, Georgia’s border with Russia with the Kolkhida Lowland between them. It is about 600 kilometers long. To use the metaphor of Rorke’s Drift, it is the inner “bags of mealies” wall. In the comments section of an earlier post, I wrote:
“The Poles were encircled and cut off from each other by a forward defense strategy that emphasized controlling their borders. The difference in this case is that Georgia has a border with Turkey and a second mountain barrier — the lesser Caucasus. If Georgian forces falls back south, behind the lesser Caucasus, which runs parallel but south of the major range, they would have the Turkish border to their rear. Imagine if Poland had had a border with France. If Georgia refuses to surrender and holds out in the mountains it could drag Russia into a wider war. The choice not to die quietly is not Russia’s: it is Georgia’s. Of course it would mean giving up Tbilisi and every major city.”
Another commenter (RAH) describes the new defensive position the Georgians have established to defend Tbilisi. “There is a ridge and river crossing from Gori to Tbilisi at Mtskheta that would make a good defensive position . The mountains to the south would prevent Russian tanks and a bridge over a river makes a narrow defile to defend. ” But in the end Tbilisi will be taken, and if the past is any guide, the retreat will continue. Those who want to look at the map can examine this link for themselves. A clickable thumbnail is also provided on the left margin of this post.
The Georgian strategy is born of military necessity. They appear to have chosen to abandon a major part of their country in order to stay together as a nation. As the Georgians move around the Lesser Caucasus, falling back on the Armenian and Turkish borders — the only borders not controlled by the Russians, they have among them about 130 US advisers. According to the American Forces Press Service:
WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2008 – The U.S.-assisted redeployment of Georgian troops from Iraq to their home country should be completed today, a Pentagon spokesman said.
American military aircraft began shuttling the brigade of Georgian forces yesterday, as clashes with Russian forces intensified since fighting broke out last week in the breakaway region of South Ossetia in Georgia, a former Soviet republic.
The U.S.-provided transport of the 2,000-strong contingent adheres to an agreement that U.S. and Georgian government officials arranged before Russian tanks and troops crossed Georgia’s border on Aug. 8, Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman said today. …
Meanwhile, some 130 U.S. military personnel serving as trainers to national forces in Georgia will remain in the war-torn country, Whitman said. He added that all U.S. trainers there are safe and accounted for, and that presently there are no plans to remove them from Georgia.
The Georgian refusal to surrender and fallback to their south potentially means they are raising the stakes. If the Russians continue to pursue, they will inevitably risk crossing the Turkish and Armenian borders. But those possibilities are in the future. For the present, an intact Georgian army will delay the Russians at the Mtskheta chokepoint to buy time; time perhaps to get what they can behind the Lesser Caucasus and to whatever fate awaits. Georgian President Saakashvili laid out his war aims in a speech to his nation a few hours ago. He remains open to a negotiated settlement, but not at the cost of surrendering Georgian sovereignty. His goal is simple: Georgia must survive.
I want to say with full responsibility, we should save our country ourselves. Nobody else will be able to do it. Of course, international support is important, international diplomatic involvement is decisive, but if we are not very mobilized, if we do not show heroism, if we do not resist this huge brutal force, without our dedication Georgia will not be able to stop this confrontation. …
But we will defend the freedom of our country, the independence of our country – with our teeth, to the last drop of blood. God bless each of us. God bless the freedom of Georgia. God bless our soldiers, our heroes. Long live Georgia.