In my previous diary on this topic, I examined the background to the South Ossetian war. Today, I try to examine the current situation in the war.
Below is a typical selection of comments from Georgian officials:
"Russian forces are occupying Gori. Georgian armed forces received an order to leave Gori and to fortify positions near Mtskheta to defend the capital. This is a total onslaught," Mr Lomaia [secretary of the Georgian Security Council] said.
- The UK Times Online
President Saakashvili told Georgians in a televised address that Russia was attempting to occupy the whole country. He said: "This provocation was aimed at occupying South Ossetia, Abkhazia and then all of Georgia."
Russia for the most part did not comment specifically on this, and most of us probably took that as confirmation.
- the International Herald Tribune
The Kremlin declined to say whether its troops had entered Georgia proper but said all its actions were intended to strike at Georgian military forces that had fired on its peacekeeping troops in South Ossetia.
A senior Russian military official, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said early Sunday that Russia did not intend to "break into" Georgian territory.
Today, however, it seems that those statements could have been an exaggeration:
Lomaia has since claimed that Russian forces have "captured" the city. However a Reuters reporter in Gori said: "We are right now driving through the town and I see no trace of troops or military vehicles. It is absolutely deserted."
More significant are the comments by US defence officials reported by the AFP (highlighting is mine):
Georgian officials said Russian troops had moved out of South Ossetia into Georgia proper, occupying the city of Gori while Georgian troops were retreating to the capital.
But US defense officials said they were unable to corroborate the Georgian claims.
"We don't see anything that supports they are in Gori," said a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I don't know why the Georgians are saying that."
Considering how many satellites our tax dollars have paid for, I think our Defense department would know if Russian troops were truly moving into Gori.
Russia has indeed taken the town of Senaki, in western Georgia proper, but that looks to be more like a raid to destroy the Georgian base than any full-fledged invasion.
So the real question is why this disconnect between Georgian words and fact has occurred. One possibility is that this is simply the result of a massive communications breakdown in Georgia - with important infrastructure such as radar and airports destroyed by Russian bombing, people are unable to determine the actual situation, and panicked rumours can spread quickly, causing an army to flee from an illusionary foe. A prime example of this occurred at The Battle of Karansebes, more than 200 years ago, where an Austrian army panicked from a nonexistent Ottoman attack and ended up destroying itself. Western news agencies have certainly reported fleeing Georgian soldiers - its only the Russian advances that they are unable to confirm. Russia has also showed an aptitute in cyberwarfare (one of its first demonstrated uses occurred against Estonia last year), and appears to have used it effectively in this conflict, a fact which may also have contributed to a total breakdown in Georgian communications. In a way, the Russian advance seems to be a modern version of Blitzkrieg, working to paralyze the Georgian command structure and impede communications.
The other possibility is simply that Georgia is trying to make its situation look as terrible as possible in an attempt to win the support of the West. If that's the case, they seemed to have fooled the not-so-honorable Senator from Arizona, but little else.