August 8, 2017

Is Russia Preparing a New Blitzkrieg Against Georgia?

Yuriy Radkovets

August 8, 2008 (“08.08.08”), the five-day Russian-Georgian war began, which showed that Putin's Russia has not abandoned its neo-imperial policy towards the countries of the former USSR and is trying to restore (including by force) its control over them. Especially, and above all, over those who chose the European course of development, independent of the Russian Federation.

After the Russian-Georgian war, a number of open sources provided quite thorough assessments by foreign and domestic experts on the specifics of that war, its geopolitical results and consequences, as well as lessons and proposals that were extremely important, but were not taken into consideration either by the elites of the post-Soviet countries or by international and regional organizations in the security sphere. As a result, the occupation and subsequent annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea, the Russian invasion of the Donbas, the threat of aggression against the Baltic countries and Poland, as well as the repetition of the blitzkrieg against Georgia.

Based on the available preliminary and current results of studies of the threats and challenges that result from Moscow's aggressive neo-imperial actions, the author is trying to assess the possibility of Russia's new aggression against Georgia, taking into account the realities in the region, Europe and the world in general.


Recently, a number of important geopolitical events took place in Europe: the beginning of the process of Great Britain's withdrawal from the European Union; the completion of the process of ratification by the Parliament of the Netherlands and the final ratification by the Council of the European Union of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement; the Russian Federation's purposeful interference (including using cybernetic technologies) with parliamentary and presidential elections in Western countries; the growing threat of Russian military aggression against the Baltic countries and Poland; the completion of the transfer of NATO troops to the eastern flank of the alliance — to the Baltic countries and Poland — as a proportional response to Russia's provocative actions to name a few.

At the same time, against this background, quite threatening signs of escalation of tension and Russia's military activity on the Southern (Caucasian) strategic direction mostly completely have fallen off the radar of international political scientists and experts.


Thus, in May 2017, a new concept paper was adopted in Georgia — The Strategic Defense Review 2017–2020.


The Strategic Defense Review is one of the strategies being developed at the national level in Georgia and being very important in the long-term planning of the country's defense policy, along with the National Security Concept, the National Security Threat Assessment and the National Military Strategy.

The main place in this document is occupied by the military threats coming from the Russian Federation. In particular, the main threat to Georgia's security is “the territories occupied by Russia, and the so-called “creeping occupation”.

As you know, Georgia became a victim of the Russian occupation scenario back in August 2008. True, there and then it was not completed thanks to the arrival of the leaders of the five countries led by Lech Kaczynski in Tbilisi, which, according to experts, made the Kremlin limit itself to seizing South Ossetia, although Russian troops were already approaching Georgia's capital.

Someone might say that in that war, Russia allegedly just “...wanted to protect the Orthodox brothers, and it was not interested in Georgia”. But the facts tell a different story. In August 2008, Russia attacked Georgia from three sides: from the Black Sea (by the way, there are no Ossetians there!), North Ossetia and Dagestan. At this, a few months before the aggression, Moscow blocked the dam, through which Kakhetia was supplied with water, and in early August the residents of Tskhinvali were evacuated — women and children.

These facts should be considered proof of Russia's far from peaceful plans for North Ossetia too. The Kremlin, as it should, refutes this, but in Georgia many people reasonably believe that the ultimate goal of the Russian aggression in August 2008 was to establish a pro-Russian regime in Georgia.


Immediately after the war, Russia began to slowly “move” the border line deep into Georgia. According to the Georgian side, this is still happening on the administrative border both from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The latest examples of the “creeping occupation” were the events of April 2017, when in the village of Khurcha in the Zugdidi district, bordering on the village of Nabakevi in the Gali district of Abkhazia, Russian servicemen moved the occupation line 300 meters deep into Georgia. As a result, the land (approximately two hectares) turned out to be in the occupied territory.

And already in July 2017, the Russian occupying authorities in South Ossetia moved another banner marking the “border” on the outskirts of the villages of Bershueti and Sobisi — 500 meters deep into the territory controlled by Georgia. And within the last days of July 2017, such incidents in that territory occurred twice.


One of the main and most important innovations of the Strategic Defense Review is the recognition by Georgia of Russia's widespread use of “soft power” and targeted propaganda (or, more precisely, disinformation!). Both instruments are recognized by Western countries as effective modern weapons, but Georgian state institutions considered these threats to be insignificant and did not take them into consideration in state-level documents. That is, in fact, only in 2017, Georgia recognized at the political level that Russia's information-propaganda war and aggressive, purposeful misinformation are a real threat to national security.

The document points out that “...the Kremlin will particularly focus on reinforcing the elements of its “soft power” to ensure the weakening of state institutions, strengthening of pro-Russian civil and political movements and discredit pro-Western foreign policy agenda”.

In fact, this is the second document on this topic, adopted in Georgia this year. On 13 April 2017, the government of the country approved the “Communication Strategy on Georgia's Membership to the EU and NATO for 2017–2020,” in which Russia's information war is also recognized as a threat.


Another threat recognized by the Strategic Defense Review is the “hybrid warfare”. At this, the term “hybrid warfare” is explained as the actions of a hostile side, during which it does not resort to classical military intervention, but wars the other party with the use of secret military operations, sabotage (including by supporting rebels), cyber attacks against strategic facilities and other such like actions.

Today, the overwhelming majority of international experts agree that Moscow has successfully used the entire arsenal of the “hybrid warfare” in Ukraine, where, in order to achieve its political goals, it simultaneously used information-propaganda operations (including targeted cyber attacks), terrorist acts, sabotage and criminal actions, as well as combat actions with the use of conventional weapons.


Russia's real threat to Georgia is imposed by the measures for operational and combat training of the Armed Forces and special services of the Russian Federation of an offensive (aggressive) nature.


For example, on the 8th of June 2017, the latest inspection of the combat readiness of the Southern Military District (MD) of the RF Armed Forces, announced by Colonel-General A. Dvornikov, the new District Commander, was conducted for almost a week. In the course of this inspection, they mainly mastered transportation of certain components of mobile forces in a combined way, as well as strengthening the grouping of Russian troops “on threatened directions” both in the occupied Crimea and in the North Caucasus.

In total, in the inspection of the combat readiness were involved about 7,000 servicemen and 1,500 pieces of military and special equipment of motorized rifle, tank, artillery and engineering units of the Southern MD (deployed in Chechnya, Dagestan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the Krasnodar Territory), and the units of the Marine Corps of the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla.

In particular, a Separate Battalion of the Marine Corps of the Caspian Flotilla was flown by the aircrafts of the Military-Transport Aviation to the unfamiliar to its staff Crimean training field Opuk on the Black Sea coast in the eastern part of the Crimean Peninsula, where the active phase of the maneuvers began. In the field, the Marines mastered the following tasks: a hidden movement to the staging areas; equipping and changing firing positions; organization of the system of defense.

Later, units of the Marine Corps of the Caspian Flotilla were transferred in a combined way from the Crimea to the training ground in Dagestan, where in cooperation with the Marines of the RF Black Sea Fleet (on the eve, the 382nd Marine Battalion of the Black Sea Fleet, stationed in Temryuk, Krasnodar Territory, was alarmed within the framework of the inspection of the combat readiness), they conducted joint tactical trainings using both reconnaissance and strike UAV’s (drones).


June 13–17, 2017, the Russian Federation conducted large-scale military trainings of the 4th Military Base /in fact, it corresponds to the status of a Motorized Rifle Brigade with reinforcements/ in the unrecognized South Ossetia (Tskhinvali-Dzhava). In those trainings, were involved about 3 thousand people, up to 500 pieces of weapons and military equipment, including the latest unified command and staff vehicles, designed to ensure guaranteed communications and control of units in combat.

In the course of the trainings, the tasks of deploying and testing in real conditions the new special communications and control equipment of the tactical level (battalion, regiment/brigade/, division) of the Army of the Russian Federation, which proved to be the weakest point during the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008, were mastered.

At this, we should pay attention to the practical measures to strengthen the grouping of Russian troops at the 4th Military Base in South Ossetia (Tskhinvali-Dzhava) and the 7th Military Base in Abkhazia (Gudauta-Ochamchira) by increasing the number of their personnel (up to 40 % of which took part in the conflicts in the Donbas and Syria), and re-equipping them with new types of weapons and military equipment.

Thus, for 50 thousand of the population of South Ossetia (according to official data, while in reality — much fewer), there are about 8,5 thousand Russian military, National Guards (Rosgvardia) and Border Guards. And in Abkhazia, with its 240,000 people, there are up to 12,500 Russian military, National Guards and Border Guards. Besides, another (second) set of the Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system has recently been deployed and put on combat duty in Abkhazia. This can testify both to the fact that Russia is preparing for a large-scale war, and that it “marks the radius” of its military influence — thus showing NATO, and especially Turkey, that is also present in the Black Sea.


July 27, 2017, a large-scale command-and-staff training was launched in the Southern Military District with moving troops to staging areas, that covered all regions in the zone of responsibility of the Southern MD — from the Caspian Sea to the Crimea.

The Headquarters of the Military District, three Combined Arms Armies, the Black Sea Fleet, the Caspian Flotilla and the 4th Army of the VKS of the Russian Federation, as well as subordinate formations and military units, began to check the combat readiness. The control of troops on the alert was transferred to mobile field points. Individual units and military formations advanced to the staging areas.

Staff officers of all levels began to master control of the inter-service grouping of troops with fulfillment of various introductory commands, being at a distance of more than a thousand kilometers from each other.

About 5,500 servicemen and more than 700 pieces of equipment were involved in the training. The troops of communication, electronic warfare, radiation, chemical and biological defense also participated in the events. The military police also worked along the route of the convoy and at the deployment points.


In addition to the above-mentioned, recently a number of other events and measures have attracted the attention of leading independent experts and military specialists in the context of the growing threat of escalation of tensions and Russia's military activity on the Southern (Caucasian) strategic direction, namely:

  • the beginning (2016) of the formation (in the Southern MD of the RF Armed Forces) of the 8th Combined Arms Army (A, HQ — in Novocherkassk) which can act as the second echelon and reserve of the 58 A (HQ — in Vladikavkaz) on the Southern (Caucasian) strategic direction, and the second echelon and reserve of the 49 A (HQ — in Stavropol) on the South-Western (Black Sea) strategic direction.

According to Russian military experts, the new /third in a row/ 8th Army in the Southern MD should be an important element in ensuring the security of the Russian Federation from the south-west. According to some reports, the 8 A is expected to reach its operation readiness in late 2017 – early 2018;

  • the inclusion in March 2017 into the Russian Armed Forces of the units of the so-called “armed forces” of the self-proclaimed republic of South Ossetia. In other words, illegal armed formations of the illegally torn off territory of sovereign Georgia have received the legal status of units of the regular army of another state — the Russian Federation, which by such actions legitimizes the occupation of part of the territory of Georgia.

In the opinion of independent experts, the West, without any specific reaction, has “swallowed” this next provocative escapade by the Putin regime as it “swallowed” other such actions in relation to Ukraine (constant violations of the armistice in the Donbas, legalized “passportization” of the “DPR”/“LPR”, “nationalization” of Ukrainian enterprises in the ORDLO, A. Zakharchenko's new project of “Malorossia” (“Little Russia”, etc.);

  • strengthening of the onboard forces of the RF Black Sea Fleet naval grouping in the eastern part of the coastal waters of the Black Sea (on a rotational basis), as well as the provocative increase in the activity of Russian air reconnaissance along the Black Sea coast of Georgia.

According to experts, similar military activity was observed on the eve of the Russian-Georgian war in June – August 2008;

  • appointment of Colonel-General (since 2014) A. Dvornikov (in September 2016) the new Commander of the Troops of the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation. He has experience of commanding the troops during the Chechen war (in 2000–2003 he served in the then North Caucasian Military District in the posts of the Chief of the Division Staff and Division Commander) and led the Russian military operation in Syria (September 2015 – June 2016), after which he became a Hero of Russia (in March 2016).

According to leading military specialists, both in Chechnya and in Syria, he proved to be a tough military leader — a specialist in eliminating (clearing) militants, which in fact can be “useful” for his new post in the Southern MD.

Careful analysis and assessment of the consequences of Russia's above-mentioned military activity on the Southern (Caucasian) strategic direction raise a number of reasonable questions among leading military experts about the further development of the situation in this region, namely:

Is Russia preparing a new blitzkrieg against Georgia, and if so, what can serve as an excuse for this and when should Russia's new aggression against Georgia be expected?


Recently, official representatives of the Russian side have significantly increased threats to Georgia demanding to provide air and ground (through the Russian-Georgian checkpoint “Upper Lars”) corridors for logistics supplies for the 102nd Military Base of the RF Armed Forces in Gyumri (Armenia). By the way, this military base is part of the 49 A (HQ — in Stavropol).

The essence of the problem lies in the fact that for today (because of Georgia's ban on using its air and land corridors by the Russian side after the Russian-Georgian war of 2008), the logistics of the 102nd Military Base in Gyumri is carried out exclusively with the use of an air corridor over the Caspian Sea and then over Iran, which greatly complicates the logistics of this military base and makes it too expensive.


There is no doubt that the main reason for a possible new war between Russia and Georgia is to prevent the latter's Euro-Atlantic and European integration. And at the same time, also to “teach a lesson” to the only country in the post-Soviet territories — a reliable ally of Ukraine (apart from the Baltic countries) — so that it would not occur to other post-Soviet countries of the so-called CIS to support it. One can't think of a “better opportunity” for this, than to unleash aggression under the pretext of “providing a logistical corridor for the 102nd Military Base of the RF Armed Forces in Gyumri”. True, there is no time left for the Kremlin invaders to think, and as recent events show, they cannot (or do not want to?) think.

The matter is that Russia's actions in the Caucasus, in particular in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are of increasing concern to the current administration in Tbilisi. In recent years, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have in no way become closer to Georgia — in fact they have pulled further away from it. Today, Russia is doing everything possible to cut off from Georgia the regions which continue to be under Russian occupation and are almost completely controlled by Russia, which does not express any desire to return them. On the contrary, Moscow is gradually artificially increasingly narrowing the space for a possible compromise with Georgia, drawing the separatist regions into its orbit — either with an eye toward their future becoming part of Russia, or with the aim of using them as buffer zones for the legalization of certain trade (mainly smuggling) flows.

Such tendencies have at last made the current Georgian government to realise: concessions to Russia do not lead to concessions in return, but, on the contrary, they only stir up Russia's appetites. That is why, since the beginning of 2014, that is, since the times of the Maidan, the occupation and subsequent annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea, as well as the Russian invasion of the Donbas, the current Georgian government had been avoiding harsh statements about Ukrainian events, but lately, in fact, since the beginning of this year, Tbilisi is gradually moving away from a rather restrained position on the Russian aggression in Ukraine — and now it speaks openly and harshly about it.

Thus, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia's statement (March 19, 2017) on the occasion of the 3rd anniversary of the annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea — was quite tough. It said that “the so-called referendum” was held under the pressure of “the Russian Armed Forces”, which led to the “illegal occupation and annexation of the Crimea”. The statement contained the words “aggression” and “occupation” — sterner wording than similar statements, including by European diplomacy. Similar assessments are heard in recent speeches and statements by other official representatives of the Georgian authorities.

When should we expect Russia's new aggression of Russia against Georgia?

The overwhelming majority of independent experts believe that this should be expected at any time, from today and until the 10th anniversary of the beginning of 2008's Russian-Georgian war, since the existing composition and armament of the grouping of Russian troops on the Southern (Caucasian) strategic direction is more than enough. But there are two most threatening moments.

The first is the period of the strategic command post exercise “West-2017” (tentatively, September 14–20 this year), when all the attention of Western countries (EU, NATO/US) will be drawn to possible threats to the military security of Poland and the Baltic states, proceeding from the direction, content and specifics of its preparation and conduct.

The second one is the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 — August 8, 2018. Important is the fact that by then, the 8th Army will have already reached operational readiness. And taking into consideration V. Putin's painful inclination to all sorts of cheap theatrical antics and experiments, it is during this period that experts do not rule out Russia's new aggression against Georgia.


According to the latest reports of Russian media, Russian President V. Putin intends to visit Abkhazia on 8 August 2017 and to meet with the head of the unrecognized republic Raul Khajimba. Interestingly, that if this visit does take place, by the date it will coincide with the anniversary of the beginning of Russia's military aggression against Georgia in 2008, when, after the five-day war, the Russian Federation recognized the “independence” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

As for the prospects for the return of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgia, for which hoped B. Ivanishvili's government, in modern circumstances it would be extremely difficult. Although according to Georgian officials, there are always the chances of the return of the occupied regions. True, this will depend on global geopolitical games, the mood of the world community, the effectiveness of international organizations in the security sphere, as well as on the concurrence of favorable circumstances. But it will be very difficult to start this process exclusively by Georgia's own forces. That is, the return of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgia will depend on other geopolitical players, including Ukraine.

Today both, official representatives of the Georgian authorities, and Georgian journalists and independent experts, already admit that now much will depend on how the situation around Ukraine develops. In their opinion, we are fighting not only for Ukraine. Now we are resolving the issue of security of both Georgia and many other countries of the post-Soviet space, and in general of the security of the future of Europe.

During President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko's recent state visit to Georgia, both Presidents stated that against the background of the Russian threat, our countries should move together along the path of further integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic space. First and foremost, this is necessary because Kyiv and Tbilisi face the same challenges and threats that stem mainly from Moscow's aggressive neo-imperial plans and actions.


So, the question raised in the title of the article: — Is Russia preparing a new blitzkrieg against Georgia? — is purely rhetorical.

While the question: which CIS country's turn will it be — Belarus', Kazakhstan's, Azerbaijan's, Uzbekistan's, Turkmenistan's?.. — needs a separate study.