The Times of London reports on the shoddy, embarrassing quality of the army Russia sent into Georgia, one which NATO could easily have brushed aside at will if it had chosen to do so — yet another serious error made by the Putin regime in connection with the Georgia conflict.
Pictures of triumphant Russian soldiers sitting on armoured personnel carriers as they were driven through towns in Georgia will be among the lasting images of the seven-day war. But the victory did not tell the whole story, analysts said yesterday.
The ageing vehicles were so lightly armed and so uncomfortable and hot to sit in that the Russian soldiers felt safer perched on top. “At least they could then react quickly if there was an attack,” Colonel Christopher Langton, an expert on Russian armed forces at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said.
For an invading force from what used to be a military superpower, Russia’s 58th Army did not look like a modern fighting unit. Victory came as a result of overwhelming numerical superiority and a textbook Soviet-style strategy based on detailed planning that leaves little room for flexibility. It was shock and awe by force of numbers, rather than by precision-guided weapons.
The Russians have learnt lessons from American campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and from their own experiences in the Balkans, but the Georgia operation was old-style fighting with Cold War-era equipment.
The Russians arrived in Georgia not only with inadequately protected troop carriers but also lacking in airborne surveillance platforms to pinpoint targets for their gunners and bombers. They lost four aircraft, shot down by Russian-built Georgian anti-aircraft weapons. One of the aircraft was a Tupolev supersonic bomber (Tu22) known by Nato as a Blinder.
Colonel Langton said the Georgians had highly mobile anti-aircraft systems and were able to move them around to attack the Russian jets. Without the range of sophisticated unmanned aerial platforms that the Americans always deploy to watch over the battlefield, the Russians were flying blind into the war zone.
General Anatoly Kornukov, the former head of the Russian Air Force, told the Moscow-based Independent Military Review that the failure to destroy Georgian anti-aircraft capabilities before the Tu22 arrived in the region meant the crew of the bomber were sent to their deaths.
Losing aircraft at the hands of such a tiny opponent was unfortunate. Losing their overall commander, who suffered shrapnel wounds as he travelled in an armoured convoy in South Ossetia, the breakaway Georgian region, looked like carelessness. General Anatoli Khrulyov, the head of the 58th Army, was in a convoy that appeared to lack air cover.
Perhaps, most embarrassingly, the Russians discovered that some of the Georgian equipment was more advanced than their own. Georgia’s T72 tanks and Su25 jet fighters were upgraded with night-vision equipment, something the Russians appeared to lack. “The Russian forces had to operate in an environment of technical inferiority,” Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy director of the Russian Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told The Moscow Times.
The brief Georgia war, however, showed a Russian army that had improved significantly from the 1990s, when corruption, lack of leadership and poor funding hampered the once-mighty Red Army severely as it became bogged down in Chechnya, where largely conscript troops were deployed. In Georgia, the majority were professional soldiers, although the defence ministry in Moscow admitted there were some conscripts.
“The Russian army has shown that it is far more deployable than in the 90s, able to get frontline troops in and out in a short space of time,” Matthew Clements, from Jane’s Information Group, said.
Russia has said that one of it priorities is to rebuild its army, and much of its new-found oil wealth has gone into weapons. The defence budget went up 22 per cent last year and Moscow plans to spend £100 billion in the next ten years on new hardware.
Russia formally informed Nato yesterday that it was halting military co-operation with the alliance until further notice. Nato foreign ministers had already announced after an emergency meeting in Brussels on Tuesday that no meeting of the Nato/Russia Council could be held until all Russian troops were withdrawn from Georgia.
— Ageing armoured personnel carriers lacked proper bolt-on armour to protect against anti-tank weapons
— No airborne unmanned surveillance platforms to spot Georgian anti-air defence systems
— No precision-guided missiles/bombs
— No night-vision or satellite-linked navigation equipment
— No protection for Tu22 bomber destroyed during reconnaissance