Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s ‘Buffer’ Plan Allows Russians to Occupy Key Parts of Georgia

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 26 – Now that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has announced that Kremlin is recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, Moscow’s plan for military “buffers” around them outlined last week represents the Russian government’s clearest indication yet of how it intends to continue its illegal occupation of Georgian territory.
Last Friday night, Russian defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov told Medvedev that the “successful withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia” had been completed, but at the same moment, General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of the Russian general staff, presented a map showing the zones inside Georgia where Russian forces remain.
Nogovitsin said that these “buffer” zones were necessary to protect Russian peacekeepers and the government authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but the map of these “security zones” indicates that Moscow plans to use them to ensure that it can continue to put pressure on Tbilisi, in violation of the ceasefire accord it signed (
According to Nogovitsyn, these “security zones” inside Georgia will range in width from six to 18 kilometers in most places but will extend to the city of Senaki and the approaches to the key port of Poti, which are located some 30 to 40 kilometers distance from the borders of Abkhazia.
The Russian general said that the borders of these “buffer zones” will extend in the Abkhaz sector through the Georgian population centers of Nabada, Chaladidi, Senaki, Kvia, Khudoni, Gunagua, Dzhikmuri, Ochamchire and Anaklia and in the South Ossetian sector through Perevi, Godora, Ali, Variani, Ikoti, Tsiara and Patsa.
Perhaps most ominously, Nogovitsyn said that he had no intention of discussing these arrangements or these borders with Georgian officials, thus arrogating itself the right to decide what Russian forces will do and where they will be located by asserting that “all these buffer zones are legitimate and correspond to existing agreements.”
Neither the French who prepared the ceasefire accord, the Georgians who signed it, or the Americans who have been close observers of what Moscow has been doing and not doing on the ground agree with Nogovitsyn’s claims and thus with Moscow’s assertions that it has withdrawn its forces. Instead, most observers see the Russian occupation as continuing.
In addition to Moscow’s obvious interest in putting pressure on Georgia and demonstrating to other countries in the region and around the world that it can do what it likes, the Russian military may have another reason for wanting to be stationed this far forward, one that Moscow has been unwilling to acknowledge.
According to an analysis prepared by the London Institute of Strategic Studies and published in part by “The Times” of London, Russian forces defeated their opponents not be better training or better weapons but rather by, much as the Soviet military did in World War II, by sheer numbers (
Among the shortcomings the Institute’s Colonel Christopher Langley pointed to in this analysis was a lack of adequate armored personnel carriers, the inability to protect senior officers – the commander of the 58th army was wounded and evacuated soon after the invasion began – and the lack of both drones and planes capable of evading Georgian ground fire.
Some senior Russian military analysts agree, including Konstantin Makienko, the deputy director of the Moscow Center for the Analysis of Strategy and Tactics, who told “The Times” that Georgian military technology was superior to Russian in this war and only Russian numbers allowed Moscow to win.
Given that NATO and the West have pledged to rearm and provide more advanced training for Georgian forces, Moscow may have concluded that the only way to ensure its continued military dominance in Georgia without tying down a massive number of troops it does not have is to use Nogovitsyn’s “buffer zones” to push any future battle line deep inside Georgia.

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