Grand Theft Auto: Russian Army

By Robert Bateman

A few months ago the European Command conducted a training event called "Immediate Response 2008," involving roughly one thousand Soldiers and Marines. The news was barely noticed, and I suspect even the European Command forgot about the whole thing. Ho-hum, just one more exercise. After all, we do these "training exercises" all the time.

But one thing made "Immediate Response 2008" worthy of note, and even then, only in hindsight:

Immediate Response was a training event we conducted with Georgia, in Georgia. This year it took place in early July. Such things usually last just a few weeks, as did this one.

When we go on such training events we usually travel pretty light. In this case, they had basic gear -- some tents, a few Humvees, a couple of generators, and not much more. That sort of stuff still takes up a fair amount of space, though, so it's most efficient if you can send it in (and take it out) by ship. That is what happened this time as well. Well, the "send it in" part, anyway.

When the training was complete the Americans prepped their vehicles for shipment (stripping them of any sensitive gear), packed what they could not carry into a few steel shipping containers, and sent the lot of it over to the port at Poti, Georgia where it could be picked up by a cargo ship. Then they flew home.

Of course, you know what happened next. In August, Georgia and Russia fought over South Ossetia, and Russia subsequently pushed deep into Georgian territory along multiple routes. Still, as you can see from this map, our stuff should have been safe in Poti, which is well away from either conflict zone within Georgia.

But that wasn't the case. Not only did the Russians move well beyond the borders of the two breakaway provinces, they made it as far as the port of Poti.

From western media sources we have heard reports of South Ossetian militias and Russian troops burning and looting among ethnic Georgians inside South Ossetia and in the Georgian territory which the Russians invaded and captured. Russian media, on the other hand, apparently representing their government, have claimed almost the opposite. But a few indicators out there seem to suggest that the former is more to be relied upon than the latter. For starters, there is the fact that when the Russians got to Poti (where there were Western reporters), they not only sank the Georgian navy at the piers, but they broke into the shipping containers packed up a few weeks earlier by the US troops, and reportedly stole whatever they could carry. Then they found a few Marine Corps Humvees, and they stole them, too.

But if you live in Russia, that isn't how you heard the story.

Here's how a Pravda reporter put things:


"An elite group of Georgian special forces drove into the "Russian-occupied" Poti on 5 U.S. military Hummers this week. The vehicles were carrying explosives, firearms and top-secret satellite technology -- the pride of NATO generals.

The Russian military learned the special forces were approaching the city long before their arrival. Their movement was detected by satellite and reports had been received from local Georgians angered by Saakashvili's recent military actions.

It's likely NATO will have to re-encode their entire military and space system after the operation, which will be costly. This will certainly give them something to think about: Are closer military relations with Georgia and Ukraine really worth the hassle?"



Say what? "Elite" Georgian troops? Top Secret satellite technology? Huh?

Take a look at the picture (taken by the author of the Pravda article). If you know anything about US military gear, does this look to you like a vehicle which serves as a satellite relay or missile control system? "Pride of NATO generals," indeed.

Russian television and news services also carried news conferences with Russian generals about the seizures. Indeed the Deputy Head of the Russian General Staff, A.V. Nogovitsyn, sat down for an interview and apparently claimed much the same as what Pravda wrote. In essence, he tried to claim that these Humvees had some sort of super-secret gear, and that they are being "examined" after they were "captured." One line repeated pretty heavily in the Russian media is that according to "trustworthy but unnamed military sources" (has Seymour Hersh started working in Russia?), the high-tech hardware was used in the conflict and operated by what they call "American specialists" on behalf of the Georgians. In this story line the fictional gear's main purpose was to alert the Georgian army on possible "air" threats using incoming data from satellites which could pump to them warnings from our sophisticated ballistic missile warning system.

Yea, um, riiiight.

Here's my take. After pouring over the news, the videos, the various accounts from news sources around the world, I've come to the conclusion that the Russian Army is a lot more messed up than even I thought they were before all of this happened. Breaking into containers and looting the contents, let alone grand theft auto, is not what a professional or disciplined force does in a conflict. Therefore, it seems to me that what actually happened, particularly in the case of the US gear that was prepped for commercial shipping, is that the Russians totally lost control over their own troops. Their soldiers were going wild and stealing everything they thought they could use or sell. We cannot tell if this loss of control was at the junior officer level, or the mid-grade officer level (probable), or perhaps even at the general officer level, but apparently their forces are so ill-disciplined, broke, and perhaps starving, that they will and did resort to looting under the least pretext.

Even the director of security for Poti's commercial port seems to confirm this:

"The port's director of security, Vakhtang Chichradze, said there was little that Russian troops didn't steal, saying they hauled away chairs, light switches, radiators and even five U.S.-made military Humvees. "From the military port, they took armchairs, toilets - everything," he said."

They took freakin' toilets? Whoa. You are pretty far down on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs when you resort to stealing toilets.

Now, while all of this would tend to confirm the Georgian accounts of misdeeds committed elsewhere, we should remain skeptical. As I said, we do not know at what level it was that the Russians lost control of their forces, and that matters. The alternative -- that the Russian leaders were just so stupid or naïve as to think that they could openly loot and reporters wouldn't say anything -- is a bad assumption. Therefore it seems that the Russian generals, when confronted with the international news and video footage seen around the world almost immediately, of Russian troops stealing and driving away in US military Humvees the Russian high-command started a cover story to explain exactly why Russian troops were driving away in old soft-skinned US Humvees. (Note in the pictures and video -- these things don't even have antennas. As I said, they had been stripped down to prepare them for shipping, and one of the first things you do in that process is take off the antenna and take out the radios.)

All in all, I would say that the whole picture suggests that the Russian military is not only just a shell of its former self, but that despite the nation's economic gains in the past couple of years, they have not made any progress towards rebuilding their forces. Amateur hour seems to have replaced professional competence in their ranks.

ADDENDUM: In case you missed some of the background, here is a pretty good roll-up of the history and the situation as seen from the State Department.


These opinions are those of the author and do not reflect those of the DoD, the Army, or any element thereof.

By washingtonpost.com |  September 15, 2008; 2:30 PM ET
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Comments

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"They took freakin' toilets?"

You havent been with Russian soldiers I can see. I spent time with them in Bosnia and Kosovo, they have nothing, and are treated like crap. If something was nailed down they would steal a hammer so they could remove the nails.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 15, 2008 3:09 PM

Agreed with anon above on the economic situation for russian soldiers. Propably served as oldschool price money for the entire ship, if they were carried off that way. Nice bonus.

Now the inference of total lack of dicipline from this instance is something else. From reporters I know who were in Goriduring the occupation, russian regulars were under orders to behave, pay for goods etc. Registan.net have some of the best dissertions on the level of propaganda employed by the Georgians. The only fullscale break of civilian rights still seem to have been the Georgian shelling of S.Ossetias capital on the 7th, where they hit the hospital and employed Grad missiles. That some of the cossack and other irregulars may have gone a-looting is another matter. In any instance, I would not read too much out of the "theft" of five very sellable US military vehicles.

Posted by: fnord | September 15, 2008 3:17 PM

fnord,

Normally I wouldn't. But they stole US military vehicles, right in front of the international press. That last aspect is the part that suggests to me a "loss of control." (The alternative, as I note, is that there were idiots in charge. I don't like to assume that. It is not wise.)

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 15, 2008 3:25 PM

Bateman: Fair enough, but I am not sure I agree. Russian military units have a long tradition of "living of the land", and in this instance there seems to be much evidence that there was a executive order for the looting of georgian *military* installations while sparing civilian ones.

If I am to put on my devils lawyer cap, I would say that much the same could be inferred for US forces when seen from the evidence of the looting of Baghdad and Rumsfelds "Stuff happens"-doctrine of occupation?

Posted by: fnord | September 15, 2008 3:49 PM

FNORD: Nah, not similar. Money was used in (Commanders Emergency Relief Program) CERP, and those who tried to make off with money found themselves in the crosshairs of FBI.

As for the behavior of the IRAQI citizens, I am flummoxed. Do you mean to assert that the US military created and thereafter assisted the millions of Iraqi citizens who looted their own governmental infrastructure? Huh?

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 15, 2008 4:23 PM

No, sir, and point accepted. I dont see how the CERP-argument comes into play, though, to my understanding that came into effect quite a long time after the invasion? I may be wrong on that one, though.

But to play the contrarian, the lack of any coherent occupation plan with an eye for largescale looting seems quite glaring, doesnt it? Even given the lack of manpower, the failure to hold such objects of obvious desire as the national museum and library indicates that no real forethought had gone to the post-invasion phase? Wich is, after all, required to be in place by international law, etc. So a certain similarity between russian military failing to keep checks on irregular looters and US military failing to check shia looters does seem in place, in that they both indicate a doctrinal willingness to look the other way and let "stuff happen".

Posted by: fnord | September 15, 2008 4:54 PM

I think both of you are on to something. Russian soldiers are still treated terrible and are paid worse, thus giving a general incentive to steal everything and anything they can lay their hands on. This is a problem that is greatly exacerbated by the almost utter lack of leadership and control at the junior officer level that seems pervasive (at least when I was in Russia last fall). Add to this, the continued lack of an NCO corps with any leadership abilities and you have the perfect mix for just this sort of thing to happen.

Posted by: LTinVT | September 15, 2008 5:33 PM

Not sure what the point here is.

Russian military is poorly led and marginally criminal? Turning Russian soldiers loose in an area with removable valuables is not a good idea? Russians are naughty, naughty people?

Okay.

ISTM that the Georgians let Dick Cheney & Co. talk them into forgetting that they live in front of the Russian bear's cave, and by slapping the bear on the nose with their little toy army we encouraged them to build they got jacked up by the bear and whatever-the-bear-version-of-b1tchslapped-is. The oldest rule of war is and always will be vae victus; woe to the vanquished. We backed the Georgians and got our Humvees stolen by the naughty, naughty Russians. Too bad, so sad.

They seem to have done just fine against the cute little army we encouraged the Georgians to fiddle around with, so perhaps they're not quite as sad as all that, given the diminuation of their sphere of influence. And as for the whole "pride of the NATO generals"...when did we start believing ANYTHING written in Pravda?

So, yes, the Russian Army appears to be a shambles; perhaps not quite yet at the level of subSaharan African standards, but pretty bad. Does this mean we should, or we should encourage our clients, potential clients, or pseudoclients in Russia's former Soviet "near abroad" to assume that they can do no harm? Does this means that Sarah Palin is right and we should be prepared to go to war with Russia over Georgia, or the Ukraine?

Posted by: FDChief | September 15, 2008 6:30 PM

FD Chief: Remember, we are all Georgians now.

Actually, I am not sure the ruskies did so bad, according to reports they seem to have lost very few soldiers in the face of a Israeli equipped/US trained military force. I was reading the pro-georgian pages who were claiming russian genocide (civilian death are at 67 now if I remember right) and they were also full of tales of russian tanks going down in massive numbers. Except for the initial set-piece ambush between Roki and the S.O. capital, mostly it seems the Georgians turned and ran, so far in fact that they didnt stop to defend their staging area in any meaningful way and left Gori and Goris civilians to fend for themselves. Wich leaves a question about our dear allies lack of a civilian evac-plan in the face of all this, etc. The russians, on the other hand, carried out a quite nice Land Sea Air maneuver, deliberately choosing to not use cruisemissiles, artillery barrages (in any hard way) or massive aerial bombing. I wonder to what extent the russian advance into Georgia was a planned move and how much was battlefield exploitation because the enemy had already turned and run like a bunch of mercenaries.
Btw, This whole scenario is eerily similar to what happened in Lebanon this year, where US trained and armed goons challenged Hezballah and didnt do too well there either.

Posted by: fnord | September 16, 2008 1:42 AM

Maybe they just thought it'd be cool to steal American gear? Doesn't really show a lack of discipline at all, just a healthy disrespect for the people who had trained and armed who they were being shot at by. Hmm... maybe shot at by is a bit of a strong word, perhaps 'the guys who were running as fast as they could in the opposite direction'?

I don't doubt that Russian regulars are horribly paid and there is a general laxity at the lt and captain level, but to correlate that into a total command failure is a bit absurd.

Also, helluva picture for the papers back home.

Posted by: James @ somuchfail | September 16, 2008 3:25 AM

FDChief: I would not presume to make grand pronouncements about recommended courses of action in international affairs. That exceeds my charter while I wear the uniform. Nor am I suggesting we do much of anything about five piddling HMMWVs. I am only making observations about the current situation.

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 16, 2008 4:42 AM

James: The American gear they stole out of the connex containers, and the HMMWVs, is just what was most visible and therefore caught my eye. (I am also attracted to small shiney objects.) But it is not the sum. The looting of the port of Poti (again...toilets?! Office furniture?!), in combination with the reports of looting coming from Western journalists scattered across the country point to something a tad more significant than the stealing of "cool American gear." D'accord?

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 16, 2008 7:40 AM

Ha. Beautiful backwards reasoning. I have my conclusion, therefore, the evidence must fit it. The conclusion: Russians are, by their very nature, poor, disorganized, unprofessional soliders. Therefore, the evidence will be made to fit that.

Therefore, when Pravada claims Russians captured sensitive intelligence equipment, that story is inherently false. When a GEORGIAN OFFICIAL claims Russians looted toilets, that story is so inherently true that it doesn't need to be checked.

The evidence coming out seems pretty clear that the Russian forces were quite disciplined. They were NOT randomly looting in Georgia (this is different from reports from OSSETIA, where South Ossetian militias, not Russian troops, were accused of wide-scale looting). Instead, one of the STATED GOALS of the Russian operations was to wreck the Georgian military that the US had recently spent $2 billion beefing up. Thus, the Russians did not loot generally, but they tore the hell out of Georgian MILITARY installations, stealing, smashing or sinking everything.

Smashing an enemy's warfighting capability is pretty common in warfare. It's only when we talk about the Russians that we are shocked, SHOCKED, to find warfare in this war.


Finally, I do adore the fact that a columnist in the Washington Post has the gall to complain about Pravada's use of "unnamed sources." Newspaper, heal thyself.

Posted by: Bill | September 16, 2008 11:37 AM

Interesting account from Bateman. It does make one wonder how the war would have gone had Georgian forces put up more resistance. Were they unable to, or told not to?

Apologists for the Russian government aside, NATO has been asked by Georgia to consider its admission to the military alliance. Obviously it matters whether a new member has territorial issues in which the alliance might find itself involved; it also matters if it is at all able to defend itself.

I don't expect Bateman to take a position on the larger political and strategic questions, but the appearance last month was that the Georgian armed forces were not, in fact, able to put up much resistance at all to the advance of a road-bound army, some of which appears to have been more intent on petty looting than fighting. Is the appearance misleading? Why should we think so?

Posted by: Zathras | September 16, 2008 11:45 AM

"Bill": Well, I suppose this is a column, so that I am (at least as a hobby in my spare time) a "columnist"...but that usually is a term reserved for those who do it for a living.

To date I've never "used" any source which was un-named. I'm a historian fercripessake. We don't do "unnamed." (And did you not catch my disdainful comment about Hersch?!)

Anyway, perhaps you did not look at the pictures, or the video, or if you did you have no idea what you were looking at. That is possible. Indeed, based upon your comment about "sensitive gear" seems probable. Since it appears that you could not tell from the photos and the videos that those types of unarmored, no antennea, canvas-sided HMMWVs, had no radio or comms gear.

Which is exactly what the DoD said as well. (But, you know, why trust your eyes?)

And since those vehicles, those MARKED US vehicles, which were totally unlike anything in the Georgian inventory, were taken despite the fact that we can see for ourselves in the photos and video that they have no comm gear and aren't even the type of vehicle which carries such things, we're suppose to believe that this theft was a deliberate effort to deprive the Georgians?

Huh?

No Bill. Occam's Razor (the simplest answer is usually the right one) should be applied here. Your conspiracy theory doesn't stand up.

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 16, 2008 12:38 PM

Zathras: I think you just gave me an idea for my next essay.

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 16, 2008 1:35 PM

"Your conspiracy theory doesn't stand up."

Conspiracy theory? Saying that you drew your conclusions ahead of time and sought evidence to back it up is not a "conspiracy theory," Bob, it's an accusation of shoddy jounrnalism. I checked your sources, you had no more photos of missing toilets than Pravada had photos of "intelligence equipment." Instead, both of you are simply quoting biased sources to back up your position.


As for depriving the Georgians, lets see. They were military equipment in Georgia which, even by the US admission, had recently been used to train the Georgian military. You claim that they would be shipped out later and (presumably) never shipped back to retrain the Georgians. Either or both points might be correct, but would you seriously expect the Russians to accept your opinion? Would you, as a solider, let an enemy ship away military equipment if they crossed their heart and said it would never be used against you?

Occam's Razor indeed. The Russian military attacked the Georgian military, and military equipment and facilities were seized or destroyed.

Posted by: Bill | September 16, 2008 1:51 PM

Oh dear, mr. Bateman, if youre going to argue your posts as fiercly everytime youll have a lot to do, sir. In this instance (except for all the charming personal innuendo stuff that you yanks seem to adore so much), I am mostly with Bill. With the added bonus that if they *stole clearly marked US vehicles in front off the press*, dont you think they might have been sending a .. uhm.. message?

Now, I am not a russian apologist, the Putin regime is turning into the worlds first nuclear mafya-state and is not a funny place to be neighbour to when seen in a long term perspective. But I think that your inference on ruskie dicipline is linked one documented instance and much hearsay, as so much of the facts of this war is. I dont doubt that some general may have ordered the troops to dismantle the navy base of Poti, "including the kurva toilets", but I doubt that this was a undiciplined action.

To put it another way: This whole conflict has been an exercise in over-the-top propaganda from both sides, and I am quite unsure what to believe of the facts presented. Now youre a military man, sir, and propably have acess to info us peasants dont have: Have you seen any evidence of widespread looting of civilians by the russians inside Georgia proper?

Posted by: fnord | September 16, 2008 3:10 PM

Fnord and Bill:

Well, Bill first: The photos, and videos, of the HMMWVs abound. I didn't link to the AP video, or the Fox News story, or any of the other several sources out there. I didn't want to overload the readers or the text. I figured most readers are at least as smart as I am, if not more so, so they could perform the same simple research I did, given a desire to do so.

Along the same lines I didn't link to the EUCOM and DoD press statements stating that there was nothing of value in these trucks (comms gear, etc) and requesting that this US property be returned. I also did not include a link to the EUCOM and DoD press releases stating that this was US gear, used by US troops training WITH (not giving training to, that is an SF mission) Georgian forces. I figured any moron could Google up that confirmation. Nor did I link to the Scottish manager of the port of Poti (the commercial side) who said much the same about the behavior of the Russians. Again, I rather figured that if anybody was that motivated and had the least clue, they could do the same. Nor did I cite American military officers I know who told me the story about the toilets, because I figured that would be overdoing it and besides, there was already an external link sourced to the Associated Press. A couple of quick Google searches does the trick and I did not want to assume that the readers were fools.

But what I did have was photos, and videos, showing one thing quite clearly: that these were soft-skinned-lowest-common-denominator cargo-configuration general purpose HMMWVs. Lots of that. And those photos showed, to anyone who has an interest or an IQ, that these were not sophisticated command-and-control vehicles with the latest ballistic-missile SATCOM "pride of NATO generals" gear installed.

You got that part, right?

OK, so the next part is a simple logical progression, right Bill? If those vehicles did NOT have the sophisticated gear which the Russian generals later claimed that it did, then the Russian generals, therefore, lied about the vehicles and what was in them. Right? That's logical?

This, by extension, since I explicitly stated that evidence assembled "seem to suggest" that one should probably believe in the quality of the Western reporting vs. the Russian reporting. The Western reporting, including named interviews with presumably prominent people (a port authority), asserted a fact which seemed entirely logically congruent with the theft of the clearly marked US vehicles, and the breaking-in-to and theft of US equipment from containers awaiting shipment.

Your thesis *might* make sense...if the Russians destroyed or took away the Georgian equipment in other areas which they overran. It would make sense if they did not leave hundreds of vehicles and derelict combat systems behind when the started to pull back, instead of concentrating as they did upon the low-combat utility (but high blackmarket value) American made cargo trucks.

By the way Bill. What is your evidence that I arrived at a conclusion first and then sought evidence? Or did you just make that up without any evidence of my process or internal thought process at all?

Fnord: As messages go, it would be pretty sloppy. I don't think that it is wise to assume that the Russians are that sloppy. And what kind of message would the theft of 5 used trucks and some static gear send to a nation? "HEY! Look at us! We're small! We steal small things and YOU can't STOP US from stealing small things!"

Not exactly the historical Russian model in the "sending messages" department. That seems to me to be more like, "We don't like what you're doing in Turkey...so we will send nukes capable of incinerating your entire Eastern seaboard to CUBA, just off your coast."

THAT is a Russian-style message, non?

For the record: Anything I write about here I scrupulously avoid dealing with on the classified side. (This also keeps me out of trouble lest I slip and let something out.) Nope. Pure "open source."

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 16, 2008 5:14 PM

"I am only making observations about the current situation."

And that was my question: how does this shed any light on the "current situation"?

With respect to the "current situation" of the Russian military as a large and heavily armed but badly-paid, relatively-poorly-led Second World militia, I don't think that the carjacking of a couple of US Army tactical vehicles tells us any more than watching the trainwreck in Chechnya for the past five years would have.

Add to that the reputation of the Red Army as industrious looters that dates back to 1945...ummm...well, OK, then.

So what other "current situation" does this observation reflect on? How does it help us, as citizens of the United States, make informed decisions regarding our nations' foreign and military policy? Is this important in and of itself, or would it be more useful coupled with, say, an analysis of the performance of the Russian front-line troops against our Georgian allies who, from all I can determine, did a little less looting but a lot more running away.

The value of Phil's blog - both here and back at the original Dump - was as a forum to learn and discuss issues affecting us as citizens in understanding and acting on matters of our nation's and world politics and military affairs. I'm not saying that some scurrilous tidbits about larcenous Russians aren't good for a laugh. But I'm not sure how they illuminate the "current situation" for the U.S. in the Caucausus.

I'd venture to say that there's some valuable information to be gleaned from the goatrope in Gori, but it has more to do with the geopolitical wisdom of encouraging our allies and/or would-be allies in the Soviet near abroad to fool around with these toy armies just big enough to encourage said allies to write a check with their mouths that they can't cancel with their a$$es...

But I'm not sure that this post adds anything towards a discussion of that same.

Posted by: FDChief | September 16, 2008 5:18 PM

FDChief: Noted. Here are my thoughts on this.

In discussions and debates within the US there is a developing meme that the Russians, resurgent with new wealth, are becoming more modern, better equipped, more professional...all of which suggests a bigger (direct, indirect, whatever floats your boat) threat to (pick entity of your choice: US, NATO, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, etc.).

I've been listening to this developing theme, but then seeing things which seems to contradict these assessments. (You saw the video of the Russians entering Georgia? Didja notice that while there were some BMP-2s, there were also BMP-1s! WTF?) (Sidebar: I saw no T-90s, nor any tank more modern than a -72, nor any BMP-3s. Did anybody else? Post a link please if you did.)

Then, when I started to puzzle through the theft of the US gear, it seemed to come clear. Whatever else is happening in Russia, whatever Putin is claiming now or in the past several years, the Army at least, and the Navy apparently, are not *actually* getting any additional resources...or they are not using what they are getting...but either way, this is not the "professional force" that Putin and some US/Euro based analysts seem to be hyping.

(SECOND SIDEBAR: The "lessons of Chechnya" from, what, 1996, or even 1999, are a little dated now. It's been almost a decade since then and Putin's claims are much more recent.)

If you saw that State Dept roll-up I included they claim (you can evaluate) that they tried, often and in blunt terms, to tone down and *dis*courage the Georgians in their pursuit of that COA.

I've seen nothing solid since then which contradicts the State Dept statement. That's not to say there isn't anything. But I haven't seen anything but speculation on that count.

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 16, 2008 5:54 PM

"...a developing meme that the Russians, resurgent with new wealth, are becoming more modern, better equipped, more professional...all of which suggests a bigger (direct, indirect, whatever floats your boat) threat to (pick entity of your choice: US, NATO, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, etc.)."

True.

And, as you point out, the conduct of Russian troops in Georgia, as well as the relatively slack results in what had to eventually be turned into a genocidal campaign against the MAMs in Chechnya, make a significantly different case.

The facts in view, in contradiction to attempts from certain sources to reinflate the Russians into the unlamented Red Army of the 70's and 80's, suggest that the tactical armed forces at Putin's disposal are mediocre at best, capable of smashing the equally-mediocre forces in the near abroad but by no means a threat to U.S. military power projection even assuming that their strategic air- and sealift forces are even capable of placing their maneuver elements within indirect fire range of our own.

One, if one were a cynical old NCO, would wonder, then, who might have an interest in making the sad, sick Russian bear look like a big, scary grizzly?

Hmmm...

But my point was that while I respect the fact that the goober factor here at WaPo is way higher than the old Dump, many of us here are able to cut though the smoke and mirrors and see the same things you did: the antiquated tactical vehicles, the published complaints from the Russian professionals about things like problems with CAS coordination since the Russian rotary-wing assets were moved over to the Air Force in the early Putin years.

And the discipline? Remember when the Chechen warlord Basaev's guys used to drive around southern Russia by just bribing the Russians at the "checkpoints"? I don't see a lot of evidence, auto theft aside, that the Russian officer corps has managed to improve this vey much. Still lots of complaints, when you hear them, from Russian parents about trainee abuse, bribery and sadism.

So, I agree, these guys aren't the world beaters that some (cough! cough!) here and in NATO would like us to think they are.

But I submit that the evidence you provide in your 5:54 post contains more telling proof than whether a bunch of uniformed Russian droogs stole our Humvees and Pravda then lied about it.

We love the juicy fatty tidbits of military scandal, too, but most of us Dumpers are used to more red meat. Feed us that way and we'll provide an entertaining dogfight for you!

Posted by: FDChief | September 16, 2008 8:11 PM

"I've seen nothing solid since then which contradicts the State Dept statement. That's not to say there isn't anything. But I haven't seen anything but speculation on that count."

Hard to push this too hard when the VPOTUS is running around Europe chanting "NATO, baby, NATO!" loud enough for our boy Saakashvili to hear.

While I'm sure that State was trying to put ice down our man's neck, this wouldn't be the first time that one branch of this administration said one thing while another branch was doing something different and contradictory. I don't think there was some sort of deep, dark conspiricy here. But I find it hard to believe that the Georgians really thought that Putin would just let them have S.O. unless they felt that there was someone "bigger" than Russia who would force the Russians to accept a fait accompli. I have to think that SOMEone in Tiblisi THOUGHT they heard SOMEthing they wanted to hear...

AND, it wouldn't be the first time that a Bush Administration thought that some military shock and awe would be just peachy if everything went PERFECTLY right. (As an aside: Someone really ought to post Murphy's Laws of War over every desk in the White House - and especially the Naval Observatory - until they Get It over there...)

I'm sure we didn't want Saakashvili to do what he did. But there's that cynical little part of me that can hear Dave Addington on the phone to some mid-level Georgian in Saakashvili's entourage saying "Well...I'm NOT saying I told you so...BUT...if you WERE to manage to take and hold onto Ossetia for 24 hours there MIGHT be a way to get you a ceasefire through the UN..."

But of course, no patriotic American would think of doing such a think, now would they..?

Posted by: FDChief | September 16, 2008 8:20 PM

So what was the point of running an exercise in this fragile political environment, if not to send a message. Strikes me that Putin sent one back.

Posted by: davemaz | September 16, 2008 10:11 PM

Davemaz: Eh, that one's a non-starter. We do exercises w/ other countries all over the world, all the time. (Although, since we've been sort of committed elsewhere these last several years, the scale of those have decreased when you're talking Army and USMC.) They're not really about "sending messages" too much, although there probably is some tiny factor therein. They're really about trying to get to know friendly forces and some gentle encouragement. That's really all you can do in a week or three. Besides, any "message" nowadays would de facto be, "look, we're so overcommitted elsewhere that we can send only a single battalion and some support to this exercise!"

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 17, 2008 4:29 AM

I made the mistake of identifying the Russian tanks used in Georgia as T-90s; they were T-72s outfitted with some accoutrements that made them look pretty similar to the photos of T-90s that I used in August.

I did get the Self-Propelled Artillery right--how the hell does anyone justify a "security" operation with several battalions of SPARTY?

Georgia is definitely not NATO material. They folded up like a house of cards and ran. They shot their bolt--about all they did manage to do was sacrifice their Navy and their entire inventory of SAMs. I remember laughing my ass off at some conservative milblog commenter who kept saying, "...if the Georgians can hold out until WINTER, the Russians are in Biiiig trouble..."

Russian troops are unprofessional and little more than a mob controlled with severe discipline. These are the dregs that we saw--many barely had serviceable uniforms. Many wore sneakers and bastardized equipment. They are vehicle-dependent and field a force that could definitely hold up in a brief fight, but that's not what they're organized to do. When they make contact, they wait for the SPARTY (hmmm) and they pulverize what's in the way and then move on.

Thank you, LTC Bateman. Finally, some sanity.

Posted by: Warren Street | September 18, 2008 1:02 PM

Warren Street said:

"--how the hell does anyone justify a "security" operation with several battalions of SPARTY?"

Well, apart from the "security" operation" dissembling for propaganda reasons, they could justify them as needed for counter battery fire against the ever retreating Georgian "Grad" batteries and the like; staying in range, if you will. Russian artillery doctrine during WWII emphasized large numbers of tubes and pre-planned massed fires, because of High level command authority, and a reliance on land lines for comms. I don't know what level of command hinders their Arty today, but I bet they are not free-wheelers. Mo' Plus is better than Mo' best...just a thought...could be wrong.

Posted by: fasteddiez | September 18, 2008 4:49 PM

This was supposed to be a "security operation" to restore order.

This was NOT the advance of a Russian Army into hostile territory. There is no "Red Army" anymore, either. That is the biggest fallacy of all. These bareheaded, disgruntled looters are not the "Red Army" at all. IN and of themselves, yes, they can and will fight with varying degrees of effectiveness. Will several thousand of them charge and overwhelm a fixed position? Most likely, not.

The SPARTY doesn't work with a fleeing army, but does rather well for leveling a few city blocks and destroying infrastructure.

Posted by: Warren Street | September 18, 2008 6:30 PM

"Will several thousand of them charge and overwhelm a fixed position? Most likely, not."

Actually, they did, according to Georgian pressreleases a "elite unit" of Georgians went down to a man between the Roki tunell and the S.O. capital. Thats where the russians seem to have lost most of their tanks, in a fixed ambush, and the setting of that ambush was part of the rationale given by the Georgians for "rolling through" the Tskhinvali. War nerd has some video from the Georgians in Tskhinvali here: http://exiledonline.com/war-nerd-skin-valley-video/

Posted by: fnord | September 19, 2008 4:21 PM

Here's some pictures of what the russians say they siezed:
http://kylekeeton.com/2008/08/russia-america-wants-their-hummers-back.html

Appears to be mostly sat. phones & some kind of satelite interface positioning system, although I'm not an expert.

Posted by: KenM | September 21, 2008 5:19 PM

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