Georgia, Russia: Possible Indications of War Preparations

5 MINS READAug 5, 2009 | 21:39 GMT
Aug. 5, 2009, is looking eerily similar to Aug. 5, 2008, in the Caucasus as the first anniversary of the Russo-Georgian war creeps closer. Just like last year, STRATFOR is closely watching the region for any signs that another war could break out.
In August 2008, war broke out between Russia and Georgia. Though the two countries had been rattling sabers for years, several key geopolitical and technical indicators convinced STRATFOR that war would indeed break out between Georgia and Russia in the summer of 2008. Aug. 5, three days before the anniversary of the start of that war, similar activity is evident. Another fracas in the Caucasus is far from inevitable, but the geopolitical conditions are ripe for Russia to make another move against Georgia. Thus, several triggers need to be monitored in the days and weeks ahead. What follows is a list of indicators STRATFOR has been following in the Caucasus that could mean preparations for war are under way. We have also listed a few key indicators that we saw in 2008 but have yet to see this year. STRATFOR will follow up with a more analytical examination of Russia's deeper motives for creating another crisis in the Caucasus. In place since the August 2008 war:
  • Russian troops have remained inside Georgia's secessionist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia since August 2008. Russia has established facilities and a military presence consisting of roughly 1,000 troops (though the actual numbers are disputed) in each breakaway province. With these troops stationed inside Georgia, within striking distance of the country's major east-west road and rail infrastructure and the capital city, Moscow has established a military reality in Georgia that not even the United States is currently disposed to alter. In 2008, a military exercise in North Ossetia (in Russia proper) preceded the invasion of Georgia, with the units involved in the initial thrust in a heightened state of readiness when hostilities began. Depending on the current disposition of Russian troops and their military objectives, some mobilization might be necessary for an invasion of Georgia. However, given the proximity of Russian troops to Georgia proper and the dearth of firm intelligence out of the region, such mobilization might not be detected or recognized until hostilities have already broken out.
In the last month:
  • STRATFOR has received unconfirmed reports that possibly 10,000 troops from Chechnya loyal to the Kremlin are in the republic of Ingushetia, which borders Chechnya, following a separate security situation in the region. Though this is not directly related to Georgia, the troops are conveniently located just 31 miles from the Roki Tunnel, which is where Russia began its operations — including funneling soldiers and tanks into South Ossetia, and later Georgia — in 2008.
  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Georgia in late July in what was overall an embarrassment for the Georgians, since the United States did not give any noticeable meaningful support for Georgia and said it refused to sell weapons to or provide monitors for Tbilisi. However, after this trip, Biden gave an interview in which he came out verbally swinging against Moscow, stating that Russia is on a demographic and economic decline and will ultimately have to face its withering geopolitical position. This did not go unnoticed by Moscow.
  • While Biden was in Georgia, key Russian security and defense officials, including First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, were in South Ossetia to meet with the breakaway republic's leadership. Several military intelligence officials also attended the meeting.
EU monitors watch a Russian helicopter flying near the border between Georgia and South Ossetia on July 29 In the past few weeks:
  • The past two weeks have seen the most noise on the South Ossetian-Georgian border since the August 2008 war. Though tensions never fully ended — gunfire has been traded sporadically across the border — there have been reports recently of mortar fire from both sides, something rarely seen since 2008.
  • The Georgians allegedly have planned a civilian march from Tbilisi to the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, rumored to coincide with the Aug. 8 anniversary of the war. However, it should be mentioned that plans for such a march have been made several times in previous months but failed to materialize. The South Ossetians have said any such march would be seen as an "attempted invasion." The secessionist region has closed its border.
  • Russia said July 29 that this week, it could deploy unmanned aircraft in Georgia that could carry out attacks 6-15 miles inside the country. Russia also said it could send Antonov An-2 and An-3 aircraft, which are capable of carrying people and supplies to small, primitive airstrips.
Upcoming indicators and potential triggers:
  • Aug. 6: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will travel to Turkey to meet with his counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. These two leaders — well aware of each other's resurgent position — must thoroughly discuss any possible moves that either will make in the region, including moves in Georgia.
  • Aug. 8: The anniversary of the start of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war.
  • Aug. 9: The 10-year anniversary of Putin's coming into power.
While the above indicators are firmly in place and eerily reminiscent of the lead-up to the 2008 war, there are two crucial indicators from 2008 that STRATFOR has yet to see this year:
  • Before hostilities erupted into full-scale war last year, the Russians dropped leaflets by air into South Ossetia and Abkhazia warning of "Georgian aggressions." This, in effect, led to the second indicator:
  • There was a mass movement of civilians from South Ossetia and Abkhazia into Russia, mainly into the republic of North Ossetia. While Russia could be warning the breakaway provinces' populations of impending conflict by other means (considering Russia now maintains a significant troop presence in both regions), STRATFOR sources in Abkhazia have yet to witness such developments on the ground.

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