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Georgia v. Russia: Intercepts and Misdirects

From the International Herald Tribune, a story describing how Georgia has offered fresh evidence on the war's start. Namely, Georgia has released intercepted phone calls from the Russian-South Ossetia border as border guards discuss the crossing of Russian armor into South Ossetia 20 hours before Georgia launched it's defensive attack.

But at a minimum, the intercepted calls, which senior American officials have reviewed and described as credible if not conclusive, suggest there were Russian military movements earlier than had previously been acknowledged, whether routine or hostile, into Georgian territory as tensions accelerated toward war.

They also suggest the enduring limits — even with high-tech surveillance of critical battlefield locations — of penetrating the war's thick fogs.

The back and forth over who started the war is already an issue in the American presidential race, with Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, the Republican vice presidential candidate, contending that Russia's incursion into Georgia was "unprovoked," while others argue that Georgia's shelling of Tshkinvali was provocation. Georgia claims that its main evidence — two of several calls secretly recorded by its intelligence service on Aug. 7 and 8 — shows that Russian tanks and fighting vehicles were already passing through the Roki Tunnel linking Russia to South Ossetia before dawn on Aug. 7.

By Russian accounts, the war began at 11:30 that night, when President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia ordered an attack on Russian positions in Tshkinvali. Russian combat units crossed the border into South Ossetia only later, Russia has said.

Russia has not disputed the veracity of the phone calls, which were apparently made by Ossetian border guards on a private Georgian cellphone network. "Listen, has the armor arrived or what?" a supervisor at the South Ossetian border guard headquarters asked a guard at the tunnel with the surname Gassiev, according to a call that Georgia and the cellphone provider said was intercepted at 3:52 a.m. on Aug. 7.

"The armor and people," the guard replied. Asked if they had gone through, he said, "Yes, 20 minutes ago; when I called you, they had already arrived."

1 Comment

Look to the strategic decision that preceded the tactical ones in the Caucasus. The strategic one was the decision to place missiles - defensive or offensive - in Poland and the Czech Republic. From a Russian point of view, this was a revival of the `cordon sanitaire' that, between WWI and WWII the West, sought to tie down and thus `isolate' then Bolshevik Russia. We all know how neither Russia nor Germany would abide the idea. Vladimir Putin did say that there would be countermeasures. We saw one of them in Georgia. Today's WSJ 9/20/08 now writes of hefty increases in Russia's defense budget. An outgoing U.S. Secretary of State still speaks sadly of "isolating" Russia. But at this time the U.S.' enemies are numerous, there is in America an economic crisis, its people are hostile to further foreign entanglements, a bitter election is being fought. Things do not look good for the grandiose plan to bring Western democracy to the world.