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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Inguri River Option

Georgia would have a tough time retaking Abkhazia on its own for a couple of reasons. First, the widest part of the the disputed territory is at the current defacto border on the Inguri River. Any serious assault would have to get across the river into what is referred to as the Gali sector. Most of the bridges were destroyed for this reason during the fighting. There has been a number of rebuilding projects and lots of makeshift footbridges constructed, many by families skirting the Inguri River boundry. However, there are very few points of access for a mechanized or armored assualt en mass.

Even if Georgian forces were able to get across the river delta and penetrate the Gali sector in sufficient numbers, before the Abkhazian units could get their units into the fight, they would likely bog down again at the Gali Canal. The Gali Canal, a few miles north of the Inguri River is another line of choke points with scattered bridges and additional Abkhazian positions. These two waterways, the Ingury River and the Gali Canal would at least slow down, but likely stall any Georgian advance into Abkhazia via the south. Moreover, if Georgian units were to penetrate the Gali sector, they might be able to keep it, but advancing beyond the Gali Canal becomes more difficult because the terrain narrows and the distance between the seashore and the mountains create a geographic bottleneck that would further focus any potential line of advance. Abkhazian units would be able to concentrate their limited forces and trap the Georgians before they could advance as far as Ochamchira.

Ultimately if Georgian forces were willing to take the casualties, they could throw wave after wave of its troops across the Ingury River bridges, assuming the Abkhazians didn't catch wind of Georgian forces massing on the Zugdidi side of the river border, and destroy the few operational bridges. However, they would have to do it all over again at the Gali Canal. It would likely be a very costy advance, one that few governments today are willing to accept.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Georgia-Russia Spy Rift

I spent a lot of time in Georgia nearly every year between 1993-2001 (things got a bit busy elsewhere post 9-11), and most of that time in the disputed separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The recent hubub regarding Russian spies in Georgia is basically more of the same, although Georgia's recent incarceration of Russian officials and subsequent hand-over of said individuals to the OSCE is without precident.

Since Georgia declared independence in 1991, there have always been Russian spies in Georgia, or politely said, a strong Russian influence in Georgia. The Caucasus have been a flashpoint for super-power politics since the Soviet Union failed and lost its grasp of the region, and Georgia is right in the middle of it all--not least of which because of Georgia is now a central link in the oil supply corridor from the Caspian Sea to markets west.

But before oil flowed through the Baku Ceyhan Pipeline, much Georgian-Russian angst centered on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. (There used to be three separatist enclaves in Georgia but a couple years ago Aslan Abashidze, the defacto ruler of Adjhara, gave up and relocated to Russia proper. Until the end he enjoyed good relations with Russian military units based near the regional capital, Batumi, and the Turkish border, and thwarted then President Shevardnadze's attempts to remove Russian forces from Adjhara. Abashidze's partnership with Russian forces was considered a linchpin of his success in staving off Georgian initiatives of resecuring Adjhara and its vital sea ports on the Black Sea.)

Anyway, back to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgians claim that neither separatist region would be separatist at all if it weren't for Russian support, and Georgian officials have more or less constantly demanded Russian peacekeepers in both regions leave "Georgian territory" in exchange for international peacekeepers--or no peacekeepers at all. Georgians have also insinuated, and even spoken plainly, that if the Russians were out of the way, Georgian forces would retake Abkhazia and South Ossetia with no problem.

However, the Georgian military, although the benefactors of US military training aid, would be hard pressed to retake Abkhazia on their own. More on this later...