In Russia, Analysts Point To Failures In Conflict

Russia may have decisively beaten Georgia during the recent conflict, but in Moscow analysts are pointing to three areas of failures: military intelligence; an inability to suppress Georgia's air defenses; and the use of massed military force.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev remains unmoved by criticism of his country's attack in Georgia. Today, he said that Russia will never allow anyone to kill Russian citizens and escape unpunished.

(Soundbite of Dmitry Medvedev's speech)

President DMITRY MEDVEDEV (Russia): (Russian Spoken)

SIMON: The president said, should anyone have any doubts, Russia has all the necessary political, economic and military resources.

Now, in Moscow, military leaders are denying the accusation that they used disproportionate force in Georgia and say that Russian troops behaved honorably.

NPR's Anne Garrels is in Moscow. She's been talking with independent diplomatic and military analyst and has been hearing a different story. Anne, thanks for being with us.

ANNE GARRELS: I'm delighted.

SIMON: And what are you hearing?

GARRELS: Well, analysts are pointing to three areas, all analysts in fact, starting with a serious failure of military intelligence and reconnaissance. If intelligence assets have been doing their job, analysts say, the Russians would have known in advance the Georgians were going to attack them.

And why, they asked, was Russia unable to suppress Georgia's air defenses? Russia acknowledges it lost four aircraft. The Georgians say as many as 20. And one of those aircraft was a very valuable backfire bomber. Alexander Golts, a military writer here, said it was completely unjustified to use these big, expensive planes, these recon vehicles. And it certainly suggests Russia doesn't have many unmanned drones.

The commander of the 58th army was injured by a Georgian tank, ambush a general. And this was an embarrassing indication of poor intelligence and recon. And the third big issue they're pointing to is doctrine. The Russians smashed the Georgians. But they did it with the use of massed military force which is old Soviet doctrine.

Many analysts here, who've long been trying to get the military to reform, say the army didn't need to actually go into Georgia. If it had long-range accurate conventional weapons, they could have done it from further away. But they say the lack of these weapons and old doctrine caused unnecessary loss of life for both civilians and military personnel.

SIMON: What about the quality of the equipment the Russians had in the field, questions being raised about that?

GARRELS: Absolutely. The losses in the air suggest poor aircraft maintenance, poor piloting skills or probably years of insufficient funds for adequate flight training. Fighter pilots here still only get a fraction of the air time fighter pilots in, say, NATO countries, receive for training. And on the ground, the troops were using very old T-72 tanks which the Soviets began producing in 1971.

If you look at TV pictures, you can see soldiers sitting on their tank turrets because they were afraid to stay inside because these tanks are so vulnerable to mines. But when you sit on the turret, you're vulnerable to snipers.

SIMON: Russian military has been hard-pressed in recent years, even back in the 1990s and in Chechnya. Are any of the analysts that you're hearing from, seeing any improvements since that time?

GARRELS: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the military has definitely improved from its dilapidated demoralized state in the '90s as you refer to. But aging equipment and tactics underscore how much more work still has to be done as President Vladimir Putin boosted military spending from about $7 billion to $40 billion.

And analysts here think the military is going to use Georgia to ask for a lot more, though they're still a draft and poor training for conscripts and inadequate crop of non-commissioned officers, there is a growing body of professional soldiers unlike Chechnya, which you referred to in the '90s when Russia just threw conscripts at the problem with disastrous results. Units of professional volunteer soldiers were those taking the lead in Georgia. And, you know, that was obviously an improvement.

SIMON: NPR's Anne Garrels in Moscow. Thanks so much.

GARRELS: Thank you.

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