Kudos to Brian Whitmore of Radio Free Europe, who is attempting something the MSM has ignored. In his most recent post on the broadcast service's website, he tries to connect the dots and prove that Russia's invasion of Georgia was planned months, perhaps even a year, in advance.
From a military standpoint, there's little doubt about Whitmore's thesis. Major operations--like Russia's incursion into Georgia--are not ad hoc affairs. As we've noted in the past, modern militaries (including Moscow's) have standing plans for virtually all contingencies. The southern Caucasus representing a region of vital importance to the Kremlin, so it's only logical that Russia's General Staff would develop and routinely update plans for potential military action.
Based on that assumption, Russian planning for a Georgian operation began years, even decades ago. In fact, if you compared Moscow's plan for its recent invasion, and comparable, Soviet-era documents, you'd find similarities--and for obvious reasons. A military plan is nothing more than outlining the resources that will be dispatched to the right location, at the right time, in support of tactical and strategical objectives. The keys to taking (or holding) a place like Georgia hasn't changed much over the past 20 years.
But were there tell-tale indicators of Russian's invasion plan? Mr. Whitmore notes that Moscow's forces held a major exercise in the South Caucasus region less than a month before launching their assault of Georgia. That isn't particularly surprising; military commands rehearse before conducting major operations, and that is particularly true of Russia. Dating back to the Soviet era, Russian formations have a long history of exercising intensely in the weeks before the operation, then "standing down" just before it begins.
Whitmore claims that Moscow made its decision to go to war back in April.
Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, who was interviewed by RFE/RL says the aim, from the start, was to overthrow Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his pro-Western government. Sources tell Felgenhauer that the Kremlin opted for military action four months ago.
"A decision was made for the war to start in August. The war would have happened regardless of what the Georgians did. Whether they responded to the provocations or not, there would have been an invasion of Georgia," Felgenhauer says. "The goal was to destroy Georgia's central government, defeat the Georgian army, and prevent Georgia from joining NATO."
April is significant for another reason--as Mr. Felgenhauer reminds us. It was during that month that NATO declined to offer a membership application plan (MAP) to Georgia and Ukraine. That action, analysts believe, may have emboldened Moscow.
The Russians also set the stage for action in Georgia with last year's decision to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. That gave Moscow diplomatic the latitude to send more troops to the South Caucasus, without violating the agreement. And, as the operation unfolded, at least two airborne divisions were quickly deployed to the region.
Moscow also needed time to coordinate other elements of the invasion, including the hundreds of airlift sorties needed to move those paratroopers to the South Caucasus, and Russia's amphibious operations along the Black Sea coast. Given those requirements, the April decision touched off the last round of preparations for the Georgia operation, based on plans that had been on the books for years.