What Was Saakashvili Thinking?

Commenter Aleks asks “Doesn’t the speculative rather than dry reporting nature of the blog free you to guess at what the hell President Mikhail Saakashvili could possibly have expected to happen?” It does! Best guess is that the central element in his calculation was that there’s only one road from Russia in to South Ossetia. Saakashvili was hoping, I think, that Georgia’s newly upgraded forces could quickly seize Tskhinvali and then either capture or destroy the tunnel connecting Russia to South Ossetia. Obviously, he misjudged his own country’s capabilities.

But it’s important to recognize that there was probably a larger miscalculation here. It seems to me that Georgia is actually lucky that Saakashvili’s military plans misfired. The idea, after all, was to force Russia to choose between accepting defeat in South Ossetia and marching through Georgia proper. Saakashvili, one assumes, thought that under the circumstances Russia would choose to accept defeat. I think, however, that he’s almost certainly wrong about that. Russia gives every sign of being really, really, really committed to its position on this issue and it’s hard to say why Saakashvili would have thought that Putin might be inclined to back down. One assumes that Saakashvili thought the U.S. would back him strongly enough to scare Russia off. That, however, is again a major miscalculation. The basic reality about Georgia is that Russia cares much, much, much more about what happens there than does the United States of America. One wonders whether Saakashvili just didn’t understand this somehow, or else if there were specific contacts of his inside the United States who gave him bad information of some kind.