Tuesday, Aug 12, 2008
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, under heavy Russian siege, claimed Monday night, Aug. 11, that the Russians had invaded the country and “cut it in half”. A full-scale retreat of Georgian troops was ordered from the border town of Gori to defend the capital Tbilisi 60 km away. In the event, Moscow denied seizing the town – or any plans for advancing on the Georgian capital – and turned the panic around to ridicule the pro-Western president.
Our sources believe Saakashvili had hoped that word of a Russian invasion of Georgia proper would finally stir the US and Europe into action to save his regime from being trampled by Russian tanks. Moscow had made it obvious that it would only hold its fire after his regime was gone and replaced by a Moscow-friendly administration.
The Russians sustained their three-day aerial bombardment of Gori, even after the town emptied of inhabitants and troops. This kept the rumor of an imminent Russian invasion alive in the world media for as long as necessary.
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DEBKAfile’s Moscow sources report that Russian strategists believed that, by pulling the invasion scare carpet from under the president’s feet a few hours later, they could turn his campaign of panic and despair into a boomerang which would topple him without outside aid.
If not, the Russian president, prime minister and military chiefs would put their heads together again as they did on Monday and decide on their next move.
In the meantime, Russian troops entered Georgia Monday unopposed from another direction and captured the town of Senaki, 40 km from the northwestern breakaway province of Abkhazia.
This netted Moscow three advantages:
1. The Georgian outpost in the Kodori Gorge in northern Abkhazia, estimated at 3,000 strong, was cut off from its supply lines.
2. The Russians were in a position to force the outpost’s surrender, inflicting a lethal blow to Georgian military morale. Later Monday, having achieved this objective, the Russian defense ministry announced the withdrawal of its troops from Senaki after “eliminating the threat to south Abkhazia.”
3. The loss of the strategic Kodori Gorge should prove painful enough to deter the Georgian government from persisting in laying claim to Abkhazian territory for many years to come.