The Russians have the ability to destroy the cities. The quickest way is to simply enlist Georgian help by trying to pen Georgian forces inside them and then engaging, which according to some reports has already happened in Tskhinvali to the point of utter destruction. Other reports have Georgian units flowing into Gori(?) and other cities in what looks like an attempt to preserve units by forting up; however the Russians are experienced with urban reduction and combat (see Grozny). The Georgians may just figure that if they lose the cities there's not much left in any case so they might as well try to link force preservation to urban centers.
As for the pipeline, Western Europe's winter fuel is (in a large part) due to come through those pipes. As others have said, if Russia pushes far enough to look like they're going after the pipelines then they will signal a quite different set of objectives from either the initial 'securing the enclaves' strategy or even 'consolidating control of their borders' - it starts to look like a serious economic petropolicy grab. Don't know what the outcome of that will/would be, but it's certainly a different animal from the simple intervention in Georgiag/Ossetian/Abkhazi affairs that it has been sold as.
Given this, it would be to Georgia's advantage if pipeline disruption occurred that could be blamed squarely on Russia. It would make the strategic space much more fluid, especially as affects Western Europe/NATO and the UN, if that pipeline is seen to be affected by the Russian push past the enclaves. So I have to wonder at what point bombing it themselves starts to look good in principle (already has, I'd guess, if they could reliably pull off the blame-switch) and at what point it starts to look viable in reality.
More as it happens. I have been fearfully lax in keeping up on my terrain and ORBAT data for this dustup, so I'll have to remedy that. If you're curious, go read Information Dissemination, War Is Boring, The New York Times or others.
Posted by jbz at August 11, 2008 2:25 AM