Archive
August 2019

Old and “fake” maps: driving territorial dispute at Chorchana

Tensions between Georgian and the de facto South Ossetian authorities shifted away from the borderization at Gugutiantkari to the Chorchana / Tsnelesi area at the southeastern tip of the South Ossetian Administrative Boundary Line (ABL).

For about two months from the 24th of August a series of incidents, heated rhetoric and disrupted Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meetings occurred over essentially a territorial dispute fueled by the construction of a Georgian police post close to a South Ossetian controlled village.

According to South Ossetian authorities on the 24th of August the Georgian side was seen constructing a police post near the South Ossetian village of Tsnelisi, close to the ABL, and near the Yugostalk plant. The South Ossetian authorities called this a provocation from the Georgian side, two days before their 11th anniversary of “the recognition of the independence of the Republic of South Ossetia by the Russian Federation”. Also in the vicinity of Sinagur, more north, “construction of a site for equipping Georgian police facilities” was reported.

Plenipotentiary of the President of South Ossetia for post-conflict settlement, Murat Dzhioev,  said that “according to border guards, in the region of Tsnelis village of the Znaursky district of South Ossetia, above the Yugostalk enterprise, Georgian law enforcement agencies cut down a forest, paved the way, put up a post and a Georgian flag, thereby violating the state border”. Which was echoed by Zaza Driaev of the South Ossetian Parliament as well.

On the 27th of August the South Ossetian authorities released a video (see below) which shows Georgian works on the road to the police post, illustrating their earlier statements. Despite the allegations expressed in South Ossetian “state media”, Georgian media did not pick up on this, which only happened after South Ossetians demanded the Georgian police to leave the area, eventually expressing an ultimatum for August 30th 6:00 am during the EUMM facilitated and scheduled IPRM meeting at Ergneti on the 29th of August.

The recent incidents at Gugutiantkari and Chorchana were the main talking points. The IPRM meeting was disrupted and left unfinished when the South Ossetian and Russian side decided to leave the meeting after the Georgian side refused to agree with the ultimatum to clear the police post by August 30 6:00 AM. The Georgian government confirmed this refusal the next day.

In the run-up to the IPRM meeting South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov visited Tsnelesi, with a militarized  entourage and additional security forces that alarmed people in Georgia.

Meanwhile Zaza Driaev, head of the South Ossetian Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Policy and Inter-Parliamentary Relations earlier said “It will be fair if we set up our posts where the border of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region previously ran”.

So what is this all about exactly? Was there really a “violation of the state border” as the South Ossetians put it? What is this “where the border previously ran” about? First let’s check the map below showing the Chorchana and Tsnelisi area.


The red line is the “border” as South Ossetian authorities consider it (see below photo of their map), claiming the territory between the red and dotted purple line. The latter is the Georgian (and internationally) accepted boundary line.

The location of the (blue) Georgian police post which kicked of this situation, is in the area the South Ossetians contests is theirs. But just outside the Georgian, internationally (and EUMM) accepted administrative boundary line. Regardless  how one interprets both sides,  this is the root on which the South Ossetians build their accusation and case against Georgian authorities.

Sputnik recalls that a South Ossetian Commission concluded in 2018 based on its own historical research and archives that the disputed area at Tsnelesi “belongs” to South Ossetia as it was always part of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region since its creation in 1922. The Commission concluded that a “fake map” from 1982 was used for marking the (current de-facto) border.

The EUMM does not seem to be concerned by this, they consider the area as part of their mandated access. (hopefully will get some feedback on this).

On the 5th of September, South Ossetian troops put up a police post on top of a 944m hilltop in Tbilisi controlled territory, overlooking Chorchana. This is the southwestern corner of what they consider their contested territory as illustrated in the maps above. They also started carving out an access road from Tsnelisi.

[Much more happened in the following period into October but we fast forward to January 2020]

On 14 January 2020, it was reported that South Ossetian forces have erected “illegal installations” in this area (meaning: installed fences, borderization), exactly following the line they claim is the “real border” but which is generally considered Tbilisi controlled area.

In other words: ordinary landgrab. But hardly a surprising one considering the recent past. David Katsarava visualized the works in the forested hills with a drone:

Meanwhile South Ossetian state media spins things completely different: it says a Georgian state drone violated airspace, and Georgian media and civil society is not allowed by Georgian authorities to access Georgian villages near the boundary line to assess the situation (false statements, as is obvious from the private drone recording above).

Akhalgori checkpoint

The checkpoint on the ABL near Odzisi / Mosabruni (Мосабрун) in the Akhalgori district will remain closed until Georgian authorities will leave their police post at Tsnelesi, South Ossetian de facto President  Anatoly Bibilov reiterated at a reporting meeting of the Russian FSB Border Administration. This checkpoint is the most important of three, where several hundred civilians, mostly Georgians, used to cross on a daily basis.

[to be continued]

 

Abduction of eight Georgians in 24 hours near Adzvi

In the weekend of 17-18 August eight Georgians have been arrested and detained by Russian led “border guards” along the Administrative Boundary Line on two locations: seven at a church near Adzvistavi and one person near Akhalubani.

All eight have been transported to the Tskhinvali isolator. The South Ossetian side changed their narrative during the day. They claim all eight were arrested at the same location, the St George church near Adzvistavi (see map), drunk and in possession of drugs “of plant origin”.

The Foreign Ministry of Georgia stated the borderization at Gugutiantkari last week, and the abduction of Georgians this weekend near the ABL is a clear attempt at destabilizing the country.  The Deputy Foreign Minister added that he will continue to increase international pressure on Russia (but refrained from elaborating on the “how” except for mobilizing).

Annually hundreds of Georgians get arrested in a similar fashion, but this incident is extra highlighted by the unusual high number of involved people.

Tskhinvali base

Adzvistavi

The seven (young) Georgian citizens were visiting a church in the wooded hills just outside of Adzvi village to lit some candles according to one of the mothers. The church is situated between the Adzvistavi FSB base and Ghromi FSB base which covers this side of the river bank. The detained were allegedly taken to the Adzvistavi base.

Despite the boundary line used in Google Maps and OpenStreetMap, suggesting the locations are within the “South Ossetian” area, the territory is considered to be Georgian controlled. Yandex Map uses a different demarcation (see below).

Locals told Rustavi2 the situation on the ground lacks clear indication of the boundary line, causing the occupying forces randomly arresting people claiming they trespassed. This causes a lot of anxiety, as by far most alleged trespassing is unintended, often related to farming.

The youngsters were arrested around  18:00-19:00, and the hot line with the EUMM was quickly activated.

A drone video of the area and the chapel with the cars visibly parked and abandoned, was shot by David Katsarava:

 

Rustavi2 reported on Sunday all three cars St George church have been transferred to the Georgian authorities, and will be forensically investigated. They were released by the South-Ossetian de facto authorities to units of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Mejvriskhevi

In the morning of 18 August information was released another Georgian citizen was arrested nearby Akhalubani. He is a local from Mejvriskhevi, having been arrested previously for “border trespassing” as his uncle told Radio Tavisupleba.  Just like the other seven he has been transferred to the Tskhinvali isolator.

Radio Tavisupleba (RFE/RL) reported live from the site:

Update

On August 20 the eight Georgians arrested and detained earlier were released by the de facto Tskhinvali authorities. After paying a fine they were handed over to Georgian authorities and returned to their homes.

The identity of the eight was also reported: Zurab Gerkeuli, Ilia Mighrijanashvili, Koba Bardiashvili, Lasha Gerkeuli, Ilia Baindurashvili, Giorgi Naskidashvili, Otar Eliauri and Soso Dvalishvili

Borderization Gugutiantkari

Reported by Civil.ge, Agenda, IPN, public TV Channel 1TV, and others. 

On the 7th of August 2019 Russian forces have started ‘borderization’ works in the Georgian village of Gugutiantkari (Gori Municipality) along the Administrative Boundary Line of the South Ossetia region which runs through the village. Two families had to clear out their houses. 

The works included installing fences and barbed wire, and is less than one km away from the Disevi FSB base. The precise coordinates of the site are 42°13’37.4″N 44°05’32.9″E.

Government reaction

The Georgian government has notified the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions (GID), the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) and other international frameworks, according to the Foreign Ministry’s Press and Information Department :

“On August 7, 2019 the occupation forces resumed the illegal process of installation of artificial barriers nearby Gugutiantkari village of Gori Municipality. As soon as being informed, the Foreign Ministry activated all the available levers. The hotline within the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms has been immediately activated. We have informed the representatives of the international community, including the co-chairs of Geneva International Negotiations. The Georgian side emphasized the need for a proper assessment of the ongoing process by the international community and the necessity of calling the Russian Federation to fulfill its commitments. These illegal activities on the occupation line will have a negative impact on peace talks and further aggravate the already grave humanitarian situation of the conflict-affected population and the current security environment”. (IPN 08-08-2019)

Below one of several drone shots David Katsarava made, in which military (border guards) activity is clearly visible.

Resumption

Remarkably the installation of fences in general seemed to have been on hold for quite a while. The Russian troops started in Gugutiantkari on the borderization on the day that both Georgians and South-Ossetians commemorated the outbreak of the August War of 2008, suggesting a symbolic link. Initially it lasted only one day, but the troops returned on August 14 to resume their work. The EUMM was present on the spot when the installation works were resumed. Erik Hoeg, head of the EUMM mission shared his concerns on Twitter:

In a statement released on August 14, the Georgian Foreign Ministry noted that “such destructive steps dramatically aggravate the already difficult humanitarian situation of the population living across the occupation line and further destabilize the security environment on the ground.” CivilGe (14-08-2019)

The impact of the physical borderization was illustrated by one of the villagers on August 9: “The Russian and Ossetian soldiers have not showed up yesterday or today, but the poles remain in place. We are afraid that they will come in the next few days and install barbed wire. We have a problem even without the barbed wire – these metal poles can also be considered “borders”, so we won’t be able to move around the area,” (InterPressNews – 09-08-2019)

Radio Tavisupleba (RFE/RL) reported from the location:

Russian reaction

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted in its usual fashion, expressed by MFA spokespersn Maria Zakharova:

“Artificial frenzy over the alleged violations on the South Ossetian-Georgian border is once again being created. A myth is being spread on the shifting of the border by Russians and South Ossetians and their movement inside Georgian territory. Russia is being accused of continuing its “long-term military-diplomatic campaign to systematically partition and seize the Georgian state.”

Border arrangements are carried out as planned by South Ossetia and are designed to create conditions for the safe and conflict-free life of the population of the two neighbouring countries. Such measures are primarily aimed at eliminating the many incidents linked with the unintentional violations of the border.”

Update 15 August

Russian led troops have returned on the site to continue their borderization works in Gugutiantkari, despite repeated calls from the Georgian government to the international community and mediators. The EUMM hotline was activated in the morning of 15 August. The EUMM was present at the location during the day, yet does not have any mandate to  directly interfere.

British Ambassador of the UK to Georgia, Justin McKenzieSmith on Twitter:

National media (1TV public broadcaster, Rustavi2, Imedi TV) reported from the village during the day, showing the presence of Russian led forces, the presence of the EUMM on site and the installation of fences. TV Imedi interviewed the State Minister of Reconciliation Ketevan Tsikhelashvili:

 

Update 16 August

On Friday 16th of August the government of Georgia invited members of the diplomatic corps of various embassies to visit the site and witness with their own eyes the borderization process. No further construction activities have been reported, but the works certainly seems not finished. Probably will resume after the weekend when media publicity dies out. Arad Benko, Ambassador of Austria to Georgia:

And the Ukrainian embassy in Georgia posted on Facebook this, with many more pictures of the site, showing clear progress on the fence compared to a week before:

The owners of two houses have been given three days to clear their houses. After which the houses will be inaccessible and disappear behind the fence, according to the de facto South Ossetian authorities. Local residents indicated they have no idea in which direction the works will continue.

Updates

After a break of three days, on August the 19th (Russian) security forces returned adding 15 more metal posts to extend the barrier. After which they left, to return again the next day. As well on the 21st.

According to IPN the Prime Minister Bakhtadze made an unannounced and silent visit to the village on the night of 20 August.

The EU Delegation to Georgia published a statement on the continuing borderization at Gugutiantkari:

It expressed that the borderization hinders freedom of movement and deprives local people from access to their orchards and water resources. It calls on active use of dialogue mechanisms such as the IPRM meetings at Ergneti, the next one being scheduled on August 29th:

“It is crucial that this work is stopped and that all relevant actors make active use of the existing mechanisms for communication – the Hotline and the Ergneti Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism format.”

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini had a phone call with the Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani.

The United States State Department addressed the bordersation at a press briefing by Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus:

The Human Rights Committee of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly released a statement as well on the developments, including the recent arrest of 8 Georgian nationals at the ABL:

The resumption of ‘borderization’ process not only entrenches the conflict but impacts the life of the local population. Building fences without notice through villages, depriving people of the access to their farmland, ancestral homes and effectively their livelihoods, is simply unacceptable.

The South Ossetian de facto authorities responded to the Georgian government attempts at raising international attention and protest. They said this is “part of the information war against the republic and Russian-South Ossetian relations”. Murat Dzhioev, the representative of the President of South Ossetia also said that “the designation of the state border does not affect the territory of Georgia anywhere”.

Airspace violation

On August 21st an airspace violation of a Russian MI-8 helicopter near the village was reported by Georgian media.  The Georgian authorities activated the hotline of the EUMM mission.

In the run up to the scheduled Ergneti IPRM meeting the EUMM visited the borderization works at Gugutiantkari with co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions (GID).

No further Russian activities on the site have been reported after August 22 (until this update 30-08-2019), but the issue has been addressed at the IPRM Meeting in Ergneti on August 29th. A separate page will be dedicated to that. The Meeting escalated into a further escalation of tensions from the South Ossetian and Russian side, potentially derailing the IPRM format alltogether (being unilaterally cancelled).

Sources:
1. Agenda.ge (08-08-2019)
2. IPN (08-08-2019)
3. 1TV (09-08-2019)
4. Agenda.ge (14-08-2019)
5. 1TV (14-08-2019)
6. CivilGe (14-08-2019)
7. IPN (14-08-2019)
8. IPN (14-08-2019)