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 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.
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:
Deeply concerned about continued ‘borderisation’ in Gugutiantkari at the Adm. Boundary Line with South Ossetia. New fencing hinders freedom of movement and could stop locals from accessing orchards and water resources. #EUMM monitors present on the spot. pic.twitter.com/oL4bJqS0oi
— Erik Hoeg (@erik_hoeg) August 14, 2019
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:
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:
More #Russia|n razor wire fences are going up today in #Gugutiantkari, #Georgia. They serve no purpose except to cause hardship to families and divide local communities. This has to stop. https://t.co/9xHpeboX3m
— Justin McKenzieSmith (@JustinMcKenzieS) August 15, 2019
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:
@MFAgovge organised visit for internationals at #Gugutiantkari at #ABL: Barbed wire and fences – such activities of #borderisation only lead to destabilisation and mean personal tragedies for local communities. International law needs to be respected. pic.twitter.com/hfoySI4naK
— Arad Benkö (@AradBenkoe) August 16, 2019
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.
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:
Statement of the EU Delegation to Georgia in agreement with EU Heads of Mission in Georgia on borderisation activities in the area of Gugutiantkari village ➡️ https://t.co/m9AW1DAD1N pic.twitter.com/CJ4xlJ4aHk
— EU Delegation Georgia (@EUinGeorgia) August 20, 2019
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 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.
OSCE PA human rights leaders deeply concerned about the continued ‘borderization’ process in Georgia and its impact on local residents https://t.co/wrlZdFUkxR @KHadjiyianni @michael_g_link @SusanaAmador
— OSCE PA (@oscepa) August 22, 2019
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”.
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).
Together with 2 GID co-chairs I joined #EUMM patrol this morning to observe "borderization" near Gugutiantkari at Administrative Boundary Line. New fencing further divides communities. Will also be discussed at an IPRM meeting in Ergneti tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/jmxJcgiKiV
— Erik Hoeg (@erik_hoeg) August 28, 2019
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).