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). The construction of a Georgian police post on Tbilisi controlled territory near the ABL and South Ossetia controlled Tsnelesi village led to a new impulse in territorial dispute and land claims by South Ossetia.
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 but not confirmed at this point.
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 at the IPRM meeting. The South Ossetian and Russian side decided to leave the meeting unfinished 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.
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”.
Where does the “border” actually run?
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 administrative 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 administrative boundary line of South Ossetia as Georgia and internationally (EUMM) sees it. Regardless how one interprets either side, this is the root on which the South Ossetians build their accusations against Georgian authorities.
On old maps
The local instance of 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.
Impartial as it is, the EUMM does not seem to be too concerned about this: they consider the area as part of their mandated access. They observed the situation 24/7 from Tbilisi controlled territory, claimed by South Ossetia or not.
We continue monitoring Chorchana/Tsnelisi area at the ABL. 24/7.Tonight we have 9 #EUMM monitors from 🇦🇹🇩🇰🇬🇷🇭🇺🇲🇨🇸🇰 out there supported by 2 🇬🇪 colleagues.
According to regular updates from our patrols to HQ everything quiet so far. pic.twitter.com/msnW7wuvRD
— Erik Hoeg (@erik_hoeg) August 30, 2019
On the 5th of September, South Ossetian troops however put up a police post on top of a 944m hilltop in Tbilisi controlled territory outside of the ABL, 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 and unilateral annexation of territory without any attempt at dialogue or finding a resolve. But hardly a surprising one given 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. Georgian authorities closed media and civil society acces by blocking the road at Brolosani.
Also, activist David Katsarava reported South Ossetians have marked trees along the Chorchana – Perevi area (towards the north near Sinagur checkpoint) for future borderization works, while already pushing deeper into Georgian controlled territory.
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 in January 2020. This checkpoint is the most important of three, where several hundred civilians, mostly Georgians, used to cross on a daily basis.
[to be continued]