Tag
South Ossetia

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)

 

Russian military infrastructure in South Ossetia region

The Russian-Georgian war of August 2008 resulted in a massive increase of Russian military presence in Georgia’s South Ossetia region. An estimated 5.000 Russian military personnel (3.500 Armed Forces, 1.500 border guards) are deployed in the region. This is a tenfold of official Russian (“peacekeeping”) presence prior to 2008 and with much stronger warfare equipment. According to the latest data just 53.000 people live in the area.

In 1992, after the Georgian-Ossetian civil war of 1991-1992, a cease-fire was reached through the Sochi Accords. This also established the Joint Control Commission (JCC) and the Joined Peacekeeping Force (JPKF). It was the start of post-Soviet Russian military presence in South Ossetia. The JPKF was commanded by the Russians, and was composed of 1.320 troops: Russian Federation (500), Georgia (320), and North/South Ossetia (500).

The six-point agreement between Russia and Georgia was signed in August 2008 to end the war after mediation by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on behalf of the EU.  This stipulated, among other things, “Russian armed forces to withdraw to the positions held before hostilities began in South Ossetia”, the source of dispute between Russia and Georgia (and most of the international community) since then.

Two weeks after the agreement was signed Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia (and Abkhazia). In September 2008 the EU and Russia worked out the six-point agreement in terms of deadlines and implementation of observer missions. It was at the press conference the separate visions on withdrawal became clear.

Medvedev said: “Russia will withdraw in full its peacekeepers from the zones adjoining South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the positions where they were stationed before the start of hostilities”. While Sarkozy stated: “…within a month Russia’s Armed Forces will have left Georgian territory”.  In the vision of Sarkozy that included both regions as he repeated the EU’s position on the status of the regions as inseparable parts of Georgia.

Since that moment Russia has rapidly expanded its military infrastructure in the region to host troops and equipment. In a second stage it has built compounds for the families of the military personnel on long term deployment. In March 2015 the Kremlin and the de facto leaders in South Ossetia signed an “Alliance and integration Treaty”, effectively integrating the security forces (including border security) of the Ossetians into the Russian structures. Among other things. The full merger of the Ossetian forces into the Russian forces was formalized in 2018. In other words, South Ossetia has become a colonized protectorate of Russia.

This article visualizes some of the expansion of Russian presence over the years, based on public material available.

Main military bases

Capital Tskhinvali and Java in central South Ossetia are the main Russian military locations with multiple sites including military camps, residential compounds, large exercise areas, and storage facilities.

Tskhinvali

The main base of Russia’s Armed forces in South Ossetia is the 4th Military Base on the western outskirts of capital Tskhinvali. This vast complex opened in February 2009, together with residential housing north from the base. In 2011 expansion took place on a free plot north from the base compound, and various minor expansion within the existing perimeters of the base.

In 2012 construction of a compound with family apartments was finished just south-east from the main base, and in 2013 a military compound was constructed within a city block. A substantial enlargement took place in 2015 on the west side of the base. The capacity of the base is estimated at 4.000 troops.

Java

Java (or Dzau in Russian and Ossetian references) is the main town of the Java / Dzau district in central South Ossetia on an important junction of roads. It is also on the route from the Roki tunnel on the Russian border, the sole access road from Russia. The town is outside of the 15 km conflict zone as determined by the JCC, and was under control of the South Ossetians by the time the 2008 war broke out.

Russia secretly rebuilt the supposedly disbanded Ugardanta military base here since 2006 outside of the JCC mandate and international monitors. The area  was outside of international oversight. The base played an important strategic role in Russia’s invasion in 2008. Java maintained its importance for strategic deployment of Russian troops and equipment after the war; the military infrastructure rapidly developed into the second largest in South Ossetia.

Border Guard compounds

Along the Administrative Boundary Line a string of sites have been constructed over the last decade in the post-2008 period, mostly between fall 2009 and 2011. These stations take care of patrolling  and monitoring the ABL, adding physical barriers (such as barbed wire, fences and more recently trenches). The border guards are (mostly) Russian and serving under FSB command. Dozens of times per year locals (mostly Georgians) are arrested and detained by the border guards for trespassing the (mostly unmarked) ABL. The arrested persons generally get transported to Tskhinvali or other stations for detention and ransom.  Most of the sites have helipads. A walk through per administrative district below.

Kornisi / Znauri District

The south western corner of South Ossetia was the scene of tension buildup and shelling of villages in 2008. The eastern portion fell within the 15km JKPF “Conflict Zone” around Tskhinvali.  The Georgian populated area (Nuli, Avnevi and Didmuha) was 100% ethnically cleansed as result of the war, with a total of nearly 1800 dislocated Georgians. Traces of the deserted and looted villages can still be seen. A relative high density of military infrastructure has been developed in the southern area of the district between 2009 and 2011.

Java / Dzau District

Java / Dzau is the largest district of South Ossetia consisting mostly of high mountain territory. It also forms the entire South Ossetian border with Russia. The sole access route, the infamous Roki tunnel played a crucial role in the Russian invasion in 2008. The western flank is made up of the boundary line with Georgia proper. Here are a few populated river valleys with cross-boundary roads. Prior to the 2008 war the area around Kvemo Karzmani and Sinagur was Georgian controlled and a community of Georgians still lives here. In the northern most corner is the Mamisoni Pass, an old high mountain passage from Georgian controlled lands into Russia, passing through South Ossetia for 2km (and thus closed). It does not have any connections into South Ossetia.

The difficult terrain and the limited points of potential interaction with Georgian controlled land result in few compounds of Russian security forces.

Tskhinvali District

The  district of the capital Tskhinvali is obviously key to the Russian military presence with a large military base in the capital. The district itself hosts the longest section of the Administrative Boundary Line in the populous southern lowlands of the region, often farmland. A complicated boundary line that zigzags seemingly random through the lands of local farmers and between villages. With Georgians (or relatives) living on both sides of the boundary line. In this section most of the arrests and abductions happen, as most of the “borderization”, meant to separate communities and prevent farmers to reach their land. The presence of security forces is therefore quite strong, contrary to the Java district, but comparable with the southern section of the Znaur district and mostly near the ABL.

The Didi Liakhvi river gorge, north from Tskinkvali leading up to Java, was prior to the 2008 war a Georgian populated area under Georgian control. A strategic position where a lot of (pre-war) exchanges of fire took place. Nowadays the villages  are deserted and looted, which can still be seen from satellite images. This area has been ethnically cleansed with more than 9000 IDP’s. Patara Liakhvi river valley in the central-eastern part of the Tskhinvali District was a Georgian populated area as well, which has been ethnically cleansed resulting in more than 6000 IDP’s.

 

Akhalgori / Leningor District

South Ossetia District Akhalgori / Leningor

The eastern most district of South Ossetia is the closest to the Georgian capital Tbilisi, a predominantly Georgian populated area, especially along the Ksiani river valley, the central river of the district. It is a generally mountainous area, with the one exception to the southern most point.

The southern point is an area that often raises publicity with borderization and arrests. Also, the ABL runs the closest to the central East-West highway a distance of just 300 metres.  It is here that two Border Guard station are concentrated as a clear signal of Russian presence, with obscured observation posts in the landscape.

[to be continued – work in progress]

Civil protest near Atotsi

Reported by public TV Channel 1TV.

Offroaders are holding the anti-occupation rally at Atotsi village, Kareli Municipality of Shida Kartli region, where Russian occupants installed artificial barriers.  The rally participants have gathered from various towns of Georgia. They protest against Russia’s aggressive policy and creeping occupation. According to the First Channel reporter, the EUMM is monitoring the ongoing rally in Atotsi.

Source: https://1tv.ge/en/news/offroaders-are-holding-anti-occupation-rally-at-atotsi-village/

Russia – Georgia War 2008: Rolling into war

This summer it has been 10 years ago the world was caught by surprise by the short yet intense war between Russian and Georgian military forces seemingly”just” about a small Georgian separatist region of less than 50.000 people that not many had heard of: South Ossetia *). The full military war started just hours before the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, in the night of 7 to 8 August local time with a few crucial developments in the last 24 hours leading to the final outbreak. 

In the first part you can read about the developments until June 2008, in the second part about the spiral to war during July 2008, setting the stage for a rolling start of the war during the first week of August, highlighted in this page. Recalling the Kavkaz 2008 Russian military exercises in the North Caucasus military district mentioned at the previous page, that lasted nearly three weeks from mid July till the first days of August. During these exercises troops and heavy military equipment such as tanks, massed at the Roki tunnel on the South Ossetian section of the Russian-Georgian border, and other places along the Georgian border, such as the Mamisoma Pass. Continue reading Russia – Georgia War 2008: Rolling into war

Russia – Georgia War 2008: The Prelude #2

This summer it has been 10 years ago the world was caught by surprise by the short yet intense war between Russian and Georgian military forces seemingly”just” about a small Georgian separatist region of less than 50.000 people that not many had heard of: South Ossetia *). The full military war started just hours before the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, in the night of 7 to 8 August local time with a few crucial developments in the last 24 hours leading to the final outbreak. Although it took many by surprise, the war was in the making for quite some time which accelerated by a few developments in 2008. 

In the previous part you can read about the developments until June 2008. This page summarizes the fast escalation of events in July 2008 until the last days before the outbreak of the war. A war necessary for the Kremlin to set the stage for a permanent non-peacekeeping presence (occupation) and “legitimated” through the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states with the aim to keep Georgia out of NATO, as Alexander Dugin, leader of the International Eurasian Movement, outlined in a press conference after his visit to South Ossetia in June 2008. In July tensions escalated by a sharp rise of violent incidents. One could speak of low intensity warfare with frequent artillery attacks on villages of both sides. Continue reading Russia – Georgia War 2008: The Prelude #2

Russia – Georgia War 2008: The Prelude #1

This summer it has been 10 years ago the world was caught by surprise by the short yet intense war between Russian and Georgian military forces seemingly”just” about a small Georgian separatist region of less than 50.000 people that not many had heard of: South Ossetia *). The full military war started just hours before the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, in the night of 7 to 8 August local time with a few crucial developments in the last 24 hours leading to the final outbreak. Although it took many by surprise, the war was in the making for quite some time which accelerated by a few developments in 2008.

Western recognition of Kosovo in February of that year and the infamous NATO summit in Bucharest two months later, where Georgia and Ukraine got an open door invitation for a future membership, triggered the final acceleration to conflict and escalation of tensions. The Russian government felt strongly provoked by both steps led by the American President George W. Bush, and it used the Georgian South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions where it maintained a peacekeeping presence since the early 90s to provoke the Georgian government into a war, with the aim to neuter its NATO ambitions. Continue reading Russia – Georgia War 2008: The Prelude #1