What was Russia’s intention with the recognition of the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 war? In a comment on Civil.ge I shed a light on that, and where this recognition is heading. Follow the links below for an English, Georgian or Russian version.
Russia’s unilateral recognition of the self-declared independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions on the 26th of August 2008, while pointing to the US-led recognition of Kosovo independence earlier in 2008, was not picked up by the international community. After 11 years, only five countries recognize the independence of the two, as opposed to 101 for Kosovo. Where are Abkhazia and South Ossetia heading with their “independence”? […]
2008 წლის 26 აგვისტოს აფხაზეთისა და სამხრეთ ოსეთის რეგიონების დამოუკიდებლობის ცალმხრივ აღიარებას რუსეთის მიერ, რასაც იგი ამერიკის წინამძღოლობით 2008 წლის დასაწყისში კოსოვოს აღიარებას უკავშირებდა, საერთაშორისო საზოგადოების ენთუზიაზმი არ მოჰყოლია. მას მერე 11 წელი გავიდა, თუმცა კოსოვოსგან განსხვავებით, რომელსაც 101 ქვეყანა აღიარებს, საქართველოს ამ ორი რეგიონის დამოუკიდებლობა მხოლოდ 5-მა სახელმწიფომ ცნო. რა გზას ადგას აფხაზეთი და სამხრეთ ოსეთი ამ „დამოუკიდებლობით“? […]
Одностороннее признание Россией независимости регионов Абхазии и Южной Осетии 26 августа 2008 года, которое она связывала с признанием Косово под предводительством США в начале 2008 года, не вызвало энтузиазма у международного сообщества. С тех пор прошло одиннадцать лет, но в отличие от Косово, которое признают 101 страна, независимость этих двух регионов Грузии признали только пять государств. На каком пути стоят Абхазия и Южная Осетия с этой «независимостью»? […]
In August 2019 tensions between Georgian and de facto South Ossetian authorities shifted away from the borderization at Gugutiantkari to the southwestern tip of the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) at the villages of Chorchana and Tsnelisi. The construction of a Georgian police post on Tbilisi administered territory revived a simmering territorial dispute driven by South Ossetia.
In the past, Tskhinvali laid a (historic) claim on the area. Now it came to an explicit non-physical confrontation, with Georgia de facto losing control of territory, for the moment. A series of incidents, heated rhetoric and Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meetings were some of the direct and visible elements of the dispute which is still ongoing into 2020.
According to South Ossetian authorities on 24 August 2019, the Georgian side constructed a police post near the South Ossetian controlled village of Tsnelisi, close to the ABL, and near the Yugostalk marble plant. The South Ossetian authorities called this a provocation from the Georgian side in the run-up to their “independence” celebrations. They also reported “construction of a site for equipping Georgian police facilities” in the vicinity of Sinaguri, more north. This was not confirmed at this point, but the South Ossetian side insisted on this alleged construction on 4 September.
Plenipotentiary of the President of South Ossetia for post-conflict settlement, Murat Dzhioev, said that “according to border guards, in the region of Tsnelisi village of the Znaur 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 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. South Ossetian and Russian sides however decided to leave the meeting unfinished after the Georgian side refused to agree with the ultimatum to clear their police post by August 30 6:00 AM. The Georgian government confirmed this refusal the next day.
Russian controlled military convoy visits Tsnelisi – August 2019
Georgian police lookout above the Yugostalk plant near Tsnelisi
Delineation and demarcation
Yelena Panin, a Russian Duma deputy of United Russia said“South Ossetia had always been an independent state. There is no need to talk about some kind of peaceful return of South Ossetia to Georgia, especially after the tragic events of 2008”. The Russian Foreign Ministry described the construction of the Georgian police post as “provocative actions” carried out “against the background of Tbilisi’s repeated refusal of Tskhinval’s proposal to begin negotiations on delimitation and demarcation of the border.”
In the run-up to the IPRM meeting South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov visited Tsnelisi, with a militarized entourage and additional security forces which 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 does Driaev mean with “where the border previously ran”? And was there really a “violation of the [state] border” as the South Ossetians claim? First, let’s check the map below. The location of the Georgian police post (blue) is in Tbilisi administered area. In accordance with (Georgian and international community) traditional interpretation of the Administrative Boundary Line. However, South Ossetian authorities contest the post is on their territory. This difference of interpretation of “borders” drives the South Ossetian accusations against Georgian authorities.
Territorial dispute Tsnelisi - Chorchana
The purple dashed line is the Administrative Boundary Line upheld by Georgia.
The red line indicates the "border" as claimed by South Ossetia.
Map loading, please wait ...
Archives and history
In 2018 a Commission installed by the de facto Parliament of South Ossetia performed a “historical and archival research”. It was specifically tasked to solve “the issue of the border demarcation” after alleged appeals from Tskhinvali controlled Tsnelisi village. Civil.ge cited the Georgian Reconciliation Minister Ketevan Tsikhelashvili who said “the Commission is a provocation” that could “aggravate security and humanitarian situation on the ground.” Locals however, complained parts of their village are located outside the “border of the republic”. The Commission concluded the disputed area near Tsnelisi “belongs” to South Ossetia. “It was always part of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region since its creation in 1922”. The Commission concluded among other things a fake map from 1982 was used for marking the (current de-facto) “border”.
More in the explainer below.
Parliamentary Commission on demarcation and delimitation of the borders of South Ossetia with Georgia
In June 2018 the de facto Parliament of South Ossetia created a Commission to investigate the demarcation and delimitation of the "state border with Georgia", after appeals from villagers in Tsnelisi. Locals complained parts of the village remained outside of the "border of the republic". Many villages are split by the Administrative Boundary Line, affecting both Ossetian and Georgian communities. In the case of Tsnelisi the Yugostalk quarry, currently under control of Tbilisi, is another point of dispute. Tskhinvali claims the talc and marble quarry. Local Georgian communities however fear consequences for their inter-communal life, such as connecting roads being cut. According to Tskhinvali the need to agree on and mark the "border" is proven by the "illegal border violations" (by Georgians).
Tskhinvali has frequently requested Tbilisi to jointly work on the delimitation of the boundary. But the Georgian government systematically holds that of. It does not recognize the authority nor legality of the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali. Since the abolition of the South Ossetian autonomy within the Georgian SSR in December 1990, Georgia does not recognize the former region as an administrative unit at all. For Georgia most of South Ossetia is nowadays officially part of the Shida Kartli province. However, in the current status quo situation it regards the line of control as de facto boundary. Tskhinvali currently uses a map of 1984 as base reference, regarding it incomplete. With Tbilisi refusing, Tskhinvali decided to unilaterally determine the so called "border" at Tsnelisi by starting an investigation into the (history of the) boundary and imposing the outcome on Tbilisi. This process of demarcation pushed by South Ossetia is yet an example of "borderization": the formalization and transformation of an administrative boundary into a "state border".
For six months the Commission investigated archives looking for proof where the border is supposed to run. Obviously the task was to find the territorial and political beneficial boundary line. The starting point in June 2018: “We have a decree on the formation of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region [in 1922]. In addition, there is a map used from 1931 to 1937, indicating the borders in accordance with the decree. Studying this issue it turned out that there are still places where the [current] border was drawn incorrectly”. One of the Commission members specifically stated “We have one goal, it is necessary to delimit the state border within the border of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region, and return our territories that have moved to Georgia.” The presumption is clear.
The de facto ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Ossetia remarked the current "Republic of South Ossetia" is roughly within the borders of the South Ossetian autonomy of 1922. However, the ministry went on saying “in fact, the Ossetian territory is much larger and it is simply absurd to talk about the seizure of new territories. It is necessary to talk about the annexation by Soviet Georgia of the eastern part of Ossetia, the Tyrsyg [Truso] and Kobi valleys, which the Bolsheviks illegally rejected [to the Ossetian autonomy] in favor of the newly formed Georgian SSR without the will of the Ossetian people. Definitely, Ossetians will never recognize the legitimacy of the decisions of the Bolsheviks of 1921, adopted in violation of all international norms”. Civil.ge wrote a backgrounder on this so called "Eastern Ossetia". In other words, the scope of the "correction" of the so called border is stretched to alleged historical lands beyond the original Autonomous Oblast. With one hand the Soviet imposed creation of the Oblast is used as a reference point, and with the other it is dismissed.
Also, a frequent talking point on the Ossetian side is disputing that South Ossetia was ever Georgian: "South Ossetia has never been part of Georgia except during the Soviet period from 1921 to 1990. It was the Bolsheviks who forcibly included the southern part of Ossetia into Soviet Georgia". Obviously that is the world upside down. South Ossetia only exists by the grace of the Soviets giving it a separate status within territory what has long been under Georgian rule or administration.
First things first, Tsnelisi acts as a test case. If the de facto authorities can create facts on the grounds based on the historic claims in the relatively small case of Tsnelisi, it might pursue the same elsewhere. The Commission concluded the disputed area near Tsnelisi "belongs" to South Ossetia. "It was always part of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region since its creation in 1922". A 1982 "fake map" was used for marking the (current de-facto) boundary, the Commission claims. Also, head of the Commission Tedeev told Republika RSO“We discovered a map of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region of 1927, published by typography in Russia. As well as some very interesting documents regarding the territorial demarcation of the times of the USSR. It is strange that no one paid attention to these documents before".
But history is history. And in today's world people have real problems, created by a policy of separation. Georgian Reconciliation Minister Ketevan Tsikhelashvili hit the mark: “Instead of erecting barbed wires and other restrictions, it would be better to listen to the residents of Muguti, Tsnelisi, Artsevi, Ikorta, Abrevi, Orchosani and Tsinagari [villages controlled by Tskhinvali bordering Georgia proper], where both Georgians and Ossetians are suffering and are asking for the freedom of movement, but are getting barbed wires in response”. The Commission actively contributed to separating communities and restricting freedom of movement.
South Ossetian reference map Tsnelisi/Chorchana area, source of territorial dispute
Soviet topographic map (1984) – fragment of K-38-64 depicting Tsnelisi area with administrative boundary highlighted
Soviet topographic map (1984) – Sheet K-38-64 Kareli and Znaur district
1926 Soviet Map depicting South Ossetia Autonomous Oblast
Map of Tsnelisi Forestry 1982 “fake map”
Georgian SSR ethnic composition (1931) with South Ossetia projected into the map.
Juggling with maps
Both Russian and separatist South Ossetian representatives have determined previous administrative boundaries of the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast. They are using reference material of different years for demarcation activities that suits their benefit. According to the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)
“the Russian occupational regime is planning to go back to the old administrative borders of the South Ossetian autonomous province which existed during Soviet times. In order to define the so-called borders (occupation lines) of Georgia’s occupied territories, the border-guards of the Russian Federation and the separatist regime use the topographic maps of the general staff of the Soviet military published between 1976-1986.
“First of all, there were numerous topographic maps of the Soviet general staff and they have been published throughout different times. At the same time, they differed in the way they defined the boundaries of the former South Ossetian Autonomous District. For example, to define the administrative borderline in Gori region, the Russian side uses the topographic map of 1988 which portrays the locations as of 1984.”
“Secondly, during the demarcation and establishment of the administrative border after the 2008 war, the Russian and Ossetian sides did not take into account the complex administrative outline of the South Ossetian district. As a result, much of the Georgian population lost access to the lands that they utilized on every-day basis.”
The latter sums up the complications of today’s reality.
Mandates and access
The EU Monitoring Mission has obviously been very concerned about the conflict resolution and security environment. As impartial observer and mediating party they were not dragged into the dispute itself, so far. But that was to change in September 2019. Their mandate formally covers the entire internationally recognized Georgian territory, including the de-facto separated areas. In practice the monitors observe everything from Tbilisi controlled territory, being denied access to Tskhinvali controlled territory:
Erik Hoeg, 30-08-2019: “We continue monitoring Chorchana/Tsnelisi area at the ABL. 24/7. Tonight we have 9 #EUMM monitors from 6 countries out there supported by 2 Georgian colleagues. According to regular updates from our patrols to HQ everything quiet so far.”
Early September a police post was constructed by South Ossetian troops on a hilltop in Tbilisi administered territory, overlooking Chorchana. This is the southwestern corner of territory Tskhinvali claims in this dispute (“point 17”, 944 m, see maps below and above). They also carved out an access road from Tsnelisi through the forest, up to 1.3 km into Tbilisi administered territory.
The construction of the police post coincided with an extra IPRM meeting in Ergneti called to mediate in this crisis. Both sides accused each other of illegal and provocative activities in the disputed territory. South Ossetian authorities demanded the Georgians would give up the police outlook near Tsnelisi as a condition to “remove tensions“. Which the Georgian side refuses to. Moreover, the Tskhinvali didn’t elaborate how they would “remove tensions” if the Georgians would fulfill their request.
The South Ossetian political class meanwhile requested assistance from Moscow: “The South Ossetian Parliament asks the Russian Federation Council and the State Duma to hold inter-parliamentary consultations to develop a unified policy to promote de-escalation, restore territorial integrity and ensure the security of South Ossetian citizens.”
Beginning in January this year  the Mission noted paint markings on trees in the area between Tsnelisi and Chorchana. The Mission assesses these as a feature of ‘borderisation’. However, no actor has claimed responsibility for these markings.
Between 20 and 24 August a new Georgian observation post was established on the outskirts of the village of Tsnelisi by the MIA Special Tasks Department. According to EUMM findings, the post is located some 240 metres away from the ABL and on Tbilisi-administered territory (TAT) in accordance with the traditionally understood run of the ABL in that area.
Security actors from South Ossetia have in the last week established new positions and installed a number of borderisation features, including ‘green signs’ and flags on the TAT side of the ABL as traditionally understood in this area. The features are up 1.3 kilometres beyond the ABL. In the meantime Georgian MIA units have also reinforced their presence in the Chorchana forest area.
South Ossetian Envoy to the President Murat Jioyev condemned the “illegal visits” of the EU Monitoring Mission: “EU observers are unlawfully visiting the right-bank side of the Tsnelisi settlement. They have no mandate on the territory of South Ossetia, so every visit is unlawful”. Dragging the EUMM in the conflict.
Separation of issues
The co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussion (GID) traveled to Tskhinvali to discuss the ongoing closure of crossing points by the South Ossetian side. For the South Ossetian side this closure is highly connected with the Chorchana – Tsnelisi conflict: reopening is made conditional to the Georgian removal of the police post near Tsnelisi.
Through the IPRM and GID dialogue formats international stakeholders insist on the separation of these issues. In Tskhinvali, the co-chairs of the GID were handed a decree on the establishment of the South Ossetian Autonomous District in Tskhinvali in 1922. This decree allegedly claimed that the Chorchana forest was formerly controlled by the Oblast and therefore belongs to its successor, the “Republic of South Ossetia”.
Former minister of Reconciliation and Civic Equality of Georgia Paata Zakareishvili voiced criticism towards the Georgian government: “The government’s silence is troubling, and this is contributing to the creation of various myths. Their incompetence shows that they do not know the situation and do not know how to act in the direction of conflict management, I am not talking about a solution anymore, we have no dreams, they cannot manage it”.
Effectively Zakareishvili blames the government for self-inflicted damage. He says the Georgians should not have constructed the police post without consultation at the Ergneti IPRM meetings. Regardless whether the lookout is legit on Georgian administered territory. It predictably fueled tensions and escalation from the South Ossetian side.
He said this escalation with South Ossetian police posts and borderization on Tbilisi administered territory “is an extremely dangerous and destructive act that seriously damages the security environment and poses additional problems for indigenous people on both sides of the occupation line.”
Mid October saw counter claims by activists and officials on either side of the conflict. The “Power in Unity” activist group claimed borderization was pursued by the South Ossetians in the direction of Kobi village. This was denied by the Georgian State Security Service, yet they reiterated continued “provocative activities” in the area. According to a local villager occupation forces did move across the Lamushuristskali River, which is the ABL here.
On the 24th of October a new low was hit when an EUMM patrol was stopped and held by armed South Ossetian security forces in Tbilisi administered area. This is the first time since the early days of the mission in 2008 an arrest like this happened. The statement of the mission is clear:
“The Mission is still looking into the details concerning the incident, which happened in an area understood to be on Tbilisi-Administered Territory in accordance with the traditional interpretation of the Administrative Boundary Line in that area.
Following recent security developments, EUMM has significantly increased its patrolling to support stability in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area. The EUMM is deeply concerned about cases in which armed security actors prevent EUMM Monitors from conducting their daily activities in accordance with the mandate.”
Tbilisi and the EUMM strongly denied reports by the de facto government of South Ossetia of alleged shootings near the ABL at Koda. According to them a violent confrontation took place between local villagers and Georgian authorities. Locals interviewed by Radio Tavisupleba denied such a thing took place. Below statement illustrates the vile attempt to sow division between the local Georgians and their authorities, spreading disinformation:
South Ossetian claims: “Information received by State Security Committee of Republic of South Ossetia indicates that near the border with South Ossetia in Koda on 5 November automatic weapons were associated with an armed incident between the Georgian Interior Ministry and the local Georgian population.
The cause of the conflict was discontent of Koda residents with the reinforced checkpoints of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in the area of Chorchana-Kobi-Koda-Atotsi, a general escalation of tension, as well as attempts by Georgian police officers to establish Georgian flags at the heights prevailing over the village.”
An interview on “state press agency” RES with Yuri Vazagov, Head of the Information and Analytical Office of the Presidential Administration, illustrates the confrontational stance in South Ossetia. He recommends a principled position on the territorial issue, including “strengthening the borders”, while he voiced explicit accusations against the European monitors. During his European trip South Ossetia’s de-facto minister of Foreign Affairs Dmitry Medoev said international peacekeepers are a closed chapter since the 2008 war, referring to the Tsnelisi crisis.
In a bold move, South Ossetia de facto President Anatoly Bibilov inspected the South Ossetian police post on the “944.8 height” near Chorchana, which is located on Tbilisi administered territory. Georgian authorities have effectively lost control over this height. The so called “creeping annexation” does not get more explicit. But a next chapter was added after New Year.
On 14 January 2020 South Ossetian forces reportedly started erecting “illegal installations” (fences) in the Chorchana forests. They followed the line that is the “real border” of South Ossetia according to Tskhinvali (see red line in map above). In other words: brutal unilateral annexation of territory without any dialogue or finding any resolve on the demarcation dispute. Not even considering upholding the status quo of the last decade. A hardly surprising move given the recent past. David Katsarava visualized the borderization works in the forested hills with a drone (see also Radio Tavisupleba):
Drone view of borderization by Russian controlled forces in Chorchana forest
Aerial view of the borderization by Russian controlled forces near Chorchana, March 2020. Video by David Katsarava
Georgian activists geo-located marked trees which the EUMM reported about in September 2019 (observed in January 2019). The EUMM did not identify publicly who was responsible for the markings. However, the Georgian activists drew their conclusions on who did and with which intentions in Tbilisi controlled territory.
US acting Ambassador stated in relation to the borderization initiatives: “I believe that all resources must be used to settle the issue, including the Geneva International Discussions. The US firmly supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and urges Russia to fulfill the ceasefire agreement signed with Georgia in 2008 [and withdraw its forces from the Georgian territory]”.
The checkpoint near Odzisi (Mosabruni) in Akhalgori district remained closed all this time. South Ossetian de facto President Anatoly Bibilov reiterated the condition for reopening, at a reporting meeting of the Russian FSB Border Administration in January 2020. This checkpoint is the most important of three, with up to 400-500 civilian crossings on a daily basis. It finally reopened shortly at the end of January 2020 only to allow pensioners to collect their Georgian pension, closing again 10 days later. Scheduled to reopen again in March 2020, it closed indefinitely due to the Corona virus outbreak. More on the checkpoint regime in a separate page.
On 16 April the Georgian State Security Service stated in its report the “occupying forces also used the ongoing incidents near the village of Chorchana to discriminate against ethnic Georgians living in occupied Tskhinvali”.
“Against the background of the active propaganda and disinformation campaign, the de facto regimes have linked the fake news to the restriction of movement on the occupation line. At the beginning of 2019, the so-called The so-called seasonal spread of swine flu (H1N1). To avoid danger, the movement on the occupation line was restricted for 45 days [by South Ossetian authorities]. The so-called Checkpoints and locals were isolated. In September 2019, the occupation regime once again restricted free movement on the occupation line, this time by the central government to “worsen” the security situation and link it to the developments in Chorchana. Occupying forces have been actively covering misinformation about the village of Chorchana. As part of the targeted information campaign, the occupation forces spread false news, including the mobilization of additional police forces from Tbilisi and the confrontation between the police and the population”.
During a Geneva International Discussions (GID) video conference on 13 May 2020 the de facto South Ossetian authorities reiterated “the need to withdraw the Georgian police post illegally placed near the village of Uista (Tsnelisi)”.
Disinformation by South Ossetian side
On 20 May 2020 the South Ossetian KGB released a statement accusing the EUMM mission of facilitating “Georgian side’s plans to collect biological samples in South Ossetia by illegally moving South Ossetian citizens across the state border line”, connecting this with an alleged Georgian genocidal policy and the Lugar Biolab in Tbilisi:
“The KGB of South Ossetia reported on Wednesday that the direct continuation of the South Ossetian genocide policy at the present stage is the activities in Georgia of the so-called “R. Lugar Research Center for Public Health.”, whose representatives continue the attempts to take biological material from citizens of the Republic of South Ossetia.”
It further claimed that the EUMM patrol “accompanying the Private vehicles” were part of this covert plot providing a disguise:
“The KGB has noted that, according to objective control data, both times “Private” vehicles were accompanied by two EUMM patrol cars, which ensured the secret movement of the Georgian doctors to the state border line, their disguise, protection and departure in the opposite direction.”
This allegedly happened at two locations on 26 April 2020: near the quarry and Georgian police post just outside of Tsnelisi and at a height between Chorchana and Kobe villages.
This was strongly refuted by the EUMM, declaring the accompanying vehicles were legitimate ambulances, used for many years, with full knowledge of the de facto South Ossetian authorities.
“Reports that appeared in South Ossetian media focusing on the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Georgia on 20 May 2020, made inaccurate and completely false references to the activities of the EU Monitoring Mission ( EUMM) in Georgia along the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) with South Ossetia on 26 April.
Categorically denying the false claims which are yet another example of malicious and irresponsible disinformation targeted at the Mission, we state the following:
On 26 and 27 April the Mission responded to Hotline activations regarding enquiries about ‘private vehicles’ that accompanied its patrol. In response, the Mission explained, as it does here, that the named vehicles were ambulances.
Ambulance cars have been present with EUMM patrols since its inception. They are a standard precautionary measure. It is part of our duty of care towards our staff that they accompany EUMM personnel so that they can swiftly provide the necessary help in case of need, such as a car accident. This is particularly important in remote areas where speedy medical support is difficult to obtain.
The ambulance was clearly visible. There was no secretive movement. The patrol was conducted as planned. There was no contact with any persons. There was no collection of any samples and there is no intent to do so. EUMM is a monitoring Mission, it monitors every day, including during the COVID pandemic.”
On 30 may 2020 activists of Power in Unity determined more marked trees in the Chorchana forests, allegedly in preparation of further borderization of the Tbilisi controlled area that Tskhinvali claims and attempts to occupy. Radio Tavisupleba wrote an article about it citing the State Security Service saying in a statement “every provocative act is being responded to”. Davit Katsarava commented: “We were in the Chorchana-Perevi forest massif, in the territory controlled by our government, which is probably no longer under our control. Today we have already found new landmarks that are moving in the direction of Perevi. It can be said that we followed the occupants on wet tracks. We found a special trap on one of the sections of the road, which was designed to detect if a stranger passed by on this section.” More video images and an interview can be found at VOA (in Georgian).
In line with propaganda and disinformation developments during the Covid-19 crisis, the de facto South Ossetian authorities have accused Georgia of biowarfare activities through the Lugar biolab and UAV flights. In a typical propaganda stint in line with this disinformation the KGB forces of South Ossetia performed “chemical & biological reconnaissance” in the Tsnelisi area. After Georgia performed UAV flights near Seribalta and the Yugostalk plant above Tbilisi administered territory (which SO contested was above theirs):
“The Committee has noted that, in particular, the employees of the Radiation and Chemical-Biological Protection Unit of the RSO KGB Border Service selected “soil, water, air, green cover, and various insects in order to further study them in the laboratory conditions.
In connection with the outbreak in Georgia, in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic of the Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever, as well as experiments carried out at the Lugar laboratory with bats and insects, the KGB of the Republic responsibly declares that if pathogenic microflora or disease vectors are detected in the samples taken, this fact will indicate the use of forms and methods of bioterrorism by the Tbilisi regime against South Ossetia.”
During a video conference between the new EUMM head Marek Schigol and South Ossetian delegates Yegor Kochiev and Murat Dzhioev all participants reiterated the importance of the IPRM format which meetings have not been held since August 2019. However, the South Ossetian side maintains its position on the Georgian police post near Tsnelisi and Yugostalk plant as an obstacle for progress. Obviously, the police post hinders South Ossetia in annexing the territory it claims.
According to South Ossetian KGB (17 June 2020) a Georgian police post is allegedly being constructed in the northeastern forested outskirts of Chorchana village. There was no official reaction from Georgian authorities.
“The State Security Committee has noted that in the northeastern outskirts of the settlement of Chorchana a new post of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has been constructed, the object is located in a forest belt, and at least five police officers are registered there.”
IPN and others took notice of the Ossetian claims. However, RFE/RL reports based on Power in Unity civil patrols and experts this is malign disinformation of the South Ossetian side to provoke and expect further escalation:
Teona Akubardia, a former deputy secretary of the Security Council of Georgia and a security analyst: “The first goal is to raise the temperature of this community and, despite the pandemic, to maintain a constant high temperature in relation to this community. The users of this topic, first of all, are the internal audience, the population living in the occupied region of Tskhinvali. The second direction is to put pressure on the Georgian government and ignore these issues during the pre-election period. The risks, of course, are for the national security of the country. “
The South Ossetian State Security Service also mentioned the activities of Power in Unity which identified “marked trees” (see above). The Georgian activists say these are marked by “occupation forces” (Russian/South Ossetian) and are a precursor to further borderization in Tbilisi controlled territory. The South Ossetian de facto security authorities however, twist this around: they claim this is a precursor to Georgian activities in the area they claim is theirs. Referring to 2019 when tree markings were “observed” followed by construction of a Georgian police post:
“So, on the state border section, in the area of the village of Uista (Tsnelis), the Georgian side is trying to simulate the situation that preceded the unlawful post of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs in August 2019. In a forest located in the area of the village of Chorchana of the Khashur municipality are recorded marks and symbols made by paint on trees. In 2019, the Tbilisi regime, before the start of the “Tsnelis crisis,” held a similar event, presenting the marking of the area as an activity of the Border Service of the RSO KGB, after which the illegal post of the Georgian law enforcement agencies was installed”.
On 20 June 2020Mtavari TVjoined a civil patrol in the Chorchana forested areas by the Power in Unity group (Georgian language only)
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”.
Annually hundreds of Georgians get arrested in a similar fashion, but this incident is extra highlighted by the unusual high number of involved people.
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.
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.
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.
Based on reports by Civil.ge, Agenda, IPN, public TV Channel 1TV, and many others. Information resources are linked in the text. This is a continuing story, most recent updates are in the bottom.
The borderization works in Gugutiantkari included installing fences and barbed wire, and are located 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.
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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 recordings by David Katsarava, in which military (border guards) activity is clearly visible. In the opening of the video the Russian FSB “border guard” base and its proximity to Gugutiantkari is clearly visible.
Aerial view of the borderization by Russian controlled forces at Gugutiantkari, August 2019. Video by David Katsarava
Aerial view of the borderization by Russian controlled forces at Gugutiantkari, August 2019. Video by David Katsarava
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
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)
“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.
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.
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”.
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.
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
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. The Meeting turned into further escalation of tensions from the South Ossetian and Russian side, potentially derailing the IPRM format alltogether (being unilaterally cancelled). The border dispute near the villages of (South Ossetian controlled) Tsnelisi and (Georgian controlled) Chorchana was forced by the South Ossetian side. A separate page has been dedicated to that.
Nothing much happened in September, but the humanitarian impact was illustrated by the Razmadze family, that was forced out of their house as result of the borderization. Millionaire Mamuka Khazaradze, co-founder of the TBC Bank, offered a cottage to be build, but the family can’t find a suitable plot of land in the municipality.