Category
South Ossetia

Checkpoint regime South Ossetia

The de facto authorities of South Ossetia close crossing points towards Tbilisi controlled Georgia frequently for a variety of reasons. In every instance it directly hinders freedom of movement principles, which is precisely the aim of the closures. Typically “security reasons” are cited, but by far most of the time there is no imminent threat at play.

This page follows developments of crossing point closures (and reopening) to provide insight in scale and impact on humanitarian circumstances such as medical aid and so on. It reads with most recent update on top, as a monthly summary.  

Map: overview checkpoints South Ossetia
There are five crossing points for passage of locals between South Ossetia and Tbilisi controlled Georgia.  Two of them have been permanently closed in recent times: Ergneti and Khelchua. The three others have become target of whimsical closures. Since 2018 the Odzisi (or "Razdakhan") crossing near Akhalgori is a so called "customs checkpoint". An obvious attempt of South Ossetia to establish an "(international) state border". This is the most used crossing due to its proximity to Tbilisi, with roughly 400 civilians passing per day under normal circumstances according to European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) sources.

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2020

July 2020

A 40 year old Georgian citizen living in Akhalgori died in hospital after having been denied access to Tbilisi controlled territory by South  Ossetia de facto authorities. Local doctors could not diagnose him for two days in Akhalgori hospital, Radio Tavisupleba explains, before he was transported in unconscious condition to the Tskhinvali hospital. South Ossetia de facto authorities keep the crossing point near Akhalgori closed for citizens seeking (urgent) medical aid, which has cost the life of various citizens.

On the 24th of July the de facto authorities stated the crossing points will remain closed indefinitely. Reasons given are the “epidemiological situation in Georgia” and the conflict in Tsnelisi. The claims on “medical emergencies” sound hollow when reading about the death due to unwillingness to fulfill the patients request earlier that month.

The timing is not a coincidence. All sides agreed to resume the EUMM facilitated IPRM meetings in Ergneti on 30 July. Clearly the South Ossetian side is pushing their agenda point where they left it last year when the last meeting was held.

Also, on the 28th of July the de facto authorities announced the Roki border checkpoint at the Russian border will remain closed for regular traffic until at least 31 August, citing the Covid-19 situation in Russia. President Bibilov said:

“The situation in North Ossetia does not give us the opportunity to relax. Until we are confident in the safety of our citizens, we have no right to endanger their lives. I think that the road should be closed in August,”

June 2020

South Ossetia de facto authorities decided on 23 June to extend the border regime with Russia until 31 July.

May 2020

The first COVID-19 infections in South Ossetia were detected on 6 May, increasing within 24 hours to a dozen persons. As they all recently arrived from Russia, it prompted the de facto authorities to fully close the border with Russia until initially at least 17 May.  This includes trucks as well, meaning supply of food and other commodities wil be halted until 17 May:

“A temporary ban on border crossing applies to all citizens without exception. The ban also applies to trucks.  As noted by President Anatoly Bibilov, “the Republic needs time to quarantine, inspect, and provide necessary assistance to arriving citizens, including a large group of cadets of military universities.”

Most of the infected persons are related to the Russian military education, cadets from military universities. The checkpoints with Georgia proper remain closed since February. On 15 may the de facto announced the Russian border remains closed until 25 May, except for certain categories for which special rules apply, while introducing a schedule for goods to pass through the border checkpoint. On 22 May this was extended to 30 June 2020.  A day earlier, regional President Bibilov said the [border] will open completely only after the situation in North Ossetia stabilizes, where the pandemic has hit hard.

During a Geneva International Discussions (GID) video conference the de facto South Ossetian authorities declared “humanitarian assistance to South Ossetia by international organizations could be accepted with gratitude, in case it is delivered to South Ossetia via the existing transport communications through the territory of the Russian Federation”. In other words, not via checkpoints from Georgian controlled territory, which is faster and shorter to deliver goods (from Tbilisi).

March – April 2020

The global corona-virus outbreak in winter 2020 didn’t pass South Ossetia unnoticed. One of the first measures taken was closing the checkpoints as far as they weren’t closed already (see February paragraph below) further restricting life for Georgians in the region.

Residents of South Ossetia in Tbilisi administered territory when the checkpoints closed, were allowed to travel back to the region through the Odzisi-Akhalgori checkpoint where they are put in 14-day quarantaine.  The same is applied to people who are detained for violating the border regime.

Due to Russian border restrictions to curb the influx of corona-virus infections, only Russian passport holders can travel to Russia from the region, effective 18 March. The Russian diplomatic mission in Tskhinvali won’t issue travel documents to non-Russian nationals and stateless persons. This will affect the Georgian community in South Ossetia who could travel to Georgia-proper via Russia, getting effectively locked in.

Georgian community

Amidst all this, the regional de facto deputy minister of Health paid a visit to the predominantly Georgian community in Sinaguri and Karzmani who are affected by the closure of the checkpoint which was their only gateway to the Georgian town of Perevi. The visit had the aim to give mental support to the local community, deliver extra medicines,  but also to explain why the checkpoint had to close: to protect them against the corona virus threat.

The head of the administration of the Dzau distric, Andrei Dzhioev said “the closure of checkpoints, including Sinaguri-Karzmani, is a necessary precaution to protect our republic from the virus. Cases of infection have already been recorded in neighboring Georgia. Many of you traveled to Georgia with special passes, but now the movement of residents of mountain villages across the state border is prohibited. We understand that you have relatives there, children, but today we cannot open the border, we cannot let people in, either from this side or from the neighboring state. We must protect ourselves from this danger”.

 A resident of Sinaguri: “I used to go to Georgia with my family, now I find out how they do business only by telephone. We are already used to that checkpoints are often closed. I mainly stock up on food there, because it’s cheaper and there is everything. It will be difficult, but it’s better to wait out for your own safety”.

Meanwhile, the Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia offered to “help Georgian citizens on the occupied territories wherever possible”. This offer was (cynically) rejected by both the Abkhazian and South Ossetian authorities. South Ossetia’s Foreign Minister, Dmitry Medoyev, accused Georgia of “using a problem like the coronavirus for public relations” instead of treating infected Georgians.

South Ossetian citizens

In April, South Ossetian authorities allowed limited numbers of citizens to enter the region from Russia via the Roki checkpoint under strict conditions. The Roki checkpoint was fully closed for a week for all traffic from 4 to 12 April, but resumed limited operations until at least 1 May.  Due to the escalating pandemic situation in Russia, the South Ossetian authorities keep tight control of goods being transported across the border into the region. This has resulted in shortages of food supply as the boundary with the rest of Georgia is kept completely closed.

The situation has also led to an increase in smuggling activities across the boundary line according to South Ossetian de facto authorities, specifically medicines and food supplies. The de facto authorities spin this away from their own policies, by accusing Georgian authorities of trying to import the Covid-19 virus into the region.  Something they have repeatedly stated, despite the fact the real pandemic danger lies in Russia, and neighbouring North Ossetia-Alania region.

Roki checkpoint
Roki checkpoint: border with Russia
February 2020

Despite the hopeful – yet temporary – reopening of Odzisi – Akhalgori crossing point in late January, 18 Georgian NGO’s urged international actors to increase pressure on Russia regarding the crossing points. In an open letter they stated:

“We, the Georgian civil society organizations, believe all of this amounts to grave violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, and elicits calls for immediate action.

It is therefore, that we call upon the international community to increase pressure on the Russian Federation, as the power exercising effective control over the areas, to immediately reopen the closed crossing point in Akhalgori, to cease arbitrary detention of civilians across the occupation line and to allow international monitoring missions unimpeded access to the occupied territories.”

On the 5th of February, a 60 year old woman who got seriously injured after falling into a well in November 2019, was finally allowed to leave South Ossetia to get proper treatment.

Meanwhile the Georgian government raised the profile of the boundary closures: not only Georgians are held hostage by the closure, Ossetians are too. State Minister for Reconciliation  Ketevan Tsikhelashvili expressed a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Akhalgori district due to the ongoing restrictions, as did the President.

That didn’t impress the South Ossetian side: they closed the Odzisi-Akhalgori crossing point again on the 7th of February, without specifying when it will open again. Earlier they indicated the crossing point will open every two months for pensioners to collect their pension in Tbilisi administered territory. Local Georgian activist Tamar Mearakishvili  shared pictures of a dead empty Akhalgori town.

Akhalgori
Abandoned streets of Akhalgori (Photo: Tamara Mearakishvili)

In EkhoKavkaza an article appeared based on a publication by Tbilisi based Democracy Research Institute on an alleged closure of the Sinaguri crossing point. This is the sole crossing point open at the moment of writing between South Ossetia and Tbilisi administered territory. This would affect the (ethnic) Georgian community in the Akhalgori district the most. It would mean that they would get entirely cut off from interaction with their relatives in Tbilisi administered territory.

Due to corona-virus in Georgia, the closure of all checkpoints to Tbilisi administered territory was officially announced by the South Ossetian leadership on the 27th of February. Effectively only the checkpoint near Karzmani was still open, Odzisi and Sinagur were already closed. Earlier rumors about pending closure of Karzmani mentioned unsafe road conditions. The Deputy Minister of Health of South Ossetia indicated a few days later during a visit to Sinaguri and Karzmani, the closure will be as long as corona virus infections are present in Georgia.

January 2020

The Perevi-Kardzmani crossing point reopened on the 3rd of January. It was closed since 30th of December due to New Year “security”. The two crossing points at Sinaguri and Akhalgori remained closed as result of the continuing dispute over Tsnelisi/Chorchana.  South Ossetia de-facto President Anatoly Bibilov reiterated that once more in January.

Akhalgori resident and activist Tamar Mearakishvili urged Georgian authorities to apply to European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to ensure their freedom of movement from South Ossetia to Tbilisi. According to her 10 people died since September 2019 as they were not allowed to be transported to Tbilisi for medical aid. The travel from Akhalgori to Tbilisi via Sinaguri is very time consuming (up to 9 hours), difficult and expensive.  Ordinarily travel time should not take more than 1 hour. International pressure was also applied by the US Chargé d’Affaires, Elizabeth Rood.

In the last week of January, a little breakthrough was achieved regarding the closed crossing points. After 142 days of closure, de facto authorities of South Ossetia temporarily allowed pensioners and seriously ill to pass through the Odzisi – Akhalgori checkpoint. Among other rules, they got ten days to collect their pension Tbilisi controlled territory. About 300 residents of Akhalgori district got a pass. The step was welcomed by the EUMM:

“At EUMM  we are pleased that the Odzisi crossing point is open today. We call for it to be opened every day. There should be no restriction on freedom of movement, especially on the vulnerable conflict-affected population”

South Ossetia’s “state press agency” RES used the occasion for a propaganda piece.

Odzisi / Akhalgori checkpoint reopened
Odzisi – Akhalgori crossing point reopened on 24 January 2020 (Photo: EUMM)

2019

December 2019

In early December a decree was accepted by the Security Council of South Ossetia to give permission to travel to Tbilisi controlled territory through the Odzisi – Akhalgori checkpoint for medical emergency and other advanced medical assistance.  This only applied to persons who do not have South Ossetian or Russian citizenship. In other words, geared towards the Georgian community in the Akhalgori district.

The Perevi-Kartsmani checkpoint was ‘temporarily closed due to increased security threats in New Year days.’ At the time it was the  only open crossing point with the rest of Georgia. It reopened on January 3, 2020.

November 2019

On the 3rd of November it was  reported by Agenda and others “a 60-year-old teacher, Tamar Gigauri, fell into a well of seven meters deep in Akhalgori” and got seriously injured. Her relatives and the district’s governor demanded she should be transported to Tbilisi hospital, but the de-facto regime planned to transport the patient to Tskhinvali hospital, a more complicated transport.

Subsequently, Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions called for immediate re-opening of all crossing points on the ABL:

“Recent months have seen a serious deterioration of the security situation on the ground, which has raised fears amongst the local population….The ongoing closure of crossing points is aggravating an already difficult situation, as illustrated by recent medical cases, with a severe impact on the local conflict-affected population”

The German Embassy chimed in with a fitting remark: “borders which are based on inhumanity will never last long“, urging Russia and its controlled de facto government of Tskhinvali to recall why the Berlin Wall collapsed.

Tbilisi based Democracy Research Institute reported on 15 November Tamar Gigauri’s health condition deteriorates and urges all sides to get her transported to a Tbilisi hospital.

On 7 November, Democracy Research Institute reported the death of a 49-year-old Georgian citizen in Akhalgori hospital due to closed crossing points towards Tbilisi controlled territory, making transport to Tbilisi impossible.

October 2019

In late October, the Ossetian side reiterated their previous claims a new Georgian police post was under construction near Sinaguri close to the ABL. The Georgian State Security Service explained an existing post between Perevi and Sinaguri is being moved a few hundred metres.

“People are able to cross the occupation line at the village only on foot and then they have to walk a long distance to the police checkpoint. To ease their movement, the checkpoint will be relocated and work has been launched for this. The de facto Tskhinvali leadership was informed regarding the change in May 2018 and afterwards, during several Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meetings.”

On the 28th of October information was released a 70 year old Georgian woman from Ikorta, Akhalgori in South Ossetia deceased in Tskhinvali hospital. After a stroke she was refused passage through the Akhalgori checkpoint to be transported to Tbilisi, where her relatives live. The checkpoint closed earlier over the tensions at the villages of Tsnelisi and Chorchana.

In a vile editorial piece on South Ossetian “state press agency” RES this tragedy was held against the Georgians: they were to blame for the checkpoint closure preventing passage of emergency transport.

This tragedy became illustrative of the degrading humanitarian situation in South Ossetia in 2019, when crossing points closed structurally. Both the EUMM, the European Union and the United States issued statements on the matter.

State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili released a strong statement demanding the Odzisi – Akhalgori checkpoint to be reopened, as basic human rights are critically at stake.

September 2019

As result of the escalating tensions over the Chorchana / Tsnelisi area, the South Ossetian side “temporarily” closed various crossing points to Georgia proper, most noteworthy the Odzisi – Akhalgori checkpoint. Out of the few “official” crossing points this is the most important one: hundreds of civilians cross the ABL here on a daily base.

The checkpoints have a “tradition” of being closed over celebrations and other occasions in South Ossetia as a way to “legitimze” the closures for “security reasons”.  On 4 September the South Ossetian side initially closed the checkpoints until 6 September because of “Knowledge Day”. But the real reason was the conflict over Chorchana: South Ossetian officials frequently made comments linking the two. On the 9th of September they announced indefinite closure due to “escalation of tension at certain sections of the border with Georgia”.

The Akhalgori district in South Ossetia is home to most of the Georgian community still residing in the region. The  closure has an impact on both market trade, school bound travel, family visits and medical assistance. Mid september the checkpoint between Perevi and Kartsmani was closed as well, effectively closing South Ossetia from Georgia proper.

The closure of the checkpoints as well as the Chorchana crisis have been a central talking point at IPRM meetings in Ergneti since the beginning of September. Also, co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussion (GID) traveled to Tskhinvali to discuss the continued closure of crossing points by the South Ossetian side.  For the South Ossetian side this closure is highly connected with the Chorchana – Tsnelisi conflict: they are only prepared to revoke this measure when the Georgian side removes the police post near Tsnelisi which started this conflict. The international fora, through the IPRM and the GID, insisted on separation of these issues. At the end of September Georgian public turmoil was aroused when a mother was not allowed to leave the Akhalgori district to mourn her deceased son in Tbilisi-administered territory.

August 2019:

Between 6 August 8 pm and 9 August 6 am the de-facto authorities of South Ossetia region temporarily closed the “border crossings” with mainland Georgia. This was in relation to events held in South Ossetia to “mark the 11th anniversary” of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in the region in 2008.

Closure of crossing points between 25th and 27th of August due to “festivities dedicated to the 11th anniversary of the recognition of South Ossetia’s independence”

June 2019

Due to “parliamentary elections” scheduled for 9 June 2019, the South Ossetian de facto authorities temporarily closed the crossing-points connecting with the rest of Georgia. Crossings into the region were temporarily banned for three days from 8 June 6 am until 11 June 6 am.

At the end of June the South Ossetian leadership announced changes to rules for crossing the boundary line. The reason given was a twofold increase of “illegal border crossings” in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018.  “As of 24 June 2019, 164 individuals have been held accountable for violating the border rules, while the figure stood at 78 in the same period of 2018,”  the State Security Committee of South Ossetia reported.

The changes apply both to people who want to leave or enter the region. If residents of South Ossetia want to conduct economic activity at “border areas” (like farming), they must notify the security agency beforehand. If locals have to host people from other regions of Georgia, they will have to notify the same agency to allow passes for the visitors.

May 2019

The de facto leadership of South Ossetia region announced it would close the so called border with Georgia for two days, due to May 9 celebrations: “In connection with the provision of security measures during the events dedicated to the 74th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War, from 8 pm on May 8, 2019, the border with Georgia will be closed.”

The crossing points were again closed between 19 May 8pm and 21 May 6am by the South Ossetian de-facto authorities. They strengthened security measures around the anniversary of a tragedy during the 1991-92 civil war. On 20 May 1992, 33 people including women and children died in a shooting en-route between Java and Tskhinvali. Local authorities blame ethnic Georgians for the tragedy, although an investigation never took place.

April 2019

In April the de-facto authorities of South Ossetia changed the procedure for residents of the Akhalgori district to visit the rest of Georgia. Before a “passport” of South Ossetia was sufficient, but now people will have to get special passes. Civic activist Tamara Mearakishvili living in Akhalgori said the step aims to further hamper and complicate the free movement of locals.

January – March 2019

Over the holiday season of 2018 a minor outbreak of the H1N1 “Swine flu” took place in Georgia. This didn’t expand into an epidemic, according to both the norms of the Georgian Center of Disease Control and World Health Organization (WHO). Yet, the two de-facto occupied regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia decided to close their so-called border with the rest of Georgia to “avoid the spread of H1NI”.

Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili criticised the decision essentially saying this  is a politicized action restricting the freedom of movement of people who are dependent on the open border. She said there is no epidemic, the flu goes around in other countries as well (such as Russia) while no access restrictions apply to those people.

Despite international pressure from the EUMM and others the crossing points were not reopened in January. South Ossetia only temporarily reopened for three days the crossing points on 20 February, to allow up to 200 residents to leave the district. Students and people seeking medical attention are among the most affected by the long closure.

EUMM patrol and commuters in Perevi area at South Ossetian ABL. (photo: Erik Hoeg, EUMM)
Erik Hoeg, EUMM: “EUMM patrol and commuters in Perevi area at South Ossetian ABL. All crossing points, essential for local communities, closed again from this morning – after 3 days (20-22 FEB) during which 150+ persons on special list exited South Ossetia” (photo: Erik Hoeg)

Only on 15th of March, more than two months after the closure, the crossing points of South Ossetia were reopened.  Something the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions welcomed, in a statement, which leaves no doubt on the lack of justification to restrict the movement of people in such matter:

“The Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions welcome the reopening of crossing points on 15 March. However, they also reiterate their conviction that the closure was not justified. They have made this position clear through continuous engagement since the first day of the closure on 12 January […].

The Co-Chairs have taken note of the public health concerns voiced and, for this reason, have referred to the World Health Organization (WHO), which is the competent international body on such issues. The WHO’s position is that closing crossing points offers no public health benefits.

Therefore, the Co-Chairs have on numerous occasions restated their firm view that freedom of movement as a basic human right should always be upheld. They have stressed in particular the impact of the closure on people’s lives and have expressed the hope that in any future similar situation both the IPRM and the hotline would be fully used in order to avoid imposing undue hardship on the population.”

2018

December 2018

On 26 December the de facto cabinet of ministers of South Ossetia amended rules for “crossing the state border with Georgia”, agency RES reported. To date it was possible to cross into Tbilisi controlled territory in a simplified manner either using the passport of South Ossetia or a special pass. Now it will only be possible to pass the boundary with a special permit (which needs to be applied for separately).

Georgian Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili commented“The decision, which concerns the introduction of special passes for crossing the so-called border particularly affect ethnic Ossetians who live in remote villages and vitally need contact with the rest of Georgia to meet their everyday needs. People already visit Georgian-administered territories via Russia, and the complication of movement is something that makes them do this. The recent decision is another message that the occupation regime works against everyone, Ossetians among them. We should oppose such decisions by further enhancing contacts and more development.”

From 30 December 8 pm till 2 January 6 am the crossing points of South Ossetia closed “in connection with the strengthening of security measures on the eve of the New Year”, the South Ossetian KGB press service reported. 

November 2018

Similarly to October, due to the Presidential elections in Georgia (2nd round runoff) the crossing points of South Ossetia will be closed from 27 November 8 pm until 29 November 6 am, the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali announced, saying it is a “security measure”.

October 2018

Due to the Presidential elections in Georgia crossing points of South Ossetia will be closed from 27 October 8 pm until 29 October 6 am, the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali announced.

September 2018

Due to the “28th anniversary of the Republic of South Ossetia” crossing points with mainland Georgia were closed from 19 September 8 pm until 21 September 6 am, according to the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali.

This date commemorates that on 20 September 1990 the Council of People's Deputies of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region of the Georgian SSR proclaimed the South Ossetian Soviet Republic (SOSR) as part of the USSR. As a result of which the Georgian SSR revoked the autonomy on 10 December 1990. Soviet leader Gorbachev decreed both decisions void, which the South Ossetian Council of People's Deputies followed up by annulling the SOSR declaration on 4 May 1991, returning to the Autonomous Oblast status. Which the Ossetians overturned again the following September. Georgia had declared itself independent on 26 May 1991, including the territory of South Ossetia which it refused its autonomy. With the step in September the Ossetians tried to officially return into what was left of the crumbling Soviet Union.  

On 21 December 1991 when the Soviet Union was just short of officially buried, the regional Council of People's Deputies declared the "independence of the Republic of South Ossetia", which was affirmed in a referendum vote in January 1992 with the prospect of "reunification with Russia" as 2nd option. On August 26, 2008, the independence of the Republic of South Ossetia was recognized by Russia. The de facto authorities in South Ossetia see the original date of 20 September 1990 as the starting point of their "independent republic". 
August 2018

Due to the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Russian-Georgian the crossing points with mainland Georgia closed from 6 August 8 pm until 9 August 6 am, the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali announced.

Due to the Recognition Day of South Ossetia the crossing points with mainland Georgia closed from 25 August 8 pm until 27 August 6 am, the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali announced.

July 2018

The South Ossetian State Customs Committee stated in July 2018 “customs officers and border guards stopped three attempts to smuggle home wine from Georgia to South Ossetia” in the first half year. The “offenders” were subjected to administrative fines.

May 2018

The de facto leadership of South Ossetia region announced it would close the so called border with Georgia for two days, due to 9 May celebrations. The checkpoints will be closed at 7 May 8 pm and will open at 8 pm on 10 May.

The US State Department commented “these closures coincide with Georgia’s celebration of Victory Day and restrict freedom of movement for residents living on both sides of the administrative boundary line.”

The checkpoints were again closed from May 25 to May 27 due to “increased security measures during graduation evenings in schools”, the South Ossetian State Security Committee said.

April 2018

Due to the so alleged threat of the spread of infections driving cattle from Georgia into South Ossetia is prohibited by the South Ossetia Agricultural Supervision, President of the Republic Anatoly Bibilov said on 27 April 2018. Traditionally cattle is driven across the boundary for summer and winter season. This restricts the options of local farmers in Tbilisi controlled territory to whom this measure is directed: “we are talking about livestock owned by residents of Georgia, who negotiate with the population of the Leningor [Akhalgori] region and use pastures in South Ossetia for their own benefit”.

March 2018

Due to the Presidential elections in Russia the crossing points of South Ossetia with Tbilisi controlled territory will be closed from 17 March 9 pm until 19 March 6 am, the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali announced, saying it is a “security measure”.

January 2018

In January 2018, the South Ossetian de facto authorities opened a so called “customs station” at the location of the Akhalgori – Odzisi crossing point (called Razdakhan in South Ossetia). The Georgian government protested this move, as “yet another illegal step towards the factual annexation of these regions”.  The OSCE also condemned the move. This is another example of establishing a so called “(international) state border”, by imposing customs control on economic goods between Tskhinvali and Tbilisi controlled territory.

Customs officials said: “In total, 18 people work at the customs post. For personal use, citizens can carry up to 50 kg, and for trade up to three tons of goods. We weigh the goods, products up to 50 kilograms can be transported through the customs post free of charge, for the goods of larger mass you need to pay a fee according to the established prices. Mostly fruits and vegetables are transported. The nitrate content is determined on site by a special device, after the quarantine service gives an opinion, the product is let through or sent back.”

Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance  Rosselkhoznadzor said “a list of goods that are forbidden to be imported into the republic from Georgia is defined. All meat and dairy products are included in this list. As for plant products, there are no problems with them when importing. The restriction on the import of livestock products was introduced in order to protect against infectious agents. We do not yet have the opportunity to take a sample of meat and dairy products on site and conduct appropriate analyzes”.

Borderization and territorial claims South Ossetia

Borderization refers to the construction of physical barriers to transform a territorial ceasefire line into an international border.”

While there are various ways to implement this so called “borderization”, this page focuses on the construction of physical barriers such as fences, barbed wire and border signs outside of the crossing points. Other aspects of borderization are upholding a border regime (arrest and detention of so called “tresspassers”) and formalizing and limiting the passage through the “border checkpoints”. All these aspects have an impact on humanitarian circumstances such as freedom of movement.

Note: anything on the Chorchana – Tsnelisi territorial conflict and borderization at that location can be found in its own page.

Direct links to  2018, 2019 or 2020. An introduction in the subject of borderization can be found by opening below green bar.

Overview of borderization
South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast

The current administrative boundary line (ABL) and de-facto "border" of South Ossetia finds its origins in the creation of the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast (province) within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922. The autonomy was a reward for Ossetian Bolshevik loyalty against the Georgian Mensheviks in the Soviet conquest of the independent Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1921. When the administrative boundary was drawn in the early 1920's the area included many (ethnic) Georgian villages and lands within the region, despite protests at the time. In December 1990 the Georgian SSR abolished the regional autonomy. The following civil war of 1991-92 and Russian-Georgian war of 2008 rid the region of most Georgians. But pockets still remain, mostly in Akhalgori district and along the fringes of the ABL.

Borderization

After the devastating 2008 war Russia started to "borderize" the region. It recognized the self-declared independence of the region, and thus assisted with creating a "state border". First it set up a string of FSB "border guard" compounds close to the ABL, and from 2011 physical barriers were gradually installed. This included the construction of fences and barbed wires cutting through farmland, villages and yards of residents, separating communities from each other. Apart from the creation of a "state border", every move in this direction touches a nerve in Georgian society. Which is easily exploited as a push factor. But also not in the least by the Georgian government as well to by raising awareness to the international community.

Most recently, in the summer of 2019, this led to a major crisis around the village of Gugutiantkari. In intimidating moves, the green border signs and fences frequently inch farther into the Tbilisi controlled and administered land, sometimes just 100 meter, sometimes a kilometer. This expansion, and territorial annexation was seen most recently during the Chorchana - Tsnelisi crisis in the summer of 2019, which continues unresolved well into 2020. This spat, just like other incidents, is essentially a dispute the exact line of the ABL, while both sides use different (often Soviet) maps as reference. The South Ossetian and Russian side use the incidents to force Georgia into negotiations on formalizing the boundary (or "state border"). 

 

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Below in descending chronological order developments of the borderization of the Administrative Boundary Line of South Ossetia.

2020

July

On 1 July 2020 Georgian civil activists monitoring the boundary area have determined so called “border” signs were placed on the east bank of the Ghebura River between Perevi and Sinaguri as early as 2014 without public knowledge. They talked to local residents and asked them “is there a place in or around Perevi where you used to enter before, after the 2008 war which you can’t enter from some point?

They pointed to the land across the Ghebura river, to which they have no access anymore since 2014.  The new de facto boundary (or occupation) line has moved until 970 meters deep in Tbilisi controlled controlled area until the Ghebura river, a total surface of 2.43 square km. According to the activists the Georgian authorities never communicated about this.

In this area the Administrative Boundary Line runs away from the river. As can be seen by many reference sources, also the last Soviet era staff maps (of 1989), this area is outside of the ABL. There is nothing here, such as villages, that would justify South Ossetia’s claim to this area. In fact, in this area a Georgian community lives on both sides of the ABL, which is why there are two (currently closed) crossing points. The situation is reminiscent of the Tsnelisi conflict.

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The South Ossetian de facto authorities stated on 6 July they will “strengthen control over the state of the state border regime”. Together with Russia, “joint activities aimed at preventing crime related to the border area” will be conducted. In other words: more repression and detentions can be expected. An appeal to residents of boundary settlements urging them “to immediately inform law enforcement agencies about the violators of the so-called state border and do not come into contact with them”.

In a rather ironic statement, the South Ossetian de facto authorities complimented on 8 July Georgian “Strength in Unity” civil activists with their work, meanwhile suggesting the activists inform the South Ossetian de facto authorities:

“[…] the Tbilisi regime has hindered the activities of independent NGOs in obtaining objective information about the processes taking place on the state border of South Ossetia and Georgia. Earlier, through the capabilities of patriotic representatives of Georgian NGOs, the State Security Committee of South Ossetia regularly received objective information about the situation in the border region. [The Committee] positively assesses the informational work of Georgian NGOs and the activity of their leaders “in the direction of objective coverage of the actions of the special bodies of the Tbilisi regime and their Western owners.”

Of course, the leader of the activists Davit Katsarava was asked for a reaction. He rebutted the statement of the de facto South Ossetian regime as a way to discredit their work.

“In this statement, they seem to be praising us, and all this is being done purposefully, because I and my team are being discredited, and the occupation regime is actively trying to do that. [….] For exactly three years, we have been covering what is happening along the occupation line and trying to make the public aware of what the government is hiding. Unfortunately, it turned out that the government is directly cooperating with Russia and in fact we are lustrating all this. This creates serious discomfort for both Russia and the occupation regime, as well as for the Georgian government. By its inaction, the government is helping Russia to seize land, and we are talking about that openly. Earlier the same regime criticized us, called for destructive force, and demanded our neutralization, and now it seems that the tactics have changed.”

On 25th July the “Strength in Unity” activist group ran into an argument with Georgian police when they were establishing coordinates of “border” signs recently put up by Russian controlled forces, near Takhtisdziri.  Reportedly Russian forces were nearby ready to arrest and detain the group. The police accused the group of provocation staying in the occupied territories, which activist leader Katsarava categorically denied. He assessed the accusations of the Georgian law enforcers as cooperation with the occupation forces. Borderization in this area resumed in mid-April. Since then local farmers cannot access their arable land.

According to the activists the de facto border (or “occupation line”) has been moved 75 meters into Tbilisi controlled territory (see pictures below). It has to be noted that the ABL on Google Maps is not a formally legit nor 100% accurate reference. Nevertheless, local farmers have undeniably been cut of from accessing their land.

A few days later the South Ossetian authorities chimed in, distorting the situation as if a “Georgian intelligence group” in the “uniform of Georgian police” tried to penetrate South Ossetian territory. It also goes on saying – as more often recently – the EUMM is conspiring with the Georgian police in such “provocative and destructive activities”. 

 

June

South Ossetian de facto authorities accused Georgian authorities on 4 June 2020 of “violation of airspace of the Republic by Georgian drones” along the ABL between the villages Tsnelisi/Uista and Okona. The linked press statement contains yet another propaganda and disinformation offensive with all the main talking points of the last period. The de facto authorities accused the Georgians of spreading diseases via UAV’s, directly connecting this with the Lugar biolab and the US once again:

“Considering the available information on the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the United States capable of spreading infected insects, as well as the Lugar’s laboratory conducting a whole range of studies related to infected mosquitoes, the resurgent cases of the appearance of Georgian drones over the territory of South Ossetia are of particular concern.  In mid-May, residents of the village of Khando of the Akhalkalaki municipality had found a large number of dead birds near the village, unloaded from trucks by unknown people in protective uniforms and masks. 

“This fact caused concern among the local population, because earlier – in April, 2020 an outbreak of Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever was recorded in the municipality, which led to a mor of ​​poultry and livestock. The first case of the mentioned epidemiological disease in Georgia was recorded in 2014 (34 people fell ill, 3 died). The spread of the infection coincided in time with the beginning of the “study of the causative agent of this disease” in the center of Lugar in Tbilisi.” 

“In addition, the KGB draws attention to the counterproductive actions of the Georgian side to establish a new modular design in the territory of the post of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in the village of Odzisi, the Khashur municipality, in which it is planned to place a medical unit equipped with special equipment designed to collect biological material from citizens of South Ossetians of the Georgian nationality, followed by its sending to the Lugar laboratory. This decision was made after May 1, 2020 when the US Ambassador to Georgia K. Degnan and Deputy head of the State Security Service of Georgia, curator of the South Ossetian direction of the Service, A. Khodzhevanishvili, visited this settlement.”

On 7 June 2020 Formula News reported about new watchtower works near Atotsi by South Ossetian forces, while Georgian activists monitoring this were according to them obstructed by Georgian authorities in releasing this information.

According to activists on 20 June, locals told new barbed wires were installed near Sakorintlo village. This has not been confirmed by other sources: according to the activists themselves, police still does not allow journalists or civil activists to enter the area to either confirm the veracity of this information or to deny it.

Sakorintlo borderization 20-06-2020
Sakorintlo borderization 20-06-2020 (Source)

On 23 June 2020 the South Ossetian de facto authorities said “the Georgian side is completing the equipment of the post of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, set up opposite the village of Sinagur[i]”. Also they claimed “hundreds of disposed tires buried in the ground to erect the perimeter […which is] nothing more than an act of environmental terrorism“. Images don’t provide detail the tires are actually buried under the ground. They are just used on the premises above the ground.  The South Ossetian de facto authorities even went as far to say Georgia is in violation of the Basel Convention:

“Georgia, being an associate of the EU, using automobile tires in this way, ignores the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (1989), as well as the European Waste Catalog (2002), in which substances contained in the deadlines operating automobile pneumatic tires are classified as dangerous”.

Below can be seen the tires have not been buried under the walled  perimeter as claimed, but used as an inner ring above the ground. The South Ossetian de facto authorities  ironically disprove their own misinformation.

May

On 22 May 2020 the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported the launch of borderization works in Mereti (Gori Municipality), which is under control of the central government of Georgia. The works were confirmed by South Ossetian de facto authorities (later accusing Georgian police officers violating the boundary for 10 meters on 21 and 22 May in the same section Ksuisi-Khelchua).  Here is the full statement of the Georgian MFA on these and other incidents in the recent period.  The statement also reads borderization works were conducted on other locations in the previous week:

“While the whole world is struggling with the dire consequences of the global pandemic of Coronavirus (Covid-19), the Russian occupation forces are activating the so-called barbed wire fences. Banners marking the “border” and the so-called Firefighting [trenches] in both occupied territories – Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions. Only in the last week has the so-called the process of “borderization” took place in parallel in the villages of Kareli Municipality – Tseronisi and Knolev, Takhtisdziri and Dvani, Koda and Chvrinisi, Atotsi; In the villages of Tsalenjikha Municipality – Pakhulani and Muzhava, as well as in the surrounding areas of the villages of Zugdidi Municipality – Khurchi and Ganmukhuri.

At the same time, the Russian Federation has deliberately intensified its hybrid warfare tools against Georgia and is constantly attacking one of the laboratories of the Georgian National Center for Disease Control and Public Health – Richard Lugar, which plays a key role in spreading the fight against coronavirus in Georgia.” [see more about this at the May 2020 section of the Tsnelesi / Chorchana page]

Map: Overview borderization locations May 2020
According to the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Russian controlled forces performed in May 2020 borderization works near the Administrative Boundary Line of Abkhazia and South Ossetia simultaneously on at least 12 locations.

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New trenches were observed on 26 May at the ABL near Atotsi by the Power in Unity activist group. At a watchtower that was constructed here some years ago by Russian controlled forces , a shop mannequin was observed in military outfit to scare locals. Radio Tavisupleba offered an extensive report, also highlighting the rather reluctant (slow) response attitude of the government towards the simultaneous works in May. Aerial footage of August 2019 of the site illustrates the changes compared with the below pictures.

On 28 May 2020 the US Ambassador to the OSCE stated in an official reply to his Russian counterpart: “There is no territory of South Ossetia. It is an occupied part of Georgia’. In this statement he also highlighted the continuing Russian coronavirus disinformation campaign targeted against Georgia and the Lugar Biolab:

“The United States condemns Russia’s disinformation campaign about Georgia’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which is a transparent attempt to exploit the public health situation in Georgia and the region for its own ends. Moscow is once again spreading lies about a highly-regarded research institute in Georgia, the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health at the Richard C. Lugar Center for Public Health, this time during an ongoing and serious pandemic, they do these things.

Let me just take a moment to expose the Russian government’s attempt to use the pandemic as an opportunity to amplify its malign influence, here by spreading fables about a highly-regarded research institute in the Republic of Georgia. Here’s the truth: The Lugar Center was established to identify and address disease outbreaks just like COVID-19.”

On 29 May 2020 New Leaders Initiative NGO protested at Sakorintlo at the occupation line against the renewed occupation efforts by Russia during the pandemic and the Georgian government’s silence on the issue. They also delivered food packages to a family living near the ABL in difficult circumstances.

Meanwhile, South Ossetian de facto authorities accused the Georgian authorities of provocative actions, flying an MI-8 helicopter near Tsnelisi and Leningor district at an approximate distance of 4km of the ABL. The EUMM is accused of condoning such  “provocative activities” and not notifying Tskhinvali.

April

Civil.ge and other Georgian media reported on 17 April based on information of the  State Security Service of Georgia “Russian occupying forces have continued “illegal borderization” near the village of Takhtisdziri of Kareli Municipality along the dividing line between Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia and Georgia proper”.

Borderization at Takhtisdziri April 2020
Borderization at Takhtisdziri April 2020 (source: 1TV)

Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili said that “amid global fight against the coronavirus pandemic, illegal borderization carried out by the occupying regime clearly demonstrates the latter’s real face”.  Meanwhile, the South Ossetian side accuses Tbilisi of creating a  “scandal” for internationale “attention”.

Both European and American diplomacy in Georgia reacted, with the ongoing Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in mind:

“The United States is deeply troubled by reports that Russian-led security actors have resumed aggressive “borderization” activities along the administrative boundary line of the Russian-occupied Georgian territory of South Ossetia, near the village of Takhtisdziri. We condemn any actions by the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali that aggravate tensions and distract from urgent efforts to safeguard the lives and health of the affected populations, particularly during the Orthodox Easter weekend and against the backdrop of the global pandemic crisis. [….]”

Carl Hartzell, Ambassador of the European Union to Georgia:  “Further “borderisation” from Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia is completely unacceptable. I call on South Ossetian and Russian security actors to immediately stop these activities and to refrain from any further steps that could escalate the situation.”

Co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions (GID): “The focus should be on collaboration, for the good of all people in the region and against the common threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. The reported erection of signs along the South Ossetian dividing line today predictably contributes to a tense atmosphere on the ground and rids the local people of their livelihoods. In the face of the current global challenge of COVID-19, requiring joint approaches and co-operation amongst all, we hereby repeat our call on all participants to avoid provocative measures and focus on improving the situation of the conflict-affected population.”

EurActiv put the spotlight on Russian aggression in the occupied territories towards Georgia, inflaming tensions while the world is fully occupied with fighting the Covid-19 virus pandemic. Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius is cited “For Russia, coronavirus is serving as a smokescreen for further ‘borderisation’”.

Dennis Sammut, the director of LINKS Europe, a foundation based in The Hague promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts in Europe’s neighbourhood, indicated that the population of Georgia’s occupied territories was very sensitive to news from Tbilisi. Abkhazians and Ossetians “follow news and TV coverage, and social media. So how the Georgian government, and the Georgian people, behave during the pandemic matters also in the context of the unresolved conflicts”, Sammut told EURACTIV.

That susceptibility might explain the provocative nature of the South Ossetian de facto leadership during the pandemic. It propagates repeatedly “Georgian special services [try to] export the problem to South Ossetia”, fuelling an image of a vicious enemy. Georgia is internationally lauded as a successtory in the fight against the local outbreak, while the South Ossetian de facto leadership maintains the position things are out of control in the country. While in fact, things are out of control in Russia, also concerning the North Ossetia autonomous republic where more than 2000 infections have been counted. All of South Ossetia’s current (34) cases got infected in Russia, carrying it to South Ossetia.

The Tskhinvali authorities also try to install fear towards Georgia among its population to disarm its susceptibility to Georgian news, for its own agenda of separation. Also, it keeps repeating the Georgians are scheming together with the USA in the Lugar laboratory to weaponize the COVID-19 pandemic against South Ossetia.

January

After a relative quiet period since summer 2019, borderization works at Gugutiantkari that were left unfinished, were resumed in January  2020. See this dedicated page for more detailed information.

2019

October

Georgian media reported on 19 October 2019  borderization works were resumed near Atotsi village.  According an EUMM statement on 30 October it “did carry out a regular, scheduled patrol near the village of Atotsi in the early hours of 30 October” noting new fences were installed. It also stipulated the general security posture from the Russian controlled side remained relatively stable:

“The EUMM is closely monitoring and reporting on incremental ‘borderisation’ activities in the vicinity of Atotsi. During the past days the Mission has observed new fencing being installed, creating additional barriers to the freedom of movement for the conflict affected population. The EUMM has not observed any notable difference in posture or patrolling patterns of security actors from South Ossetia on the ground compared to the recent past.”

EUMM patrol Atotsi October 2019
EUMM patrol Atotsi October 2019 (source: EUMM)
7 – 21 August

On the 7th of August South Ossetian and Russian security forces resumed borderization works in the village of Gugutiantkari located at the ABL with South Ossetia.

A separate page is dedicated to this location which developments had a prolonged course during August with renewed activity in January 2020.

18 July

At the 94th EUMM brokered IPRM meeting the South Ossetian side said they “will continue the erection of barbed-wire-fences. We will continue the process as it is important for making the state border”.

94th IPRM meeting Ergenti 18 July 2019 (photo: EUMM)
94th IPRM meeting Ergenti 18 July 2019 (photo: EUMM)

With hindsight this seemed to have been a warning of what was to come in the second half of 2019, starting in August: the Gugutiantkari and Tsnelisi disputes.

21 January – 8 February

From 21 January renewed borderization works by South Ossetian and Russian (“occupying”) forces took place in the area of the villages of Khurvaleti and Dzukata (Dzukaantkari). It is a well known location where Georgian communities have been separated for quite a few years.

The militias installed new barbed wires and a watchtower next to the orchard of local residents, splitting various private yards, as video’s showed. This was needed “to better control the border”, South Ossetian representatives said at the IPRM meeting in Ergneti in February.

Georgian Reconciliation Minister Ketevan Tsikhelashvili cited Russian media outlet Sputnik which reported more than 40 individuals have been detained this year for “illegally crossing the border”. She snapped: “It is natural that more than 90 per cent of the individuals were trying to cross the so-called border from Tskhinvali to the rest of Georgia”.

 

2018

18 December

At the first IPRM meeting in 3 months, the representative of South Ossetia Yegor Kochiev remarked that borderization of the administrative boundary line will continue:

“As at the previous meetings, the Georgian party referred to the fact that this was a political issue. We have tried to point out that this issue is of purely practical importance to facilitate the life of people who will know where the territory of South Ossetia and the territory of Georgia is. And there will not be all the related sanctions for the detention of violators, fines, court proceedings”

The statement of the EUMM released after the meeting read that borderization is a violation of the right to freedom of movement for local residents:

“Participants discussed recent developments at the Administrative Boundary Line, including recent events in the Atotsi area. On the latter, the co-facilitators noted the efforts of security actors to maintain stability along the Administrative Boundary Line, while expressing concern over the impact of recent borderisation on the local population’s freedom of movement.”

The monthly IPRM meetings were suspended since September after Interpol issued a red notice upon Georgia’s request for two individuals in connection with the death of Archil Tanunashvili in February 2019.

14 November

Russian border forces begun installing reinforced barbed wire fence through the village Dzukaantkari (Dzukata), as part of a gradual demarcation around the breakaway region South Ossetia.

The new ‘more solid’ type of fences are replacing the old fences that were installed in 2009 and run right through the center of the village. Residents say the installation of new fences is a deliberate policy by breakaway authorities in Tskhinvali aimed at minimizing communication across the conflict line.

1 November

Russian controlled militias resumed the installation of a 1000 m fence between Balta and Atotsi near the ABL since 1 November 2018. This was reported on 6 and 7 November by Georgian and South Ossetian “state media” respectively.  at the same moment the de facto parliament of the South Ossetia region increased the penalyy for ‘illegally crossing the border’ with Georgia to $300 as they deemed current amount of $30 to be ineffective.

State Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality of Georgia, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili responded to the development by saying:

“The majority of people living in the occupied territories and who are hindered by the barbed wire fences built by the occupation regime are ethnic Ossetians that are not allowed to move about freely. This is another revelation as to how insignificant humans and their rights are to the occupation forces – how they do not care about their ethnicity be it Georgian, Abkhaz or Ossetian. The regime has one interest – military – and they believe it is in their strategic interest to increase tensions in the pre-election period [2nd round of Presidential elections Georgia] to put more pressure on the population. Russia is not going to achieve any results with these provocations and we have reacted properly to this case”. While visiting the site the minister said, “Russia is isolating the Tskhinvali region from the outside world and is creating “unbearable” conditions for ethnic Ossetians”.

The EUMM mission confirmed the borderization works:

“Significant borderization activities have been taking place in the area of the Georgian villages of Atotsi (Balta) since early November 2018. A total of nearly 400 meters of new fencing work, running alongside the administrative boundary line with South Ossetia, have been observed by EUMM patrols in the area. The EUMM is closely monitoring and reporting on such borderization activities that affect stability as well as the rights of people in the area.”

 

Power In Unity protest near Atotsi
Power In Unity protest near Atotsi

On 10 and 18 November the activist group “Power in Unity” led by David Katsarava protested at the site. Up to 500 people are said to have joined the rally.  On 8 December dozens of people gathered for a musical protest action initiated by Georgian pianist Keti Ward-Asatashvili in the Georgian border village of Atotsi, performing the national anthem. Activists opposed the installation of pillars with barbed wire by the South Ossetian side. According to activists, residents of the Georgian village lost their agrarian lands as a result of installation of fences 

28 October

In a brave deed of disobedience to the “occupiers” 87-year-old Data Vanishvili, whose yard in Khurvaleti is divided in two by Russian-erected barbed wire fences, crossed the boundary line early in the morning to cast his vote in the presidential elections.

Vanishvili said he was warned by the Russia-controlled troops not to “cross the border”, but he did so anyway and voted at the Khurvaleti polling station.

“It is my country and I wanted to vote. I cut my hand when I was trying to get across the fence. When i did so and had walked a certain distance, I found that I did not have my passport with me and I had to return back to the fence, where my wife handed me my passport. I voted to see the barbed-wire fences removed so that I can cultivate my garden and stop living alone, without free contact with my neighbors.”

During the second round runoff on 28 November he was prevented to vote by the troops from Russian controlled South Ossetia:

“Two so-called border guards came to me this morning and warned me not to cross the line. They threatened me that if I did go vote, they would detain me and make me pay fine. They are nearby to prevent from going to vote.”

8 May

Digging of anti-fire ditches was reported near the administrative boundary line. RFE/RL reported the occupants dug ditches not only in Tskhinvali-controlled territory, but also in Tbilisi-administered area. The government of Georgia strongly condemned this fact and appealed to the international community to react to the illegality of it. The EUMM confirmed the renewed activity.

Tskhinvali said it makes ditches “to protect itself” from the fires which may spread from the Tbilisi-controlled territory. The practice is in fact another means of “borderization”, making the administrative boundary visible in the land: local residents get discouraged to pass the boundary to reach their farmland.

27 April

Georgian Akhalgori municipality governor Nugzar Tinikashvili said de facto leadership of South Ossetia announced restrictions for ethnic Georgian farmers. When they will take their cattle and sheep from Tskhinvali controlled Akhalgori to other Georgian (Tbilisi controlled) regions in winter, they will not be able to re-enter South Ossetia region with their cattle and sheep. About 25 Georgian families in Akhalgori will be affected by this, not being able to provide enough food for their cattle in winter.

“The reason Bibilov named was that some illnesses and infections were spread in Georgian regions affecting the cattle which could also be brought to Tskhinvali via the sheep and the cattle of the Georgian farmers. The reason is absolutely groundless as no such infection is reported. Moreover, both the central and local governments of Georgia pay close attention to timely vaccination of cattle to avoid any illness,” according to Tinikashvili.

03 April

Murat Dzhioev, the Plenipotentiary of the President of South Ossetia for Post-conflict Settlement, accused the European Union Monitoring Mission of “violation of the state border” on three occasions in February. The diplomat said mission representatives referred to the discrepancy with South Ossetian maps along the border line.

“On February 6, 8 and 20 in the same place – in the vicinity of the village of Nizhniy Tsiglat [Kvemo Okona] in the Znaurs region of South Ossetia, observers from the European Union three times went deep into our republic to 100 meters. We, in turn, noted that since the EU mission has a mandate to work only on the territory of Georgia, let observers who have doubts about the border line simply do not come close to it, but observe from a certain distance how usually, ”said Dzhioev. 

The EUMM has a mandate over the entire recognized Georgian territory, including the breakaway regions.

Dzhioev also complained at the GID discussions about alleged “discrimination” against Ossetians who cannot visit their “native lands” near Kazbeg (enter cultural territorial claims, a.k.a “East Ossetia):

“Georgia declares a visa-free regime for Russian citizens to Georgia, and at the same time does not allow persons of Ossetian nationality who come from the Trusov Gorge or have historical roots in the Kazbek region, to the territory of the Kazbek region. That is, we are again dealing with double standards. These citizens cannot visit historical sites, monuments in the Kazbek region, and even lose the property they had there.”

27 February

Head of the Border Service of the KGB of South Ossetia, Valery Zozulya, stated construction of barriers at the ABL with Georgia will continue in 2018. In 2017, South Ossetian “border guards” installed over 1200 meters of borderization structures in the ABL zone and 63 signs were installed at the entrance to the sp called “border zone” in all four regions of the South Ossetia region.

24 January

At the IPRM Ergneti meeting, the South Ossetian delegation said another “border sign” was shot at from the Georgian side. This time between the villages of Plavi and Zemo Otrevi:

“We drew the attention of the participants of the meeting to another shooting of the South Ossetian border mark in the area of ​​the villages of the Lower Otrev and Korcula from the Georgian village of Plavi. This time, the boundary mark was damaged by using rifled weapons”, Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy Dzhioev said.

23 January

The press service of the South Ossetian de facto State Security Committee reported in January 2018 on “implemented measures to strengthen the border”:

“In 2017, for the first time since 2013, the Border Guard Service of the KGB of the Republic of South Ossetia began to equip the state border in engineering terms. In the area of ​​the settlement of Kalet, Znaur region, a barrier fence with a length of 1250 meters was installed. In addition 83 warning signs were installed at the entrances to the border zone of the Republic and on the state border. Despite the measures taken to improve the state border of the RSO, there are facts of damage to warning signs.”

Abduction, arrest and detention near ABL South Ossetia

Georgian civilians living around the Administrative Boundary Line frequently experience arrest, abduction and detention by Russian or South Ossetian “border guards” for alleged violation and tresspassing of the “border”. This page keeps track of the latest developments of such arrests.

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2020

25 July

According to Radio Tavisupleba, Georgian citizen Malkhaz Lezhava was detained by Russian controlled forces on 25 July 2020 near the Church of the Mother of God between Mejvriskhevi and Russian controlled Ghromi. State Security Service stated he has been set free and was put in quarantine in the territory controlled by the central government of Georgia.

12 July (Mgebrishvili case)

On 12 July it got public knowledge (in Georgia) a Georgian citizen from Mejvriskhevi was arrested by “occupying forces” near the ABL at Adzvi and put in COVID-19 quarantaine for two weeks. The de facto South Ossetian authorities reported on this on 10 July. On 19 July it was confirmed Khvicha Mghebrishvili remains in detention after clearing his 14 days quarantaine.

On 16 July the State Security Committee of South Ossetia reported Mgebrishvili not only “violated the State border” but that “he intended to get the so-called bat cocoons for sale in Georgia”.  According to the report came forward with this explanation himself, as reason to “violate the border”.  The South Ossetian de facto authorities already had a convenient story ready to join this explanation,  connecting it with the activities of the Lugar biolab in Tbilisi (once again):

“Regarding the testimony of Kh.A. Mgebrishvili, it is necessary to clarify that the bats living in the Republic of South Ossetia – Pointed-eared bat, like the rest of the bats, are viviparous and do not build any nests, cocoons and other shelters. At the same time, there is an increased interest in the population of South Ossetian bats mice, since 2012, has been showing the so-called. R. Lugar “Center for Public Health “

“In 2018, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), together with the Lugar Center, as a field laboratory, is implementing a US $ 2.9 million project on bats and coronaviruses. The program is designed for 5 years and is implemented with the help of NGOs” Eco Health Alliance “.

In this regard, the KGB of the Republic of South Ossetia emphasizes that the bat, Myotis blythi, inhabiting the territory of South Ossetia, is listed in the Red Book of the Republic of South Ossetia. Thus, any cross-border activity related to its extraction and illegal movement outside the Republic is qualified in accordance with Articles 258.1 and 226.1 of the Criminal Code and entails a corresponding criminal penalty in the form of imprisonment.

In other words, also in Mgebrishvili’s case just as with others recently a second crime is attached to the “border violation”, typically a more serious crime, up for long prison sentence.

The Head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health of Georgia under which the Lugar Lab resides, explained such a program investigating the relationship between bats and corona viruses does exists. But that the Center’s uses zoo-entomologists, not ordinary citizens as Tskhinvali suggests, in sample collection works. Gamkrelidze slammed the information released the region’s KGB as “lies” and “staged provocation.”

11 July (Gakheladze case)

IPN and others reported a Georgian citizen from Kvemo Chala was shot, arrested and taken by “occupying forces” from allegedly Tbilisi controlled territory near Skhivo Fortress, ~500 metres beyond the Administrative Boundary Line. According to local reports, he was injured which the State Security Service of Georgia confirmed.

According to South Ossetian de facto authorities the 33 year old Gakheladze crossed the ABL near Akhmaji and shot at the “border guards”. Return fire was the cause of his injuries, according to the State Security Committee of South Ossetia. Relatives said Gakheladze and his friend (who could escape) were picking mushrooms in the fields near the Skhvilo Fortress. They have frequently sighted Russian controlled “border guards” roaming around the Fortress which is Tbilisi controlled area.

Gakheladze was transported to Tskhinvali after a short stay in Akhalgori.  The Georgian MFA and the American Embassy both reacted with statements on the incident.

“Such a dangerous and unjustified incident would not have happened if Russia had fulfilled its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of the armed forces from pre-conflict positions and access to unhindered access to humanitarian aid. “

Meanwhile the Red Cross is trying to get to Gakheladze and information about his well being, as they are the only international organization with direct access to South Ossetia. By 14 July they still had no access to Gakheladze.

On 17 July the South Ossetian de facto authorities stated Gakheladze is charged with two crimes: “illegal crossing of the State Border and encroachment on the life of a law enforcement officer of the Criminal Code of the Russian FederationFurthermore, the press service of the regional KGB gave a rambling lecture written like an op-ed over the reasons why Georgia “whips up excitement”. it also takes aim again at the EUMM mission: “the mission decided to “actively” observe, while making biased but beneficial statements for Georgia”

A day later on 18 July the military prosecutor of South Ossetia stated Gakheladze shot at least five times at the border guards before being shot himself, while “moving deep into the territory of South Ossetia”. The latter is contrary to multiple statements of relatives and Gakheladze’s friend who was able to escape. 

Gahkeladze was transferred from hospital to an isolator in Tskhinvali, Georgian media reported on 26 July 2020. On 27 July the Red Cross is expected to visit Gakheladze, something it has been trying to do from the beginning. The ICRC is the only international organization allowed and active in South Ossetia.

07 July

A Georgian citizen who was detained for several months by Russian-controlled occupation forces for ‘illegally crossing the border’ was released on 7 July. She will return to her family after spending two weeks in the quarantine zone.

21 June

IPN and others reported on 21 June 2020: “Occupying forces detained a 60 year old shepherd on the outskirts of the village of Akhalubani on the perimeter of the dividing line on the territory of Gori Municipality”.  The shepherd was taken to Tskhinvali before being released the same day and transferred to Georgian authorities.

“Jumber Psitidze, a resident of Akhalubani, was grazing cattle with two villagers, during which armed uniforms appeared and he was arrested. The two shepherds who were with him managed to escape. According to the relatives of the detainee, the shepherds did not move to the occupied territories and the cattle were in the territory controlled by the central government of Georgia”.

07 May

The South Ossetian “State Security Committee” reported 30 “border violations” for April 2020, down from 41 in March. Most people were simply fined. An “increase of uncontrolled cattle grazing near the state border” was observed. 

16 April

Relatives of Data Vanishvili, a nationally well known local of Khurvaleti, have been detained by Russian controlled forces. They were on Georgian controlled territory  for several days. Data Vanishvili told VOA Georgia that first his grandson, who was on his way to Akhalgori, was arrested. The next day soldiers of the Russian military went to his house and pulled out his grandson’s wife.  Reportedly, the two were first taken to Akhalgori for detention. Subsequently they were transported to Tskhinvali for medical isolation in line with local policies regarding the coronavirus pandemic. After the quarantaine a trial will decide about the penalty for “illegally crossing the border”. They were released on 3 May 2020 after fulfilling a 2-week quarantaine.

Voice of America Georgia interviewed Data Vanishvili:

The de facto authorities in Tskhinvali claimed Georgian media distorted the story: “Due to the fact that Georgian citizens who were contacted by Vanishvili’s spouse could be carriers of the virus and in order to prevent the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic entering South Ossetia, a decision was made to isolate them for up to 14 days in the Tskhinval medical institution”.

They also highlighted another recent case, painting Georgians negatively: “In addition, the KGB is seriously concerned about the situation surrounding the observance of the right to life of ethnic Ossetians living in Georgia. So, on April 16, having violated the state border regime, a citizen of the Republic of South Ossetia and South Ossetia, an ethnic Ossetian with two minor children, arrived in South Ossetia from Georgia. Having not received protection in the law enforcement bodies of Georgia, fleeing regular domestic violence against her and children by her husband, a Georgian by nationality, she was forced to cross the state border and turn to the leadership of South Ossetia.”

Separately, according to the annual report of the Georgian State Security Service released on 16 April, 86 citizens were “illegally detained” in 2019 by South Ossetian de facto authorities (and 27 by Abkhazia).

13 April

In its monthly report on “state border violations” the KGB of South Ossetia warned that everyone in the “border zone” (a one km wide zone along the ABL) needs to “obtain permits for economic, fishing and other activities”. (such as access to arable land, hunting, etc.)

It notes “increasing facts of uncontrolled cattle grazing near the state border of the Republic of South Ossetia, which entail a violation of the state border regime and the border zone of South Ossetia”. In other words, farmers on either side of the ABL have to control their cattle better or obtain permits to be in the “border zone”.

06 March

In February 2020, 38 violators of “border regime” were detained at various sections of the “state border of South Ossetia”, the KGB of South Ossetia reported. This is up from 36 in January 2020. 

Subsequently, 26 people were fined, 5 were subjected to an administrative fine with expulsion from South Ossetia, 2 were expelled from the region without penalties (under Art. 14 of the Law “On the State Border of South Ossetia”), 3 were warned, and two violators were not punished.

05 March

A woman has been arrested and taken by militia from South Ossetia near the Administrative Boundary Line at the village of Bershueti. She has been transported to Tskhinvali for detention. The EUMM hotline has been activated. (see also 1TV, 05-03-2020)

27 February

A local Georgian resident (Eldar Gundishvili, 70) has been detained by Russian border troops near his village of Adzvi.  The EU Monitoring Mission has been informed of the incident and the emergency hotline has been activated. Georgia’s Foreign Minister Zalkaliani will raise the issue at the next Ergneti IPRM and Geneva GID meetings. The citizen was released the next day. It was his third arrest.

22 February

Sixteen year old Alika Shiukashvilki (turning 17 in March) was arrested at the Administrative Boundary Line near the village of Kirbali, and first taken to the Gromi (Russian) FSB base before being detained overnight in Tskhinvali. As is the standard procedure, the EUMM hotline was activated. The next day he was released.

Allegedly he “was collecting firewood in the forest together with his fellow-villagers when gunmen appeared.” His companions managed to escape, while he was taken by so-called “border guards”.

Abduction: Teenager from Kirbali village detained by Russian forces
Abduction: Teenager from Kirbali village detained by Russian forces (photo source: Qartli)

Activist Davit Katsarava provided information at the village about an SOS button he has been proposing. This is a device that can identify and geolocate where a civilian is. On Facebook and Radio Tavisupleba he said that if the residents of the occupation line have such technical equipment, it will be easy to find them in case of abduction. He is looking for additional funding for this project, with each button costing 110 USD.

More information:
Caucasian Knot

2019

16 December

Russian-controlled forces allegedly detained 96-year-old Gora Garibashvili while he was trying to reach a cemetery near the village of Tsunevi, close to the boundary line, the Georgian Public Broadcaster reported. A day later he was back on Tbilisi controlled territory, Georgia’s State Security Service stated. The South Ossetian side however, claimed Garibashvili was not detained, but delivered to his relatives in Akhalgori by border guards after he was found disoriented in the boundary zone.

7 December

On December 7, 2019, four Georgian citizens were detained near Akhmaji by “border guards” for violation of South Ossetian border. The men were 15, 39, 43 and 57 years of age. The minor was expelled, against the three others court proceedings were prepared.

29 November

Near Khelchua a Georgian citizen was detained  for violating “border regime”, South Ossetia the KGB press service reported on 29-11-2019.  During inspection, about nine grams of marijuana was found on the suspect. Criminal proceedings were instituted and the Tskhinvali District Court decided to detain the suspect during  preliminary investigation

11 November

Two men were detained in the outskirts of the village of Kodistskaro by Russian controlled security forces. The detainees were then transferred to Tskhinvali controlled territory. Locals said they were shepherding their cattle on Tbilisi administered territory.

9 November

Well known Georgian doctor and traumatotogist Vazha Gaprindashvili and three others were detained by Russian-controlled forces, Georgian State Security Service confirmed. According to South Ossetian authorities the men were detained on 9 November (confirmed by Radio Tavisupleba).

Gaprindashvili  was eventually sent to two years of prison before being released in December 2019 after strong international pressure.

6 November

A 28-year-old Georgian man was detained by South Ossetian de facto security forces in the outskirts of Kveshi near the ABL. Zakro Butkhuzi’s family says he was working in the vineyard with his brother, which adjoins the village of Zemo Artsevi, located on the occupied territory. He was released two days later.

25 August

On October 22, 2019, Radio Tavisupleba and others reported Lasha Khetereli, from refugee settlement Shaumiani (Marneuli district) was released from a two month prison sentence in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia. He was arrested on August 25 for “illegal border crossing” when visiting his grandmother.

A week earlier his name appeared in a report about prisoner abuse in Tskhinvali prison.

22 August

24-year-old Giorgi Zangurashvili, was detained for “illegally crossing” the so-called “border” by Russian occupation forces near the village of Artsevi, where a Russian military base is located. He has been released the next day, the State Security Service of Georgia confirmed. The de-facto security committee reported the detainee had health problems and therefore he would be transferred to the Georgian side without any penalty.

20 August

A Georgian citizen was detained on 20 August 2019 in the southeastern outskirts of Tskhinvali for violating the state border of the republic, the KGB of South Ossetia said. Agenda.ge reported as well.

According to South Ossetian authorities, “the offender was brought to administrative responsibility in the form of a fine, followed by expulsion according to part 2 of article 4 of the law “On administrative responsibility in the field of protecting the state border”.

17 – 18 August

Seven Georgian citizens have been detained near the occupied Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) region for “illegally crossing the border”. All of them are the locals of the village of Akhalubani, Gori Municipality. They were reportedly visiting a church, which is located near the occupation line.

A day later another Georgian citizen has been detained near the village of Akhalubani, in Gori Municipality, close to South Ossetia region for “illegally crossing the border”.

More details about these two arrests on a dedicated page.

11 May

Two residents of Kvemo Chala were detained on 11 May 2019 near the boundary line of South Ossetia “illegally crossing the border”. Dimitri Isergishvili and Vasil Patarkatsishvili, were picking asparagus at the edge of the village of Karapila.

5 May

Russian border guards have arrested and abducted 80-year-old Amiran Meladze on 5 May 2019 from his village Kveshi, Gori district. His house is located near the boundary line, and reportedly he was harvesting asparagus in his garden. He was taken in the direction of Artsevi.

23 April

Two residents of Nikozi, Gabriel Melanashvili and Tamaz Mchedlidze, were detained on 23 April for “violating the border of South Ossetia”. Allegedly they were held in Tskhinvali prison, while locals claimed the de facto authorities of South Ossetia demanded $295 for their release.

Upon their release the next day, South Ossetian authorities they let them go without a fine. They cited health problems of one of the two men, something his mother said a day earlier.  Locals said they went to clean graves at the cemetery near the village, ahead of Easter holiday.

20 April

Occupation forces detained Georgian citizen Gocha Pidiuri near his village Mejvriskhevi close to the ABL with South Ossetia for “illegally crossing the border”, Georgian media reported. His neighbours said Pidiuri was often visiting the Lomisi shrine located near the boundary line. Two days later he was released and transferred to Georgian authorities at Ergneti.

13 March

Two Georgian citizens, Alan Marghishvili and Giorgi Chitishvili, from Karapila and Zadiantkari were detained near the ABL for “illegally crossing the border” on 13 March 2019.  They were released the next day.

26 February

The Georgian State Security Service reported 327 Georgian citizens have been detained “by occupying forces for illegally crossing the border” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia between 2017 and 2019. Near the South Ossetian ABL 242 persons were detained for “illegally crossing the border”, the remaining 85 in Abkhazia (in 2019 so far 16 and 4 respectively)

4 February

Occupying forces detained a cleric, Father David Durglishvili, near the village of Nikozi in the evening of 4 February 2019, claiming he “illegally crossed the border”. Witnesses say the cleric was on his own agricultural farm land on territory under the control of the central Georgian government. The next day he was released.

2018

23 December

Russian controlled “border guards” arrested a resident of Khurvaleti village for ‘illegally crossing the border’ on 23 December 2018. He was released a day later.

2 November

De facto parliament of Georgia’s South Ossetia region increased the penalty for ‘illegally crossing the border’ with Georgia to $300 as they deemed the current amount of $30 to be ineffective. More than GEL 116.000 ($42.000) has been collected between 2008 and 2017 and added to the separatist budget.

The representative of the border service of the KGB of South Ossetia informed de facto lawmakers that since 1 January 2018 to date 460 people violated the “state border of the republic”, an increase of 10% compared to 2017. [Note: this may include people coming from Russia via Roki as the Georgian numbers don’t match]. He also noted in October 58 violators (53 in September) were detained, of which 44 were fined. 

20 October

Two Georgians from Okami (Kaspi municipality), were detained on 20 October 2018 by “border guards” of South Ossetia near Akhmaji for “violating the border“.

The same day two men (18 and 32) were arrested  by “border guards” of South Ossetia near Lomisi’s St George Church monastery which is located on the ABL. One of the detainees is a temporary resident of the monastery, the other a priest. They were set free the next day “on humane considerations” without penalties.

Usually the clergymen go down to the Ksani Gorge in Tskhinvali controlled territory to get water which is lacking at the monastery. This time a new resident of the monastery went down, who the Russian controlled militia did not know and recognize as from Lomisi, father David explained.

St. George's Church in Lomisi
St. George’s Church in Lomisi, looking towards Tbilisi controlled territory and the Caucasus mountain range.
6 October

Russian controlled forces kidnapped a 50 year old Georgian citizen from the village of Kirbali (Gori municipality) on 6 October 2018. He was detained for so called “illegally crossing the border” near the ABL of South Ossetia. He was released on 9 October together with another detainee and transferred at Ergneti (see below).

29 September

Khurvaleti resident Maia Otinashvili (37) was detained by Russian controlled “border guards” in her village allegedly from her own garden. Villagers said she was near the administrative boundary line when armed individuals detained her and transported her in the direction of Tskhinvali.

On 2 October Maia Otinashvili was sent to 10 days pre-trial detention (instead of 2 months as reported originally) on accusations that also assists people to “illegally cross the border between Georgia and South Ossetia”, receiving payment. Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria shared on 3 October

“We understood from the family of Otinashvili that she was beaten on the Russian military base in Kardzmani village. Even though Otinashvili has a lawyer he was not allowed to see the detainee. None of the independent observers were permitted to see her, which gives credibility to the family’s suspicion that she has been beaten,”

Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were allowed to see Maia Otinashvili in prison later that day, but guidelines prohibit the organization to disclose details to the media. “We will provide the information in a closed format with the responsible state bodies” the ICRC stated. South Ossetian press agency organized local journalists talking to her: she denied the alleged abuse. On 9 October, after 10 days of detention, she was released and transferred to Georgian authorities at Ergneti.  According to South Ossetian “state media” Otinashvili was convicted for “violating the state border” receiving a  probational sentence of one year.

Transfer of two Georgian citizens at Ergneti
Transfer of two Georgian citizens at Ergneti. They were detained on 29 September and 7 October by “border guards” of South Ossetia region.
1 September

Two polish citizens were detained on 1 September 2018 by South Ossetian “border guards” in the Java district near the abandoned village of Khoz (Хоз) for allegedly “violating the state border between Georgia and South Ossetia”.  They were trekking to Keli Lake in Truso Gorge. After paying a fine they were released on 3 September and expelled from the South Ossetia region.

28 August

Five Georgian hikers were detained on 28 August 2018 for ‘violating the state border’ with Georgia’s occupied region of Tskhinvali (South Ossetia), officials from Tskhinvali confirmed. The young hikers from Tbilisi started their journey on 24 August to reach Keli Lake in the pictorial Truso Gorge in the northeastern Georgia in Kazbegi Municipality. They were released and transferred on 30 August.

On the same day a 67 year old shepherd was detained near Balta for ‘violating the state border’ with Georgia’s occupied region of Tskhinvali (South Ossetia).

31 July

Russian controlled border guards kidnapped a Georgian citizen near Sakorintlo, Kaspi municipality on territory administered by the central Georgian government on 31 July 2018. The State Security Service of Georgia confirmed the man was kidnapped for so called “illegal crossing of border” of South Ossetia.

10 July

According to the KGB of South Ossetia a 40-year-old woman from Rustavi was detained by “border guards” near the village of Balta on 10 July 2018, for “violating the state border regime”. The press service of the State Security Committee added that after facing a court and paying a fine, she violator was expelled back to Tbilisi controlled Georgia.

6 July

Russia-controlled border guards abducted a 28-year-old Georgian citizen in the village of Akhrisi, Gori municipality, near the occupation line with South Ossetia region, on 6 July 2018. Three days later he was released after paying a 2000 RUB (31 USD) fine.

And later that day a 2nd Georgian was arrested for “illegally crossing the border”, near Akhalubani village. 24 year old Giorgi Kujoshvili was taken to the Ardevisi FSB base, only to be released on 10 July, after the fine was paid. According to Imedi News he lives alone, while his relatives live in Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia-Alania, Russia).

30 June

A 16 year old high school student from Chvirnisi which is located near the boundary line of South Ossetia was arrested by the so called border guards of South Ossetia on 30 June 2018. He was released two days later after his family paid a fine amounting to 2,000 Russian rubles (31 USD).

29 June

Russian controlled border guards of South Ossetia detained on 29 June 2018 a 94-year-old Georgian citizen in the village of Sakorintlo, Kaspi municipality, on Tbilisi-administered territory. Locals said they saw how armed “border guards” attacked the old man and kidnapped him. It is the second time he was abducted by occupants.

21 June

Caucasian Knot reported two residents of 19 and 27 year old from the “border” village of Bershueti were detained on 21 June 2018 by Russian border guards. According to their relatives, the young men were detained when going to a village chapel, “Georgia Online” reported. They were taken to Tskhinvali.

Villagers said three other local residents were near the chapel together with the two arrested, but they returned to the village before the “border guards” arrived at the place. 

20 June

Caucasian Knot reported based on a South Ossetian KGB press release a 22-year-old Georgian was detained on 20 June 2018 near Ksuisi in Tskhinvali controlled territory. He is a resident from Mereti village (Gori District).

The Tskhinvali de facto District Court opened a case against him under Article 322 of the Russian Criminal Code (“illegal border crossing”) and put him in pre-trial custody for two months “due to repeated violation of the border”.

“It has been established that this person had already been detained in May for a similar offense and was subjected to administrative liability with subsequent expulsion out of South Ossetia,” the KGB said in its statement.

17 June

68 year old shepherd Misha Petriashvili, herding cattle with two fellow villagers, was kidnapped on 17 June 2018 from Akhalubani, Gori district near the ABL of South Ossetia. Locals said the three people were on Georgian controlled territory at the moment of the incident and did not cross the so-called “border”. On 18 June South Ossetian authorities stated they prepared a trial at Tskhinvali District Court.

Near the village of Disevi under de facto control of South Ossetia, a 38 year old resident of Kobuleti was arrested and detained.  Due to his health he was released the next day without penalties, and transferred to Georgian authorities.

16 June

Caucasian Knot reported that according to Georgian “Channel One” Russian controlled militias arrested a woman with two young children near Atotsi on the “border” with South Ossetia. They tried to visit her relatives in South Ossetia, “Georgia-Online” added. Unlike usual, they were not taken to the detention centre in Tskhinvali but were released on site. 

The Georgian village of Atotsi is located on the Georgian-South-Ossetian dividing line. Close to it is the village of Balta, Znaur District, which after the 2008 war got unde South ossetian control. Many residents of the two villages are relatives.
15 June

Near the South Ossetian controlled village of Artsevi a 41 year old resident of Kveshi, on Tbilisi controlled territory close to the ABL, was arrested and detained on 15 June 2018. On 18 June information was released by South Ossetian de facto authorities a trial was prepared for so called “violation of the state border”.

6 June

South Ossetian de facto authorities reported 35 people were detained in May for “violating the border regime”, compared to 45 in April.

5 June

On 5 June the South Ossetian de facto authorities announced they would “strengthen control over the state border regime” in June and July by “planning joint activities aimed at preventing violations in the border sphere”.

A priest was detained near Dvani village by Russian controlled “border guards” of South Ossetia in the early morning of 5 June 2018. Ioane Okhanashvili is pastor of Saint George’s Church in Dirbi, located a few kilometres away from the South Ossetian ABL. The priest was released the same day, without a penalty .

Shepherd Teimuraz Dudashvili, 58 years and of Ossetian etnicity, was detained by Russian controlled “border guards” near Tsitelubani on 5 June 2018 while herding his cattle. He was taken by force to Tskhinvali by according to his neighbours, and released a day later.

24 May

A 23-years old resident of Plavi was detained on 24 May 2018 by so-called border guards near the administrative boundary line. He was herding cattle near his land while he was detained for “illegally crossing” the so called border.

17 May

Russia-controlled “border guards” detained on 17 May 2018 near Zemo Dvani a 29 year old Georgian citizen from Tirdznisi village. Locals said that the detained allegedly could not find the way and accidently appeared on the territory which is under Russia’s control. They said the young man who suffers from a serious heart disease, has been detained for “illegal crossing of border”. Due to his health problems he was released the next day without penalties.

25 April

Russian-controlled border guards detained Sergo Darbaidze (50) near the administrative boundary line of Georgia’s South Ossetia region. His family stated he was abducted in the evening of 25 April 2018 when he was herding cattle in his own garden, in Kveshi. Darbaidze was detained for “illegally crossing the border” and was taken to a Tskhinvali detention facility.

His son told media “the territory is controlled by Georgia. After the abduction Sergo phoned me and told me that he was in Tskhinvali detention facility.”

21 April

A Georgian citizen of Kere (Gori municipality), Akaki Misireli (66), was detained near the administrative boundary line of breakaway South Ossetia by “border guards” on 21 April 2018. He was taken to Tskhinvali’s police department for detention. This news led to protests by representatives of the Strength in Unity movement, which, in particular, began to patrol the territory near the village of Kere. After paying a fine in South Ossetia, he was handed over to Georgian law enforcement officers at the roadblock  in Ergneti, on 23 April.

20 April

A 31 year old resident, Soso Dvalishvili, from Gori municipality was detained by South Ossetian “border guards” near Ghromi on 20 April 2018. He was released on April 23 after paying a fine for “violating the border”, together with Akaki Misireli (above).

On 20 April 2018, Elizbar Mestumrishvili (77) was detained by Russian-controlled border guards in Jariasheni (Gori municipality), near the administrative boundary line with South Ossetia. Locals said he was herding cattle on territory controlled by Georgia. After being taken to Tskhinvali for detention he was released the next day.

18 April

A Georgian citizen (52) was detained by Russia-controlled border guards near Plavismani (Gori municipality) on 17 April 2018. According to Georgia’s State Security Service, Tamaz Iluridze was accused of illegally crossing the so-called border. He was released and expelled to Tbilisi controlled territory the next day after paying a fine. Locals said that Iluridze was herding cattle with his neighbor Gela Giunashvili when armed “border guards” detained him. Giunashvili managed to escape and inform the police. According to the residents of the village, the incident took place while the two were on Georgia-controlled territory.

9 April

Traffic police officers in South Ossetia, serving in a stationary post in the village of Avnevi (Znaur district), arrested a 35-year-old Georgian citizen on 9 April 2018.  He crossed the administrative boundary line at Tsnelisi (Znaur district) and was walking to Tskhinvali. He was accused of “illegally crossing the border” and subsequently transferred to the FSB border service in Tskhinvali.

7 April

Two locals of Adzvi village, Eldar Gundishvili and Temur Kazievi, who were illegally detained by Russian occupants on 7 April 2018, were released a day later. Eldar Gundishvili said he was detained while he was grazing his cattle in his own yard.

22 March

Two Georgian citizens of 27 and 41 year old from Akhalsopeli and Adzvi (Gori municipality) were detained on 22 March 2018 by Russian controlled border guards “for violating the state border of South Ossetia”. This happened near Adzvistavi.

14 February

A Georgian and Russian citizen were detained near Tskhinvali controlled Prisi, for alleged “violation of the state border”, RES reported on 14 February 2018.  According to the local KGB the Russian citizen, with the help from the Georgian, “tried to hide from criminal responsibility in Georgia, using the territory of the Republic of South Ossetia as a transit area”. They were transferred to Russian authorities at Roki border checkpoint. 

7 February

A 50 year old citizen of Georgia was taken by Russian controlled forces “for violating the state border regime” near Khelchua, RES reported on 12 February.  The de facto KGB inquiry agencies opened a criminal case under Article 322 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (illegal border crossing), as he has been detained multiple times for similar “offenses” in 2017. The Tskhinvali District Court detained him for the duration of the preliminary investigation (for a period of 2 months)

In January the de facto authorities arrested 19 Georgians for “violation of the state border with Georgia”, the KGB of South Ossetia stated. Most of them were fined.

2017

In April 2018 Georgia’s State Security Service (SSS) released its annual report. It recollects 126 Georgian citizens were illegally detained by Russia-controlled border guards in 2017, at the administrative boundary line with South Ossetia. And 52 others at the Abkhazian administrative boundary line. The individuals were detained for the “illegal crossing of the border” and many of them were released shortly after paying a fine. According to the South Ossetia de facto authorities a total of 514 “violators of the state border with Georgia were detained“, reportedly 11% less than in 2016.

When recognition is not the aim — Civil.ge

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”? […]

via When recognition is not the aim — Civil.ge

ქართული (Georgian)

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“? […]

via როცა მიზანი აღიარება არ არის — Civil.ge

ქართული (Georgian)

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»? […]

via Когда признание не является целью — Civil.ge

Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the 10th anniversary of Russian "recognition" with de facto President of Abkhazia Raul Khadjimba (right) and de facto President South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov. (Photo: Kremlin)
Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the 10th anniversary of Russian “recognition” with de facto President of Abkhazia Raul Khadjimba (right) and de facto President South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov. (Photo: Kremlin)

Territorial dispute Chorchana-Tsnelisi over old and “fake” maps

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.

The beginning

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.

Georgian Police lookout near Tsnelisi.
Georgian Police lookout near Tsnelisi.

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.

Ultimatum

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.

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”.

Boundary lines

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.

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.

 

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 monitors from 6 countries out there supported by 2 Georgian colleagues. According to regular updates from our patrols to HQ everything quiet so far.”

September 2019

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.”

EUMM

After the Ergneti IPRM meeting on the 13th of September the EUMM released a statement, saying:

Beginning in January this year [2019] 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.

EUMM observing the situation above Yugostalk, site of territorial dispute near Tsnelisi, September 2019 (photo: Erik Hoeg, EUMM)
EUMM observing the situation above Yugostalk, site of territorial dispute near Tsnelisi, September 2019 (photo: Erik Hoeg, EUMM)
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”.

Self-inflicted damage

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.

October 2019

The fifth IPRM meeting in Ergneti in a month, entirely focused on the Chorchana crisis, didn’t produce any results, illustrating the deep stalemate. A week later, at the 49th round of Geneva International Discussions (GID) the impasse on various dossiers continued.  South Ossetian officials reiterated the need “to work on the delimitation of the South Ossetian-Georgian [state] border”.  Which got support from Moscow

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.

Subsequently the South Ossetian side claimed a group of Georgian “intelligence scouts” attempted “to penetrate into the territory of South Ossetia”, at night. No visual proof was provided, nor specific coordinates. It was denied by the Georgian State Security Service as misinformation. The controversial actions of “Power in Unity” led South Ossetian authorities into accusing Georgian police, EUMM and activists of coordinating “in order to achieve specific political goals”.

EUMM monitors at Chorchana forests
European Monitors overlooking the Chorchana forests (Photo: EUMM)
EUMM arrest

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.”

In a clear attempt of misleading propaganda and disinformation by South Ossetian officials the observers were accused  of “violating the state border” and of lying about “getting lost”. This all happened a day before a scheduled IPRM meeting in Ergneti.

November 2019

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.

December 2019

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.

January 2020

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


 

Meanwhile South Ossetian state media were spinning things completely different: “a Georgian state drone violated airspace”. Subsequently Georgian authorities closed media and civil society access to the area by blocking the road at Brolosani. A few days later the Georgian State Security Service reported that borderization works were resumed at both the Chorchana area and the Gugutiantkari village (link to the main page on this subject).

Trees

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]”.

Akhalgori checkpoint

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.

April 2020

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”.

May 2020

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.

EUMM response

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).

 

June 2020

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.”

"KGB of South Ossetia conducts chemical and biological reconnaissance of the Georgian boundary zones"
“KGB of South Ossetia conducts chemical and biological reconnaissance of the Georgian boundary zones” – photo: ГТРК «Ир»

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 2020 Mtavari TV joined a civil patrol in the Chorchana forested areas by the Power in Unity group (Georgian language only)

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”.

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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 and creeping annexation at Gugutiantkari

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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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 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


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. 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.

September 2019

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.

January 2020

After a quiet period since summer 2019, borderization works at Gugutiantkari that were left unfinished, were resumed in winter 2020 by South Ossetian and Russian forces, as reported by the Georgian State Security Service.

David Katsarava of “Strength in Unity” activist group provided new aerial material of the fencing that annexed another piece of land outside of the ABL by shortcutting a curve:

Gugutiantkari 21-01-2019. Photo David Katsarava
Gugutiantkari 21-01-2019. Photo David Katsarava

 

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). Dwindling down functioning in the years prior to the 2008 war, the JCC and JPKF ceased after the war.

Formalizing occupation

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.

Permanent deployment

Russia was quick to announce in september 2008 roughly 7.600 troops would be deployed equally divided over both regions.  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.

Russian military locations in South Ossetia region
Along the entire Administrative Boundary Line a string of FSB "border guard" compounds have been constructed since 2009.  
The 4th Russian Military Base of the Russian Southern Military District is located in Tskhinvali. Additional infrastructure such as shooting ranges can be found along the Liakhvi River, the former site of (ethnic) Georgian villages which have been abandoned and at the town of Java / Dzau. 

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Main Russian 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. According to an official statement in April 2020 more than 450 South Ossetians serve at the 4th Military base under Russian command.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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[to be continued – work in progress]

Borderline life: Georgia and South Ossetia

“This is a frozen conflict, but it shouldn’t become a forgotten one. Three actions are required from Russia to solve the conflict: fulfilling unconditionally all the provisions of the ceasefire agreement, ceasing „borderisation“ on the Administrative Boundary Line [of South Ossetia] and refraining from advancing further into Georgian territory, and allowing for the return of all displaced Georgian citizens”. (David McAllister, MEP, European Parliament, 14 June 2018)

On June 14, 2018, the European Parliament unanimously passed the resolution “Georgian occupied territories 10 years after the Russian invasion”. This resolution addresses a range of violations of international conduct by the Russian Federation regarding the Georgian separatist regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia, all directly or indirectly a result of the Russian intervention in August 2008, nearly 10 years ago. While this resolution was discussed and passed, new instances of the condemned actions in the region were happening, under Russia’s watch, such as kidnapping and detention of civilians and military exercises.

Continue reading Borderline life: Georgia and South Ossetia