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.
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.Map loading, please wait ...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
Odzisi, the main crossing point at the South Ossetian ABL. On a normal day #EUMM observes around 400 crossings, now 0. Closed since 5 SEP without clear justification. Measure negatively affecting local communities on both sides of ABL. pic.twitter.com/avFg1UY8Cf
— Erik Hoeg (@erik_hoeg) September 7, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Similarly to 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”.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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”.
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). 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”.
In July 2018 the South Ossetian State Customs Committee stated “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.