“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 so called borderization, this page focuses on the construction by South Ossetian and Russian forces of physical barriers along the ABL of South Ossetia. Such as fences, barbed wire, border signs and other markings in the landscape outside of the crossing points.
This is the archived 2018 page, click here for the current running year, or jump to 2020, 2019 or 2017. Note: the Chorchana – Tsnelisi territorial conflict and borderization at that location can be found in its own page.
Borderization also means upholding a border regime (and arrest and detention of so called “tresspassers”) and formalizing and limiting the passage through the “border checkpoints”. All these measures have an impact on human rights such as freedom of movement. An introduction in borderization of South Ossetia can be found by opening the green bar below.
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").
Below in descending chronological order developments of the borderization of the Administrative Boundary Line of South Ossetia in 2018.
“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.
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.
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.”
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 protested the borderization by South Ossetia and the installation of pillars with barbed wire. According to activists, residents of the Georgian village lost their farmlands as a result the fences
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.”
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.
Georgian Akhalgori municipality governor Nugzar Tinikashvili said the 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.
Murat Dzhioev, the Plenipotentiary of the President of South Ossetia for Post-conflict Settlement, accused the European Union Monitoring Mission of “violating the state border” on three occasions in February. The diplomat said mission representatives referred to 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.”
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.
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.
The press service of the South Ossetian de facto State Security Committee reported in January 2018 on “implemented measures to strengthen the border”:
p style=”padding-left: 40px;”>“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.”