“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 2020 page, click here for the current running year, or jump to 2019, 2018 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 (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 2020.
On 12 December 2020 at the 51st round of the GID Geneva International Discussions, the South Ossetian side raised the matter of the Truso Gorge, to which it makes territorial claims: “Once again, the most serious attention was drawn to Georgia’s gross violations of the rights of the Tyrsygom Ossetians,who for several years are not able to gain access to their ancestral villages.”
Agenda.ge and others reported on 21 December about the deteriorating health situation of 89-year-old Data Vanishvili, whose house and agricultural lands have been divided in two by borderization at Khurvaleti. Data Vanishvili is in critical condition with pneumonia and is not being allowed [by South Ossetian authorities] to enter Tbilisi-controlled territory to receive medical assistance. His wife said “Sometimes a doctor comes from Tskhinvali, sometimes from Akhalgori hospital. We are unable to leave the territory. Data’s health condition has deteriorated much over the past several days”.
There are also complications with relatives to visit the old man and take care of him: their daughter Nana lives in an adjacent village and has been threatened by South Ossetian forces not to enter the house, while their grandson Malkhaz who had tried to give him help was detained earlier this month and remains in the Russian-occupied Akhalgori district. Malkhaz’ wife was also shortly detained but released on 17 December and transfered to Tbilisi controlled territory as she is 8 months pregnant.
Data Vanishvili often talks to foreign delegations through the barbed wire that separates his premises from Tbilisi controlled territory. The South Ossetian de facto authorities announced on 25 December 2020 “the border service of the state security committee will strengthen the protection of the state border with Georgia”. On New Years Night the Georgian Strength in Unity protest movement held a New Years celebration near the Administrative Boundary Line and in visual distance from the Russian Akhmaji base. With a drone they recorded the Russian base at night (see video below). https://youtu.be/ygmfJT9cORU This led to an irritated South Ossetian response on 19 January 2021, de facto accusing the group of spying.
“… on December 31, 2020, on the border area near the village of Odzisi, Khashuri municipality, the Georgian special services, through the controlled NGOs, instigated the so-called protest rally, numbering about 20 people. During the action, a quadcopter was used, which violated the State border and deepened up to 600 meters into the territory of the RSO. The duration and trajectory of the flight of this UAV indicate its use in the interests of aerial reconnaissance of border infrastructure facilities in the vicinity of the settlement of Akhmadz, Leningor district”
A Russian language teacher from South Ossetia’s Akhalgori district suffering serious health issues, died after she was repeatedly denied entry to Tbilisi-controlled territory for treatment, IPN reported on 15 October. The Akhalgori crossing point has been closed by Tskhinvali authorities since the end of February 2020, officially due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has taken a toll on the Akhalgori population which is reliant on access to Tbilisi controlled territory. Radio Tavisupleba reported more on the backgrounds.
The Georgian State Security Service reported on 1 September Russian controlled forces have resumed ‘borderisation’ activities along Karapila in Kaspi municipality.
Borderization works by Russian controlled forces near Karapila village and just 300 metres away from the main East-West E60/S1 highway. At this location a stroke of land has been ploughed to mark the so called "border". This is one of the other ways "borderization" looks. It does not stop people physically perse, but it does mentally: locals who want to access their fam land beyond this line risk being arrested by the Russian controlled forces.
Closeup recording of installing a double fence.
On 6 August the erection of barriers reportedly resumed by Russian controlled forces between Tbilisi controlled Takhtisdziri and Tskhinvali controlled Gvirgvina villages. The erection of barriers near Takhtisdziri village began in April 2020, seizing 10 hectares of land in the process.
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.
“[…] 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”.
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.
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.
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]
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.Map loading, please wait ...
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.”
There is no territory of #SouthOssetia. It is an occupied part of #Georgia. That territory is Georgia’s territory. A comment was made regarding going to the border of South Ossetia. There is no border with South Ossetia. This is all Georgian territory. https://t.co/11Jl6ysdDA pic.twitter.com/cUTOA3OmOF— Courtney Austrian, USOSCE Chargé d’Affaires (@USAmbOSCE) May 28, 2020
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.
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”.
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.
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.