“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.
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.
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 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.”
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 ...
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.”
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
— Ambassador James S. Gilmore III (@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.
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.”
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.
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”.
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”.
“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 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
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 Russia-controlled territory, but also in Tbilisi-administered area. The government of Georgia strongly condemned the 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.