“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.
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 things 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.
20 August 2022
The Georgian State Security Service condemned the reported borderization at Okona (Kareli mun.) and Gremiskhevi (Dusheti mun.) villages. They said this is continuation of borderization started in April 2021 on these locations. The EUMM hot line has was activated per protocol and both incidents were put on the agenda for the next IPRM and GID meetings.
14 July 2022
The South Ossetian KGB announced on 14 July 2022 to intensify so called “border guard” activities July and August in order to “prevent offenses in the border area”. The measures will include, among others, strengthening control over the border and “door-to-door patrols in border settlements”. In other words, checking all the houses in the “border zone” on the presence of “illegals” or persons without the qualified documents to be there. The KGB reminded that “residents of border settlements need to have identification documents with them when leaving the house”.
1 July 2022
The South Ossetian security service KGB released a statement on 1 July 2022 released a statement on 1 July 2022 noting “violations of the state border” by drones launched from the territory of Georgia “to film the border zone of the Republic” (of South Ossetia). The press statement further said that “these provocative actions are in most cases committed in the presence and with the connivance of the Georgian police officers”, highlighting that the drones “can be used to carry out sabotage and terrorist actions” and that the KGB “regards these facts as a threat to the security of the Republic”.
12 June 2022
The Georgian State Security Service confirmed reports Russian controlled troops resumed borderisation works near Zardiantkari village, which is close to a local Russian checkpoint in the village of Khelchua.
27 May 2022
Near Kirbali a new cabin of Russian FSB troops appeared. Its construction was recorded over the first months in 2022: in February 2022 the cabin was under construction, but May recordings showed it was finished. The cabin appeared near an already existing observation post on top of a hill, recorded in September 2021. On the Georgian controlled side of the ABL there is the old local Kirbali church. The site is frequently the scene of detentions of locals and display of Russian presence.
Footage made by Power in Unity.
18 May 2022
According to locals, borderization resumed near Zardiantkari, while an Mi-8 helicopter flew in the area near Mereti and Zardiantkari villages. This was confirmed to Radio Tavisupleba (RFE/RL) by the representative of the Gori Municipality mayor in the village. According to the de facto South Ossetian security authorities a “unilateral arrangement of the South Ossetian-Georgian state border on a 700-meter section is underway” in the vicinity of Khelchua (near Zardiantkari and Mereti). They further declared “that this activity is carried out in strict accordance with […] generally accepted norms of international law”.
19 February 2022
Local residents of Mereti reported borderization works by “armed men” near the administrative boundary line of South Ossetia between Mereti and occupied Ksuisi. They witnessed the installation of poles for fences and other materials were being transported to the site. The installation of barbed wire fences by Russian controlled forces was confirmed by the Georgian State Security Service. According to further reporting by Radio Tavisupleba, it concerns the installation of additional fences near existing ones.
14 February 2022
Activists of the “Shame” movement wrote “Slava Ukraina” in support of Ukraine on a South Ossetian “border” sign near Orchosani. This was not appreciated by the South Ossetian de facto authorities. According to the movement, the South Ossetian de facto security service “is concerned about the inscription of our movement on the Ossetian banner near the village of Orchosani, and says it will address the incident within the framework of the next Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism meeting.”
The South Ossetian KGB said in a statement it “has registered a dangerous growth of revanchist sentiments in Georgia, which in every possible way support the actions of Ukraine in carrying out aggression against the civilian population of the LPR and DPR and may cause another aggravation of relations between South Ossetia and Georgia”.
5 February 2022
Georgian civic activists noticed more borderization activity near Jariasheni during their regular patrols. They reported Russian controlled troops “have been digging about 3.5km of trenches over the past month and a half, which revealed the Russians are even more active, while our government is pursuing a policy of ‘non-irritation’ even more actively“.
1 February 2022
According to Kirbali residents, on 1 February 2022, Russian controlled forces have been preparing the area near the local cemetery for new border demarcation with new markings, and in the future they may lay barbed wire there. The State Security Service activated the EUMM hot line on the reported issue.
The locals said the troops were making new markings with white ribbons on the trees and bushes near the village cemetery. They are concerned the village will lose an additional few hectares of pasture and forest.
28 January 2022
Civil activists noted new trenches have been dug along the South Ossetian ABL at the village Jariasheni. The Georgian State Security Service released a statement regarding the recent borderization activities from the South Ossetian side.
🇷🇺 occupying regime makes new trenches or firebreak lines in Georgia near occupied Tskhinvali region. illegal borderization takes place in Tbilisi-controlled Jariasheni village. It seems that in parallel to threatening Ukraine, Kremlin also increased its pressure on Georgia. pic.twitter.com/1MMFI39f14
— Egor Kuroptev (@ESK001) January 28, 2022
Radio Tavisupleba reported the digging of trenches lasted for two days. The EUMM observed the digging on the spot. The new trenches have been dug 20 metres deeper into Georgian territory compared to earlier trenches that were dug in the 2015-16 period, and only 50-60 metres from the local cemetery. The locals say it is now more dangerous to get anywhere near the trench, and consider even the cemetery as dangerous. This confirms earlier reports locals experience the areas near the borderizations as “fear zones”. This fear is illustrated by the fact that many detentions of citizens take place, as Tavisupleba writes.
27 January 2022
On Thursday 27 January 2022 Russian controlled troops were observed by Georgian civil activist, police and journaalists marking the occupation line between Mejvriskhevi and Kirbali, near the cemetary of Mejvriskhevi and the Virgin Mary Church in Kirbali. The markings seem to be a preparation for installing barbed wires and / or fences. This might be part of a major plan by South Ossetia and the Russia to effectively grab Georgian controlled territory and reclaiming alleged “lost territories”. Earlier in December the South Ossetian side presented within its own ranks which territories it is missing according to the 1922 Soviet decree (see below), totalling over 200km2.
The troops moved towards Kirbali, near the Virgin Mary Church, on Georgian controlled territory, where they were snatched by the drone. They hid in the bush and at some point pointed a gun to the drone.
19 January 2022
On Wednesday 19 January Russian controlled troops were observed walking near the ABL at Kirbali village working on borderization. The State Security Service denied such works took place, but have activated the EUMM hotline on the issue.
According to Power in Unity activists Russian encroachment in the Chorchana-Jria section of the boundary line has been taking place in October-December 2021. The civil activist group is frequently patrolling along the Administrative Boundary Line (or occupation line) of South Ossetia and has been collecting (visual) material. This section of the boundary line is densely forested and lacks Georgian oversight and presence.
Borderization Chorchana - Jria in October to December 2021 Along the ABL section between Chorchana and Jria (near Perevi) borderization preparation took place on Georgian controlled territory, by Russan (controlled) forces. The red line only indicates the section concerned and is by no means an accurate indication of encroached territory.Map loading, please wait ...
The activists allege this new encroachment as extension of the borderization in the Chorchana – Tsnelisi forest area is connected to South Ossetian discussions it has “lost 200 km2 territory” to the Georgians, unilaterally “correcting” transfers of territory compared to the original 1922 decree that established the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast in the Georgian SSR. The Commission on Delimitation and Demarcation of Borders said it
“… requested the minutes of the meetings and materials of the work of the previous members of the commission, but the documents were not presented. The commission formed a working group to study the cartographic characteristics of the state border, which presented the results of the work to the commission. The information provided by the working group indicates a critical discrepancy between the state border line (.. .) This discrepancy is more than 200 square kilometers to the detriment of the legitimate territorial interests of the republic .”
The head of the Commission, Garry Muldarov, also noted
“… that the cartographic characteristics of the application were compared with the data on the administrative boundary of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region of the Georgian SSR, which are recorded in Decree No. 2 of the All-Georgian Central Executive Committee of Soviets and the Council of the Map of People’s Commissars of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Georgia ‘On the formation of the autonomous region of South Ossetia’, dated 29 April 1922. The Decree is the basic normative act defining the borders of the Republic of South Ossetia, which is the legal successor of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region”
In any case, in December 2021 the Commission held a presentation which was recorded by Sputnik Ossetia for publication. In this presentation it has become clear which territories the South Ossetians lay their claim onto. With the Georgian authorities refusing any dialogue with Russia and South Ossetia about this subject, the Chorchana-Tsnelisi territorial dispute has proven to be a successful precedent for the South Ossetian and Russian side to annex territory. Georgian authorities have not ramped up security in the areas that are exposed to encroachment, and various swathes of territory the South Ossetian side is eying is liable to that.
Meanwhile, in December the activists were able to record troops patrolling the forest and moving around trees, allegedly in Georgian controlled territory and just 1.5 kilometer from the important national Sh22 Gomi-Sachkhere road to upper Imereti and Racha. marked trees in the forest were reported earlier in the Chorchana forest, but now troops have been actively spotted.
New video footage of late December 2021 showed the borderization near Goraka / Monasteri reported earlier in May (see below 5-11 May, Goraka), extends farther up on the mountain. Sentinel satellite images shows this was done in May 2021 soon after the initial recordings. The track now joins some earlier existing tracks on toop of the ridge. The ruins near the ABL, an old chapel and castle, which locals used to visit or to graze their cattle is now a so called “fear zone”: locals are affraid of getting detained in this area, which has happened in the past.
4 September 2021
In September 2021 borderization works between villages Takhtisdziri and Gvirgvina were recorded. Earlier in 2021, between April and May, a wave of borderization took place in this area (see further below this page). Most of this consisted of reviving existing damarcation lines in the landscape (“fire lines” according to South Ossetia), but also new structures were installed by Russian (controlled) border guard troops. In September barbed wire fencing was renewed and a second parallel fence could be observed from video footage which did not exist a year earlier.
16 August 2021
During the summer, sometime between June and August 2021 a new fence of approximately 400 meters was installed near the Georgian village of Bershueti, together with a so called “border sign”. The fence has been constructed next to the far end of a piece of Georgian administered farmland that is surrounded by the ABL on three sides. The road connecting Ghromi and Gduleti FSB bases which was constructed in 2010-11, skirts the ABL here. In recent times a Russian / South Ossetian observation post has been setup next to the farmland. The intimidating presence next to the ABL keeps Bershueti locals from visiting their their land, out of fear of being taken by Russian/Ossetian forces nearby. The so called “fear zone”. Effectively 113 ha of Georgian controlled land has been withdrawn from Georgian access.
10-15 July 2021
On 10 July 2021 “Power in Unity” activists recorded new activities along the ABL between Koda and Tsnelisi. According to them, extensive digging was carried out over the course of ten days as close as possible to the fence that was constructed earlier. The purpose is unclear yet from pictures of the site that is next to an observation post or cabin. As in other places along the ABL recently, this might the construction of an electronic surveillance site, with a parking site for a portable relay station.
Fresh satellite images and aerial footage also shows other ground works. Some 350 meters inland from the ABL a series of four installation sites for heavy equipment have been created in July 2021. Sentinel-2 satellite imagery narrows this down to a timeframe of 13 -18 July 2021 these have been created. From the look of it this seems to have a military purpose to install equipment such as artillery, rocket or missile launchers. If that is the case this is an indication Russia is preparing to defend this area by all means.
5 and 7 July
“Power in Unity” activists recorded borderization activities along the ABL near Atotsi. New barbed wire fences were under construction, seemingly where they didn’t run before (ie, not replacement). Also, while filming the fence with a drone, an alleged Russian soldier was detected on (seemingly) Georgian controlled territory. When he noticed the drone he quickly hid in the bushes (for verification of the claim he was on the wrong side of occupation line, geolocation is under way).
Note: The latter has not been confirmed by anyone, nor is there any other visual evidence of deployed Russian troops. Therefore this is not conclusive and could potentially have been staged (cautionary note by this site).
As result of the kidnap at Akhalubani (see 26-06-2021 entry at the arrest/detention page) it appeared the Russian FSB has set up electronic surveillance and observation technology along the ABL here. Power in Unity activists shot aerial footage that illustrated this, as was earlier in June at Khurvaleti. These sites can autonomously detect visual movement and radio and phone signals. A special parking site for a mobile radio-peeling unit has been created to intercept radio and phone signals and possibly jamming. A major Russian military exercise recently exposed this.
More about this later (developing chapter) at the military infra page.
At the 100th IPRM meeting in Ergneti, the South Ossetian side reiterated Tbilisi should remove the police post near Tsnelisi. The construction of this police post in summer 2019 sparked the territorial spat in that area with South Ossetian authorities.
The Georgian delegation raised the recent borderization wave, demanding the “immediate cessation of the illegal activities of the occupation regime”.
To mark the 100th meeting since 2009, two special guests were present: OSCE’s SG Helga Schmid and EU External Action Service Director for Security and Defence Policy Joanneke Balfoort. The IPRM meetings are a joint OSCE and EU mediation format to defuse tensions, discuss incidents and find solutions or compromise between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali.
Residents of Khurvaleti demand more police protection and tougher security measures as they feel threatened by the constant presence of Russian troops on the hill above their village, near their cemetery. Also, the troops engage in electronic activities such as jamming the mobile network in the village.
On 31 May Power in Unity activists filmed Russian (controlled) border troops working at the ABL on the hill above Khurvaleti village. The activist though the troops were constructing a new mobile checkpoint/observation post. The troops stopped working when the drone appeared, hid their faces from the camera. Upon departing from Khurvaleti, the activists met 5 or 6 EUMM cars, which is not the usual with a normal hot line call. Radio Tavisupleba has a follow up and theory on the video and what was probably really going on:
Apparently, the Russian occupation forces set up a portable satellite radio station near the Khurvaleti cemetery and did so as part of military exercises. On the evening of May 31, the press service of the Southern Military District of the Russian Ministry of Defense reported on the training of large-scale military liaison troops in the Tskhinvali region.
The large scale communication equipment training involved the use of various radio frequencies. The Russian troops caught on video by the drone, were “allegedly installing a portable relay or satellite station in the elevated part of the Khurvaleti cemetery, at which time the drone appeared”. In other words, the drone disturbed the Russian military exercises. The EUMM hot line was activated by the Russian side this time, confirmed the Georgian Security Service.
The aerial and EUMM shots above were taken from the Power in Unity video.
According to South Ossetian authorities, a group of unidentified Georgian citizens “violated the state border and committed vandal actions against the infrastructure of the RSO KGB Border Service”. An observation post was allegedly vandalized. This supposedly happened near Ghromi. Photos provided show smashed windows of the observation post on top of a hill overlooking the Georgian villages Adzvi, Mejudispiri and Mejvriskhevi. The South Ossetian KGB announced to raise this “provocation” at the upcoming 100th IPRM meeting on 15 June 2021.
On 5 May the resumption of borderization works between the Georgian controlled villages Tamarasheni and Ghogheti was reported. The line of painted poles in the ground has been expanded as well as the 4-5 meter wide so called “fire line” that runs parallel to it through the farmland. This confirms that the poles are used to demarcate the boundary line and the course of the “fire line”. It effectively visualizes the so called “state border” of South Ossetia.
According to some sources the poles have been installed on Tbilisi controlled territory. But 1980s survey maps of the area indicate the enforced boundary follows the administrative boundary of the former South Ossetia Autonomous Oblast. Regardless, local farmers are now effectively denied access to tens of hectares of land. This scale of borderization in the open farmland hasn’t been seen in recent years. An estimated 8 km of farmland in the surrounding villages has been marked. It might be linked to the recent resumption of the South Ossetian border demarcation commission, which was officially decreed on 11 May. On the 7th of May 2021 the South Ossetian KGB criticized the activities of Georgian activists near the ABL as provocative and a threat to stability.
According to Radio Tavisupleba / RFE-RL borderization was observed on 6 May in the fields at Ceronisi and Knolevi in a similar fashion as earlier in May and April 2021: with tractors pulling 4-5 meter wide “fire lines”:
“Representatives of the occupation forces carried out so-called fire-lines in the fields of Knolevi and Ceronisi in Kareli municipality, along the dividing line. According to the locals, the representatives of the border unit of the occupation forces arrived on the spot by tractor and drove along the “border” green banners in the field near the villages.”
Borderization Knolevei - Tamarasheni - Ghogheti - Takhtisdziri in April and May 2021 The various sites of borderization by Russian (controlled) forces. The creation of "fire lines" and other demarcation in April and May 2021 along the ABL of South Ossetia.Map loading, please wait ...
Also, it appeared borderization has started in the forest between Tbilisi controlled Goraka and Tskhinvali controlled Monasteri. Aerial footage by Power in Unity exposed a corridor parallel to the ABL has been cut through the forest. It seems to have been deliberately hidden from plain sight, obscured by a line of trees, at a little distance from the ABL. According to Sentinel-2 satellite images the track seems to have been cut in late April 2021. On the 11th May 2021 fresh borderization was spotted near Atotsi at the ABL of South Ossetia. This was recorded on video by Power in Unity activists.
In response to the civic and media reporting about Goraka, the Georgian State Security Service released a statement, warning for wrong terminology and the use of maps which “reinforces the narrative of a so called border”, stating any of such attention “damages the state’s effort directed at de-occupation”:
In the second half of April 2021 a string of borderization works were reported. First, on 20 April near the Georgian controlled villages Takhtisdziri and Dvani. This was on the same day EU Council President Charles Michel paid a snap visit to Tbilisi. He welcomed the EU brokered agreement between Georgian Dream government and the opposition which put an end to the political crisis since the general elections of October 2020. An important diplomatic victory for the EU, trying to regain some geopolitical weight and prestige in the region. Borderization works haven’t been reported in months, which makes the timing of this wave remarkable. But it could be just that: planning coincidence.
The anti-occupation movement Power in Unity reported local villagers noted new signs were put up and poles in the middle of farmers tracks that cross the ABL in order to prevent local access. It is assumed this is the precursor to further borderization (possibly with fences).
Aerial view of the borderization by Russian controlled forces at Takhtidziri on 22 April 2021 with EUMM present. Video by David Katsarava
Aerial view of the borderization by Russian controlled forces at Takhtidziri on 23 April 2019. Video by David Katsarava
Russian occupation forces carried out preparatory works for illegal borderization near Takhtisdziri and Dvani
🇷🇺 Russian occupation forces carried out preparatory works for illegal #borderization in two villages of 🇬🇪 Georgia's Kareli Municipality - Takhtisdziri and Dvani, near ABL. pic.twitter.com/vscAarVM5R— Visioner (@visionergeo) April 20, 2021
A day later, the anti-occupation movement returned to Takhtisdziri with journalists and police, monitoring the area. Around noon a big army truck appeared with 10 Russian controlled troops and a German shepherd. After a while they left the scene. They were most likely from the nearby Dzivileti FSB Border Guard base (more on the Russian FSB bases here).
On 22 and 23 April the Russian border guard troops have been ploughing the Administrative Boundary Line in the soil to demarcate the course of the boundary. The official claim is to make “fire lines” preventing the spread of wildfires. The EUMM was present, while Power in Unity activists filmed the activity from the air (see above). It is worth reminding this “fire line” borderization has been done in the area in previous years with the start of the farmers season. The wooden poles is a new dimension reportedly not seen before.
Between the Georgian controlled villages Tamarasheni and Ghogheti borderization works were reported on 24 April 2021 Same as earlier near Takhtisdziri, new signs were put up and marked wooden poles were installed in the ground along the course of the ABL. Reportedly, a 1 km section of the ABL has been ploughed with so called “fire lines” similarly to the site near Takhtisdziri. Activists, press, politicians, police and the EUMM were on site on 25 april 2021 (see pictures below).
On 27 April 2021 borderization works were reported near Kvemo Okona and Khurvaleti. No further details have appeared. Issues concerning borderization were discussed at the 99th IPRM meeting on 27 April 2021.
Meanwhile the “joint South Ossetian-Russian demarcation commission” held its fifth meeting in Moscow between on 20-22 April. They “discussed the progress of the work plan for 2021 and issues related to the creation of cartographic materials for the demarcation”, RES reported. And in Tskhinvali, the de facto South Ossetian Parliament “approved the candidacies for the joint conciliation commission of the Parliament and the government on delimitation and demarcation of the state border of the Republic”. This commission aims to define the border line of the self declared Republic of South Ossetia, “taking into account all the prescribed norms in the Decree on the formation of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region [of 1922]”.
After suffering from a serious illness since December 2020 (see below) David “Data Papa” Vanishvili died on 19 March 2021 at the age of 90. Data has been known around the world as the Georgian farmer who “woke up to find barbed wire fence cut his house off from the rest of Georgia”. The barbed wire was installed overnight in 2013 by Russian occupation troops. The farmer lived for eight years isolated on the other (South Ossetian) side of the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) in the Russian-occupied Georgian village of Khurvaleti, becoming a symbol of the Russian occupation in Georgia.
Since then, Data shared with the world his experiences and situation which was forced upon him, by talking to hundreds of visiting politicians and diplomats. He was not able to collect his pension, visit his relatives or his neighbours nearby. Yet, he never considered leaving. He would not have himself chased away from his own premises. “This is my land, this is my house, and thy shall not kick me out” was his motto.
A true patriot for Georgia and a symbol for the fight against injustice and human rights violations in the occupation zone.
Rest in peace.