In August 2019 a simmering territorial dispute driven by South Ossetia revived when Georgian authorities constructed a new police post on Tbilisi administered territory near the South Ossetian controlled Tsnelisi village (referred to as Uista by South Ossetian side) . The course of the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) between Tsnelisi and Georgian controlled Chorchana is disputed by South Ossetia. Only a few days earlier borderization at Gugutiantkari stirred the emotions on the Georgian side.
In the past, Tskhinvali laid a (historic) claim on the area between Tsnelisi and Chorchana, at the southwestern corner of South Ossetia. Since 2019 it has come to an explicit non-physical confrontation, with Georgia de facto losing control of territory, for the moment, rooted in a tactical blunder by the Georgian side. A series of incidents, heated rhetoric and Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meetings were some of the direct and visible elements of the dispute which is still ongoing unresolved into 2022. This page is a chronological overview of developments since August 2019 (last updates at bottom of the page).
According to South Ossetian authorities on 24 August 2019, the Georgian side constructed a police post above the Yugostalk marble plant and near South Ossetian controlled Tsnelisi, close to the ABL. The South Ossetian authorities called this a provocation from the Georgian side in the run-up to “independence” celebrations. They also reported “construction of a site for equipping Georgian police facilities” in the vicinity of Sinaguri, more north. This was not confirmed at this point, but the South Ossetian side insisted on this alleged construction on 4 September.
Plenipotentiary of the President of South Ossetia for post-conflict settlement, Murat Dzhioev, said “according to border guards, in the region of Tsnelisi village of the Znaur district of South Ossetia, above the Yugostalk enterprise, Georgian law enforcement agencies cut down a forest, paved the way, put up a post and a Georgian flag, thereby violating the state border”. Which was echoed by Zaza Driaev of the South Ossetian Parliament as well.
On the 27th of August the South Ossetian authorities released a video which showed Georgian works on the road to the police post, illustrating their earlier statements. Despite the allegations expressed in South Ossetian “state media”, Georgian media did not pick up on this. That only happened after South Ossetia demanded the Georgian police to leave the area, by expressing an ultimatum during the EUMM facilitated and scheduled IPRM meeting at Ergneti on the 29th of August.
The recent incidents at Gugutiantkari and Chorchana were the main talking points at this IPRM meeting. The South Ossetian and Russian side however decided to leave the meeting prematurely when the Georgian side refused to agree with the ultimatum to clear their police post by August 30 6:00 AM. The Georgian government confirmed this refusal the next day.
Delineation and demarcation
Yelena Panin, a Russian Duma deputy of United Russia said “South Ossetia had always been an independent state. There is no need to talk about some kind of peaceful return of South Ossetia to Georgia, especially after the tragic events of 2008”. The Russian Foreign Ministry described the construction of the Georgian police post as “provocative actions” carried out “against the background of Tbilisi’s repeated refusal of Tskhinval’s proposal to begin negotiations on delimitation and demarcation of the border.”
In the run-up to the IPRM meeting South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov visited Tsnelisi, with a militarized entourage and additional security forces which alarmed people in Georgia. Meanwhile Zaza Driaev, head of the South Ossetian Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Policy and Inter-Parliamentary Relations earlier said “It will be fair if we set up our posts where the border of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region previously ran”.
So what does Driaev mean with “where the border previously ran”? And was there really a “violation of the [state] border” as the South Ossetians claim? First, let’s check the map below. The location of the Georgian police post (blue) is in Tbilisi administered area. In accordance with (Georgian and international community) traditional interpretation of the Administrative Boundary Line. However, South Ossetian authorities contest the post is on their territory. This difference of interpretation of “borders” drives the South Ossetian accusations against Georgian authorities.
Territorial dispute Tsnelisi - Chorchana The purple dashed line is the Administrative Boundary Line upheld by Georgia. The red line indicates the "border" as claimed by South Ossetia.Map loading, please wait ...
Archives and history
In 2018 a Commission installed by the de facto Parliament of South Ossetia performed a “historical and archival research”. It was specifically tasked to solve “the issue of the border demarcation” after appeals from Tsnelisi village. Civil.ge quoted Georgian Reconciliation Minister Ketevan Tsikhelashvili saying “the Commission is a provocation” that could “aggravate security and humanitarian situation on the ground.” Tsnelisi locals however, complained parts of their village are located outside the “border of the republic”. The Commission concluded the disputed area near Tsnelisi “belongs” to South Ossetia. “It was always part of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region since its creation in 1922”. The Commission concluded among other things a “fake map” from 1982 was used for marking the (current de-facto) “border”.
More in the fold-out explainer below.
In June 2018 the de facto Parliament of South Ossetia created a Commission to investigate the demarcation and delimitation of the "state border with Georgia", after appeals from villagers in Tsnelisi. Locals complained parts of the village remained outside of the "border of the republic". Many villages are split by the Administrative Boundary Line, affecting both Ossetian and Georgian communities. In the case of Tsnelisi the Yugostalk quarry, currently under control of Tbilisi, is another point of dispute. Tskhinvali claims the talc and marble quarry. Local Georgian communities however fear consequences for their inter-communal life, such as connecting roads being cut. According to Tskhinvali the need to agree on and mark the "border" is proven by the "illegal border violations" (by Georgians). Tskhinvali has frequently requested Tbilisi to jointly work on the delimitation of the boundary. But the Georgian government systematically holds that of. It does not recognize the authority nor legality of the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali. Since the abolition of the South Ossetian autonomy within the Georgian SSR in December 1990, Georgia does not recognize the former region as an administrative unit at all. For Georgia most of South Ossetia is nowadays officially part of the Shida Kartli province. However, in the current status quo situation it regards the line of control as de facto boundary. Tskhinvali currently uses a map of 1984 as base reference, regarding it incomplete. With Tbilisi refusing, Tskhinvali decided to unilaterally determine the so called "border" at Tsnelisi by starting an investigation into the (history of the) boundary and imposing the outcome on Tbilisi. This process of demarcation pushed by South Ossetia is yet an example of "borderization": the formalization and transformation of an administrative boundary into a "state border". For six months the Commission investigated archives looking for proof where the border is supposed to run. Obviously the task was to find the territorial and political beneficial boundary line. The starting point in June 2018: “We have a decree on the formation of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region [in 1922]. In addition, there is a map used from 1931 to 1937, indicating the borders in accordance with the decree. Studying this issue it turned out that there are still places where the [current] border was drawn incorrectly”. One of the Commission members specifically stated “We have one goal, it is necessary to delimit the state border within the border of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region, and return our territories that have moved to Georgia.” The presumption is clear. The de facto ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Ossetia remarked the current "Republic of South Ossetia" is roughly within the borders of the South Ossetian autonomy of 1922. However, the ministry went on saying “in fact, the Ossetian territory is much larger and it is simply absurd to talk about the seizure of new territories. It is necessary to talk about the annexation by Soviet Georgia of the eastern part of Ossetia, the Tyrsyg [Truso] and Kobi valleys, which the Bolsheviks illegally rejected [to the Ossetian autonomy] in favor of the newly formed Georgian SSR without the will of the Ossetian people. Definitely, Ossetians will never recognize the legitimacy of the decisions of the Bolsheviks of 1921, adopted in violation of all international norms”. Civil.ge wrote a backgrounder on this so called "Eastern Ossetia". In other words, the scope of the "correction" of the so called border is stretched to alleged historical lands beyond the original Autonomous Oblast. With one hand the Soviet imposed creation of the Oblast is used as a reference point, and with the other it is dismissed. Also, a frequent talking point on the Ossetian side is disputing that South Ossetia was ever Georgian: "South Ossetia has never been part of Georgia except during the Soviet period from 1921 to 1990. It was the Bolsheviks who forcibly included the southern part of Ossetia into Soviet Georgia". Obviously that is the world upside down. South Ossetia only exists by the grace of the Soviets giving it a separate status within territory what has long been under Georgian rule or administration. First things first, Tsnelisi acts as a test case. If the de facto authorities can create facts on the grounds based on the historic claims in the relatively small case of Tsnelisi, it might pursue the same elsewhere. The Commission concluded the disputed area near Tsnelisi "belongs" to South Ossetia. "It was always part of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region since its creation in 1922". A 1982 "fake map" was used for marking the (current de-facto) boundary, the Commission claims. Also, head of the Commission Tedeev told Republika RSO “We discovered a map of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region of 1927, published by typography in Russia. As well as some very interesting documents regarding the territorial demarcation of the times of the USSR. It is strange that no one paid attention to these documents before". But history is history. And in today's world people have real problems, created by a policy of separation. Georgian Reconciliation Minister Ketevan Tsikhelashvili hit the mark: “Instead of erecting barbed wires and other restrictions, it would be better to listen to the residents of Muguti, Tsnelisi, Artsevi, Ikorta, Abrevi, Orchosani and Tsinagari [villages controlled by Tskhinvali bordering Georgia proper], where both Georgians and Ossetians are suffering and are asking for the freedom of movement, but are getting barbed wires in response”. The Commission actively contributed to separating communities and restricting freedom of movement.
Juggling with maps
Both Russian and separatist South Ossetian representatives have determined previous administrative boundaries of the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast. They are using reference material of different years for demarcation activities that suits their benefit. According to the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)
“the Russian occupational regime is planning to go back to the old administrative borders of the South Ossetian autonomous province which existed during Soviet times. In order to define the so-called borders (occupation lines) of Georgia’s occupied territories, the border-guards of the Russian Federation and the separatist regime use the topographic maps of the general staff of the Soviet military published between 1976-1986.
“First of all, there were numerous topographic maps of the Soviet general staff and they have been published throughout different times. At the same time, they differed in the way they defined the boundaries of the former South Ossetian Autonomous District. For example, to define the administrative borderline in Gori region, the Russian side uses the topographic map of 1988 which portrays the locations as of 1984.”
“Secondly, during the demarcation and establishment of the administrative border after the 2008 war, the Russian and Ossetian sides did not take into account the complex administrative outline of the South Ossetian district. As a result, much of the Georgian population lost access to the lands that they utilized on every-day basis.”
The latter sums up the complications of today’s reality.
Mandates and access
The EU Monitoring Mission has obviously been very concerned about the conflict resolution and security environment. As impartial observer and mediating party they were not dragged into the dispute itself, so far. But that was to change in September 2019. Their mandate formally covers the entire internationally recognized Georgian territory, including the de-facto separated areas. In practice the monitors observe everything from Tbilisi controlled territory, being denied access to Tskhinvali controlled territory:
Erik Hoeg, 30-08-2019: “We continue monitoring Chorchana/Tsnelisi area at the ABL. 24/7. Tonight we have 9 #EUMM monitors from 6 countries out there supported by 2 Georgian colleagues. According to regular updates from our patrols to HQ everything quiet so far.”
Early September a police post was constructed by South Ossetian troops on a hilltop in Tbilisi administered territory, overlooking Chorchana. This is the southwestern corner of territory Tskhinvali claims in this dispute (“point 17”, 944 m, see maps below and above). They also carved out an access road from Tsnelisi through the forest, up to 1.3 km into Tbilisi administered territory.
The construction of the police post coincided with an extra IPRM meeting in Ergneti called to mediate in this crisis. Both sides accused each other of illegal and provocative activities in the disputed territory. South Ossetian authorities demanded the Georgians would give up the police outlook near Tsnelisi as a condition to “remove tensions“. Which the Georgian side refuses to. Moreover, the Tskhinvali didn’t elaborate how they would “remove tensions” if the Georgians would fulfill their request.
The South Ossetian political class meanwhile requested assistance from Moscow: “The South Ossetian Parliament asks the Russian Federation Council and the State Duma to hold inter-parliamentary consultations to develop a unified policy to promote de-escalation, restore territorial integrity and ensure the security of South Ossetian citizens.”
After the Ergneti IPRM meeting on the 13th of September the EUMM released a statement, saying:
Beginning in January this year  the Mission noted paint markings on trees in the area between Tsnelisi and Chorchana. The Mission assesses these as a feature of ‘borderisation’. However, no actor has claimed responsibility for these markings.
Between 20 and 24 August a new Georgian observation post was established on the outskirts of the village of Tsnelisi by the MIA Special Tasks Department. According to EUMM findings, the post is located some 240 metres away from the ABL and on Tbilisi-administered territory (TAT) in accordance with the traditionally understood run of the ABL in that area.
Security actors from South Ossetia have in the last week established new positions and installed a number of borderisation features, including ‘green signs’ and flags on the TAT side of the ABL as traditionally understood in this area. The features are up 1.3 kilometres beyond the ABL. In the meantime Georgian MIA units have also reinforced their presence in the Chorchana forest area.
South Ossetian Envoy to the President Murat Jioyev condemned the “illegal visits” of the EU Monitoring Mission: “EU observers are unlawfully visiting the right-bank side of the Tsnelisi settlement. They have no mandate on the territory of South Ossetia, so every visit is unlawful”. Dragging the EUMM in the conflict.
Separation of issues
The co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussion (GID) traveled to Tskhinvali to discuss the ongoing closure of crossing points by the South Ossetian side. For the South Ossetian side this closure is highly connected with the Chorchana – Tsnelisi conflict: reopening is made conditional to the Georgian removal of the police post near Tsnelisi.
Through the IPRM and GID dialogue formats international stakeholders insist on the separation of these issues. In Tskhinvali, the co-chairs of the GID were handed a decree on the establishment of the South Ossetian Autonomous District in Tskhinvali in 1922. This decree allegedly claimed that the Chorchana forest was formerly controlled by the Oblast and therefore belongs to its successor, the “Republic of South Ossetia”.
Former minister of Reconciliation and Civic Equality of Georgia Paata Zakareishvili voiced criticism towards the Georgian government: “The government’s silence is troubling, and this is contributing to the creation of various myths. Their incompetence shows that they do not know the situation and do not know how to act in the direction of conflict management, I am not talking about a solution anymore, we have no dreams, they cannot manage it”.
Effectively Zakareishvili blames the government for self-inflicted damage. He says the Georgians should not have constructed the police post without consultation at the Ergneti IPRM meetings. Regardless whether the lookout is legit on Georgian administered territory. It predictably fueled tensions and escalation from the South Ossetian side.
He said this escalation with South Ossetian police posts and borderization on Tbilisi administered territory “is an extremely dangerous and destructive act that seriously damages the security environment and poses additional problems for indigenous people on both sides of the occupation line.”
Note from the editor: It appears the Georgian authorities planned to construct two police posts in this section, starting with the northern one, instead of the southern. This has proven to be a tactical blunder, as it gave the Russian / South Ossetian side the opportunity to shortcut the Georgian strategy of securing control through the available access road into the Chorchana forest from the Tsnelisi village.
The fifth IPRM meeting in Ergneti in a month, entirely focused on the Chorchana crisis, didn’t produce any results, illustrating the deep stalemate. A week later, at the 49th round of Geneva International Discussions (GID) the impasse on various dossiers continued. South Ossetian officials reiterated the need “to work on the delimitation of the South Ossetian-Georgian [state] border”. Which got support from Moscow.
Mid October saw counter claims by activists and officials on either side of the conflict. The “Power in Unity” activist group claimed borderization was pursued by the South Ossetians in the direction of Kobi village. This was denied by the Georgian State Security Service, yet they reiterated continued “provocative activities” in the area. According to a local villager occupation forces did move across the Lamushuristskali River, which is the ABL here.
Subsequently the South Ossetian side claimed a group of Georgian “intelligence scouts” attempted “to penetrate into the territory of South Ossetia”, at night. No visual proof was provided, nor specific coordinates. It was denied by the Georgian State Security Service as misinformation. The controversial actions of “Power in Unity” led South Ossetian authorities into accusing Georgian police, EUMM and activists of coordinating “in order to achieve specific political goals”.
On the 24th of October a new low was hit when an EUMM patrol was stopped and held by armed South Ossetian security forces in Tbilisi administered area. This is the first time since the early days of the mission in 2008 an arrest like this happened. The statement of the mission is clear:
“The Mission is still looking into the details concerning the incident, which happened in an area understood to be on Tbilisi-Administered Territory in accordance with the traditional interpretation of the Administrative Boundary Line in that area.
Following recent security developments, EUMM has significantly increased its patrolling to support stability in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area. The EUMM is deeply concerned about cases in which armed security actors prevent EUMM Monitors from conducting their daily activities in accordance with the mandate.”
In a clear attempt of misleading propaganda and disinformation by South Ossetian officials the observers were accused of “violating the state border” and of lying about “getting lost”. This all happened a day before a scheduled IPRM meeting in Ergneti.
Tbilisi and the EUMM strongly denied reports by the de facto government of South Ossetia of alleged shootings near the ABL at Koda. According to them a violent confrontation took place between local villagers and Georgian authorities. Locals interviewed by Radio Tavisupleba denied such a thing took place. Below statement illustrates the vile attempt to sow division between the local Georgians and their authorities, spreading disinformation:
South Ossetian claims: “Information received by State Security Committee of Republic of South Ossetia indicates that near the border with South Ossetia in Koda on 5 November automatic weapons were associated with an armed incident between the Georgian Interior Ministry and the local Georgian population.
The cause of the conflict was discontent of Koda residents with the reinforced checkpoints of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in the area of Chorchana-Kobi-Koda-Atotsi, a general escalation of tension, as well as attempts by Georgian police officers to establish Georgian flags at the heights prevailing over the village.”
An interview on “state press agency” RES with Yuri Vazagov, Head of the Information and Analytical Office of the Presidential Administration, illustrates the confrontational stance in South Ossetia. He recommends a principled position on the territorial issue, including “strengthening the borders”, while he voiced explicit accusations against the European monitors. During his European trip South Ossetia’s de-facto minister of Foreign Affairs Dmitry Medoev said international peacekeepers are a closed chapter since the 2008 war, referring to the Tsnelisi crisis.
In a bold move, South Ossetia de facto President Anatoly Bibilov inspected the South Ossetian police post on the “944.8 height” near Chorchana, which is located on Tbilisi administered territory. Georgian authorities have effectively lost control over this height. The so called “creeping annexation” does not get more explicit. But a next chapter was added after New Year.
On 14 January 2020 South Ossetian forces reportedly started erecting “illegal installations” (fences) in the Chorchana forests. They followed the line that is the “real border” of South Ossetia according to Tskhinvali (see red line in map above). In other words: brutal unilateral annexation of territory without any dialogue or finding any resolve on the demarcation dispute. Not even considering upholding the status quo of the last decade. A hardly surprising move given the recent past. David Katsarava visualized the borderization works in the forested hills with a drone (see also Radio Tavisupleba):
Aerial view of the borderization by Russian controlled forces near Chorchana, March 2020. Video by David Katsarava
Meanwhile South Ossetian state media were spinning things completely different: “a Georgian state drone violated airspace”. Subsequently Georgian authorities closed media and civil society access to the area by blocking the road at Brolosani. A few days later the Georgian State Security Service reported that borderization works were resumed at both the Chorchana area and the Gugutiantkari village (link to the main page on this subject).
Georgian activists geo-located marked trees which the EUMM reported about in September 2019 (observed in January 2019). The EUMM did not identify publicly who was responsible for the markings. However, the Georgian activists drew their conclusions on who did and with which intentions in Tbilisi controlled territory.
US acting Ambassador stated in relation to the borderization initiatives: “I believe that all resources must be used to settle the issue, including the Geneva International Discussions. The US firmly supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and urges Russia to fulfill the ceasefire agreement signed with Georgia in 2008 [and withdraw its forces from the Georgian territory]”.
The checkpoint near Odzisi (Mosabruni) in Akhalgori district remained closed all this time. South Ossetian de facto President Anatoly Bibilov reiterated the condition for reopening, at a reporting meeting of the Russian FSB Border Administration in January 2020. This checkpoint is the most important of three, with up to 400-500 civilian crossings on a daily basis. It finally reopened shortly at the end of January 2020 only to allow pensioners to collect their Georgian pension, closing again 10 days later. Scheduled to reopen again in March 2020, it closed indefinitely due to the Corona virus outbreak. More on the checkpoint regime in a separate page.
On 16 April the Georgian State Security Service stated in its report the “occupying forces also used the ongoing incidents near the village of Chorchana to discriminate against ethnic Georgians living in occupied Tskhinvali”.
“Against the background of the active propaganda and disinformation campaign, the de facto regimes have linked the fake news to the restriction of movement on the occupation line. At the beginning of 2019, the so-called The so-called seasonal spread of swine flu (H1N1). To avoid danger, the movement on the occupation line was restricted for 45 days [by South Ossetian authorities]. The so-called Checkpoints and locals were isolated. In September 2019, the occupation regime once again restricted free movement on the occupation line, this time by the central government to “worsen” the security situation and link it to the developments in Chorchana. Occupying forces have been actively covering misinformation about the village of Chorchana. As part of the targeted information campaign, the occupation forces spread false news, including the mobilization of additional police forces from Tbilisi and the confrontation between the police and the population”.
During a Geneva International Discussions (GID) video conference on 13 May 2020 the de facto South Ossetian authorities reiterated “the need to withdraw the Georgian police post illegally placed near the village of Uista (Tsnelisi)”.
Disinformation by South Ossetian side
On 20 May 2020 the South Ossetian KGB released a statement accusing the EUMM mission of facilitating “Georgian side’s plans to collect biological samples in South Ossetia by illegally moving South Ossetian citizens across the state border line”, connecting this with an alleged Georgian genocidal policy and the Lugar Biolab in Tbilisi:
“The KGB of South Ossetia reported on Wednesday that the direct continuation of the South Ossetian genocide policy at the present stage is the activities in Georgia of the so-called “R. Lugar Research Center for Public Health.”, whose representatives continue the attempts to take biological material from citizens of the Republic of South Ossetia.”
It further claimed that the EUMM patrol “accompanying the Private vehicles” were part of this covert plot providing a disguise:
“The KGB has noted that, according to objective control data, both times “Private” vehicles were accompanied by two EUMM patrol cars, which ensured the secret movement of the Georgian doctors to the state border line, their disguise, protection and departure in the opposite direction.”
This allegedly happened at two locations on 26 April 2020: near the quarry and Georgian police post just outside of Tsnelisi and at a height between Chorchana and Kobe villages.
This was strongly refuted by the EUMM, declaring the accompanying vehicles were legitimate ambulances, used for many years, with full knowledge of the de facto South Ossetian authorities.
“Reports that appeared in South Ossetian media focusing on the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Georgia on 20 May 2020, made inaccurate and completely false references to the activities of the EU Monitoring Mission ( EUMM) in Georgia along the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) with South Ossetia on 26 April.
Categorically denying the false claims which are yet another example of malicious and irresponsible disinformation targeted at the Mission, we state the following:
On 26 and 27 April the Mission responded to Hotline activations regarding enquiries about ‘private vehicles’ that accompanied its patrol. In response, the Mission explained, as it does here, that the named vehicles were ambulances.
Ambulance cars have been present with EUMM patrols since its inception. They are a standard precautionary measure. It is part of our duty of care towards our staff that they accompany EUMM personnel so that they can swiftly provide the necessary help in case of need, such as a car accident. This is particularly important in remote areas where speedy medical support is difficult to obtain.
The ambulance was clearly visible. There was no secretive movement. The patrol was conducted as planned. There was no contact with any persons. There was no collection of any samples and there is no intent to do so. EUMM is a monitoring Mission, it monitors every day, including during the COVID pandemic.”
On 30 may 2020 activists of Power in Unity determined more marked trees in the Chorchana forests, allegedly in preparation of further borderization of the Tbilisi controlled area that Tskhinvali claims and attempts to occupy. Radio Tavisupleba wrote an article about it citing the State Security Service saying in a statement “every provocative act is being responded to”. Davit Katsarava commented: “We were in the Chorchana-Perevi forest massif, in the territory controlled by our government, which is probably no longer under our control. Today we have already found new landmarks that are moving in the direction of Perevi. It can be said that we followed the occupants on wet tracks. We found a special trap on one of the sections of the road, which was designed to detect if a stranger passed by on this section.” More video images and an interview can be found at VOA (in Georgian).
In line with propaganda and disinformation developments during the Covid-19 crisis, the de facto South Ossetian authorities have accused Georgia of biowarfare activities through the Lugar biolab and UAV flights. In a typical propaganda stint in line with this disinformation the KGB forces of South Ossetia performed “chemical & biological reconnaissance” in the Tsnelisi area. After Georgia performed UAV flights near Seribalta and the Yugostalk plant above Tbilisi administered territory (which SO contested was above theirs):
“The Committee has noted that, in particular, the employees of the Radiation and Chemical-Biological Protection Unit of the RSO KGB Border Service selected “soil, water, air, green cover, and various insects in order to further study them in the laboratory conditions.
In connection with the outbreak in Georgia, in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic of the Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever, as well as experiments carried out at the Lugar laboratory with bats and insects, the KGB of the Republic responsibly declares that if pathogenic microflora or disease vectors are detected in the samples taken, this fact will indicate the use of forms and methods of bioterrorism by the Tbilisi regime against South Ossetia.”
During a video conference between the new EUMM head Marek Schigol and South Ossetian delegates Yegor Kochiev and Murat Dzhioev all participants reiterated the importance of the IPRM format which meetings have not been held since August 2019. However, the South Ossetian side maintains its position on the Georgian police post near Tsnelisi and Yugostalk plant as an obstacle for progress. Obviously, the police post hinders South Ossetia in annexing the territory it claims.
According to South Ossetian KGB (17 June 2020) a Georgian police post is allegedly being constructed in the northeastern forested outskirts of Chorchana village. There was no official reaction from Georgian authorities.
“The State Security Committee has noted that in the northeastern outskirts of the settlement of Chorchana a new post of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has been constructed, the object is located in a forest belt, and at least five police officers are registered there.”
IPN and others took notice of the Ossetian claims. However, RFE/RL reports based on Power in Unity civil patrols and experts this is malign disinformation of the South Ossetian side to provoke and expect further escalation:
Teona Akubardia, a former deputy secretary of the Security Council of Georgia and a security analyst: “The first goal is to raise the temperature of this community and, despite the pandemic, to maintain a constant high temperature in relation to this community. The users of this topic, first of all, are the internal audience, the population living in the occupied region of Tskhinvali. The second direction is to put pressure on the Georgian government and ignore these issues during the pre-election period. The risks, of course, are for the national security of the country. “
The South Ossetian State Security Service also mentioned the activities of Power in Unity which identified “marked trees” (see above). The Georgian activists say these are marked by “occupation forces” (Russian/South Ossetian) and are a precursor to further borderization in Tbilisi controlled territory. The South Ossetian de facto security authorities however, twist this around: they claim this is a precursor to Georgian activities in the area they claim is theirs. Referring to 2019 when tree markings were “observed” followed by construction of a Georgian police post:
“So, on the state border section, in the area of the village of Uista (Tsnelis), the Georgian side is trying to simulate the situation that preceded the unlawful post of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs in August 2019. In a forest located in the area of the village of Chorchana of the Khashur municipality are recorded marks and symbols made by paint on trees. In 2019, the Tbilisi regime, before the start of the “Tsnelis crisis,” held a similar event, presenting the marking of the area as an activity of the Border Service of the RSO KGB, after which the illegal post of the Georgian law enforcement agencies was installed”.
On 20 June 2020 Mtavari TV joined a civil patrol of Power in Unity group in the Chorchana forested areas (video in Georgian only)
At the end of November the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy of South Ossetia and head of the South Ossetian delegation at the Geneva discussions Murat Dzhioev reaffirmed the South Ossetian demand that any discussion about “border security” can only be preceded by the removal of the police post near Tsnelisi by the Georgian side. This statement was made as warmup to the Geneva International Discussions on 10 and 11 December, the first in a year.
On 9 February 2021 the South Ossetian “KGB” reported the alleged “appearance on the adjacent territory of Tsnelisi military personnel and subdivisions of the Intelligence Department of the Georgian Defense Forces, as well as special operations forces”. According to the statement, the forces aim to commit sabotage on the territory of South Ossetia, without providing any visual evidence:
“According to available information, Georgian military intelligence officers located in the border zone are conducting surveillance, carrying out search operations in the border area, and also practicing elements of a raid and penetration into the territory of South Ossetia with the aim of committing various sabotages, including under the guise of Russian servicemen”.
A few days later the South Ossetian “KGB” shared more details, claiming the frequent activation of signal barriers. Specifically on “7 February at 17.50 on the left flank of the settlement of [Tsnelisi]” the alarm system was allegedly activated. Local “border guards revealed traces of the violator in the direction of the Georgian settlement of Kobi”. The KGB went on to accuse Georgia of sending saboteurs “into the sectors of influence of South Ossetian units creating a real threat of direct clashes”.
At the 99th IPRM meeting in Ergneti on 27 April, the Tsnelisi-Chorchana dispute was among the talking points concerning boundary line crossing problems. The South Ossetian Deputy Presidenial Plenipotentiary Envoy for Post-Conflict Settlement Yegor Kochiev reiterated removal of the “illegal [Georgian] post” is crucial to any other progress:
“Moreover, the Georgian party, including international representatives, is activating the issue of facilitating the crossing of the state border at the places of simplified admission. As it is known, the checkpoints were closed in response to the setting up of the illegal Georgian post in the Uista [Tsnelisi] area. And the first step in resolving this situation will be the removal of this illegal post from the territory of South Ossetia. I think after this step the issues of simplified border crossing and other pressing humanitarian issues will be resolved.”
According to the South Ossetian delegation, the issue of the Georgian police post near Tsnelisi was raised again before and during the 53rd Geneva International Discussion on 29-30 June 2021. Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy of South Ossetia Murat Dzhioev said that in order to create a “secure system along the entire perimeter of the border”, the Georgian post should be removed. So far nothing new.
Murat Dzhioev said a delegation of the GID co-chairs visited (South Ossetian controlled) Uista/Tsnelisi upon invitation of the South Ossetian side to see how close the Georgian post is. Local residents were able to express their concern about the situation, “they talked about the danger of the shots fired there,” Dzhioev said. He also noted OSCE representatives drove a few days later to the Georgian police post by car from (Georgian) Chorchana. “They could see that post is located at a great distance from the Georgian village, almost 4 km” Dzhioev added, suggesting the post is unreasonably far from Chorchana (to protect Georgian citizens) and is allegedly intended to intimidate residents of South Ossetia.
The issue of the Georgian police post near Tsnelisi was discussed again during the 55th Geneva International Discussion on 7-8 December 2021. Related to that, the South Ossetian delegation pointed out to the participants the “need for delimitation and subsequent demarcation of the border between the Republic of South Ossetia and Georgia“.
No progress was made on the file however.
In the beginning of December 2021 South Ossetian parliament went tough on the Commission on Delimitation and Demarcation of Borders. The Commission
“… 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 Commssion, 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”
After this report the Parliament decided to initiate a parliamentary investigation to “find out who is to blame for this”. All deputies will be included in the investigative commission. It was suggested the hearings will include “the participation of representatives of the former commissions on the state border.”
At the end of the year a heated debate on the “border issues” took place in the South Ossetian parliament. The chairman of the parliamentary committee Amiran Dyakonov noted “that the border of South Ossetia, which is designated in the current reality, does not correspond to the borders determined by the decree on the formation of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region”. He also noted that the border lines were determined in 1922, which, according to him, is confirmed by archival documents reflected in the work of the previous profile commission. He added that it requires the president of the republic and the executive branch to take specific measures to protect the territorial interests and state security of the RSO, saying “if you remove the 1922 decree, then there is no normative act that would define the state borders of South Ossetia”.
De facto President Bibilov, did not want to take the blame, as he was not a member of the commissions or a member of the government in those years when the borders were being determined. Bibilov said he created the commission on delimitation and demarcation of borders, but he was never invited to the meetings. He confronted the present politicians with their inactivity during a decade:
“Since 1922, changes have been made regarding the definition of the border line. Subsequently, Russia recognized our independence with the existing borders, there is an agreement that was not adopted under the current government. Your activity was related to the issue of state borders, but at one time not one of you spoke about this problem, the village of Tsnelis(i), did not defend the rights of the people, did not raise these problems before the ex-president, but simply thought about how to get rich and create a business. When the agreement was signed in 2009, why did they not raise this issue, why was the ombudsman silent? People who yesterday were obliged to determine the boundaries, for some reason, only today they talk about them”.
“The head of the commission must report on his activities to the head of state, but he has never done this. If any work has been done, then they should invite the president to the meeting and report on the work done, and then I would definitely come, but such a proposal has never been received. In addition, the commission is illegitimate because it worked without a position. They designed it and sent it in, we tweaked it and brought it back. Since then it has disappeared, we have not received it back. At today’s borders, I have put border guards to guard them. Did any of you go to them and ask what conditions they work in? No. You only know how to shout”.
According to Bibilov, if the border line is marked according to the 1922 decree, then the villages of Gujabar and Orchosan will remain outside of South Ossetia.
After the fruitless 105th Ergneti Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism meeting on 4 March 2022, South Ossetian representative Egor Kochiev said in Ossetian media the “main issue [for Tskhinvali] remains the Georgian police checkpoint in the village of Chorchana, which poses a threat to the population of Uista [Tsnelisi]”. He added, “South Ossetia can open state border checkpoints in the Razdakhani district [checkpoint on the way back to Akhalgori]”
The Georgian authorities said they do not intend to dismantle the Chorchana checkpoint. They believe the police checkpoint guarantees stability and security on the spot. To be continued.
Throughout 2022 there have been no major developments surrounding the Chorchana dispute, apart from being frequently tabled at the conflict mediation meetings. The dispute remains a stalemate and has landed in a status quo situation. Georgian citizen monitors have recorded new material, which confirm the de facto annexation by Russian controlled forces of former Georgian controlled territory, and the solidification of a new boundary. The South Ossetian side – under Russian command – has over time developed and strengthened the infrastructure of the new occupation line.
Above: video by Strength is in Unity, October 2022. Below left shows same site in June 2020. Below right: another point along the Chorchana occupation line in November 2022.
In February 2023 the South Ossetian president Alan Gagloev visited the disputed area in light of the 18th birthday of the South Ossetian Border Service. The head of the border guard service said that in this section of the border information signs were installed, that they are in complete control of the area and that there is a direct connection with the border guards of the Russian FSB.
At the 111th IPRM meeting in March 2023 the head of the South Ossetian delegation Egor Kochiev said they were
“concerned about the recent incident in the area [of Tsnelisi/Uista] , when the Georgian side used an armored personnel carrier to deliver food to the post. We received an exhaustive answer, it was noted that due to the lack of roads, they were forced to resort to this type of transport – a car with increased cross-country ability. At the same time, weapons were removed from the armored personnel carrier and it was used as an all-terrain vehicle”.
He also said the six weeks since the last meeting was “the calmest period”. According to Kochiev
“during this period not a single violation of the state border from the Georgian side was recorded, there was a minimum number of incidents related to the flights of unmanned aerial vehicles, there were no violations of the state border by representatives of the Georgian security agencies – police or other armed people. I hope that this trend will continue, and violations near the state border or related to violations of the border itself will decrease. I would like to hope that not only weather conditions contributed to the decrease in the number of violators, but this may also be due to the active preventive work on the Georgian side.”
In May 2023 a Russian BTR-80 armored vehicle was spotted in the South Ossetian controlled village Tsnelisi, in a yard that directly faces the occupation line, next to the river Lamushuristskali.
One thought on “Territorial dispute Chorchana-Tsnelisi over old and “fake” maps”
The Ossetians operate as proxies of the Russians, specifically Surkov. The Russian operation is GRU-led and should be read as the continuation of the kinetic operations of 2008 by the full spectrum of active measures in the “grey zone” of the Swedish analtyical model of hybrud warfare. The artillery recce company of the GRU razvedka battalion produce topquality computer -generated maps – with the boundaries anywhere required.