The de facto Abkhazian authorities frequently close the sole remaining checkpoint towards Tbilisi controlled Georgia at the Enguri Bridge near Zugdidi. The reasons vary per occasion, but in every instance it hinders freedom of movement principles. Since 2017 this is the only one official crossing point for passage of locals, after other minor ones were closed.
This page keeps track of closures (and reopening) of the Enguri Bridge to provide insight in scale and impact on humanitarian circumstances such as medical aid, education access of students and so on. It reads with most recent update on top. A similar page for South Ossetia can be visited here.
Map: overview checkpoints Abkhazia
Currently there is only one crossing point active for passage of locals between Abkhazia and Tbilisi controlled Georgia, the Enguri bridge near Zugdidi in the S-1 highway. Two former checkpoints shown in the map have been closed since 2017 (Orsantia and Khurcha) while Saberio closed in 2019. The Enguri crossing has become target of whimsical closures.
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While visiting Moscow, de facto President of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania negotiated the terms to reopen the border checkpoint with Russia at Psou per 1 August, as Apsnypress reported on 31 July. Just days earlier Abkhaz de facto authorities extended restrictions until at least 4 August. Under the new regime, Russian visitors won’t be restricted in any sense, and won’t be required to show a certificate of being covid-19 free, despite a surge of cases in Abkhazia, tripling since 21 July.
Apsnypress: “As you know, representatives of Rospotrebnadzor and the Ministry of Health, who visited Abkhazia with a monitoring mission, gave a positive assessment of the epidemiological situation in Abkhazia. This, of course, played a role in a positive decision on the issue of opening the border. Details, mechanisms and conditions for the implementation of the adopted decision are still under discussion. Concrete conclusions will be made following the results of working consultations between the authorities of Abkhazia and Russia.
A “humanitarian corridor”was opened for the fourth time at the Enguri Bridge by Abkhazia de facto authorities from 5 to 9 August. It is a one way “corridor” however: holders of Abkhaz “passports” and residence permits are only allowed to return to the region after checking their medical conditions at the crossing point. The de facto authorities did not allow residents to leave the region to Tbilisi controlled territory.
In Georgian media it was reportedon 10 July the Abkhazia de facto authorities will temporarily reopen the Enguri Bridge crossing point. Between 13-17 July residents can only pass from Tbilisi controlled area to Abkhazia, a one way passage, according to Radio Tavisupleba. The movement from Abkhazia to Zugdidi remains restricted. According to de facto Abkhaz authorities1269 people used the opening period to return to Abkhazia.
During the first days of July a series of incidents around the Abkhazia ABL illustrated the Georgian community (in Gali district) is suffering from the systematic closure of the crossing points. This leads to desperate attempts to cross anyways.
On 5 Julythree Georgian women went missing in the Gali district of Abkhazia. One of them just moved to Tagiloni in Abkhazia a week prior and planned to return to Georgian-controlled territory. She and the others were refused at the Enguri Bridge crossing point. A relative said: “We know she left early in the morning and had to cross the river as the Abkhazians did not let her go [via the bridge]. They say she drowned in the river, but we don’t have exact information yet.” According to relatives she ended up in quarantaine. The other two are unaccounted for.
And on 5 July late in the evening a middle aged man was shot in his leg by Russian controlled forces while he tried to cross the administrative boundary line from Abkhazia to Tbilisi controlled Ganmukhuri village. He was able to stay out of Abkhaz hands and was taken to Zugdidi hospital and later transported to Kutaisi hospital.
The systematic and long term closure of checkpoints during (but also prior to) the corona pandemic is a burden on the (ethnic) Georgian community in Abkhazia. They rely on services in and interaction with the Tbilisi controlled side of the Administrative Boundary Line: from education to health services but also collecting pensions and IDP benefits. Due to the long closure they have not been able to collect their money for many months. It is clear the restrictions on the free movement is putting pressure on the community to try to cross the boundary through other ways, risking drowning, arrest or even shot at (a rarity in recent years).
“Residents of Gali in occupied Abkhazia have not received IDP benefits and pensions for four months. The reason is that these people used to receive this money in Zugdidi or elsewhere on Georgia-controlled territory but now the borders are closed at the Enguri Bridge by the Sokhumi de-facto government amid the coronavirus. In Gali district we are dealing with a terrible humanitarian catastrophe. We must assume that [entering Georgia by crossing Enguri river] will continue in the future. If this situation is not improved, people who are in this hopeless situation will definitely continue to cross the Enguri River and try to enter Zugdidi. It is not impossible many could drown”
After just a week the de facto government of Abkhazia closed the only crossing point with the rest of Georgia again on 2 June 2020. It temporarily opened on 26 May to allow individuals back into the region who had undergone treatment in Tbilisi controlled territory. According to the Abkhaz 532 people have returned to the region since 26 May.
The region originally closed the Enguri crossing point with the rest of Georgia in March to ‘prevent the spread of the coronavirus.’ However, it did not close the region to Russian citizens at that time. Most of the coronavirus cases which have been reported in Abkhazia were connected with Russia.
Between 22 and 24 June 2020 the Abkhaz de facto authorities temporarily opened the crossing point at Enguri Bridge, during daytime hours between 9am and 7pm. A “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate Abkhazia residents to return to their home from Tbilisi controlled territory. People had to undergo medical and sanitary control while entering the Abkhazia. Reportedly 102 people used the opportunity in the first few hours of reopening. A total of 907 people, including 200 children have used the opportunity to travel (back) to Abkhazia, de facto authorities said.
“Starting today, Abkhaz authorities have allowed passage to resume through Enguri bridge crossing point for Abkhaz passport holders who travelled to Georgia proper to receive medical treatment”, Civil.ge reported on 26 May 2020 based on local Abkhaz reports. Around a 100 residents from Abkhazia (and South Ossetia) travelled to Georgia proper since the covid-19 pandemic seeking medical treatment. The next day 51 people passed the Enguri crossing. These were people who were forced to stay in Tbilisi controlled territory due to the closure of the crossing point, and not those who were seeking medical treatment, the Abkhaz de facto authorities stated.
On 8 April 2020 it was reported the border checkpoint with Russia at the Psou River, will be closed from 20 April for “all categories of citizens”. The decision was made after Abkhazia’s first two COVID-19 infections were detected, originating from the Russian Federation. This also led to a curfew in Gagra. On 9 April Russian military forces started to build a field hospital at the Russian military base, with a capacity of 200 patients. On 21 April the state of emergency and curfew were lifted. They were in place since 28 March. The entry ban to the Georgian populated Gali district was also lifted, as well as in Gagra. The official reason was “the situation in the de facto republic is under control”. However, in mid-May, the total number of COVID-19 cases increased to 17, with two recovered and one deceased. All cases are linked to returnees from Russia or its military forces.
De facto officials of Abkhazia Russian have announced the Enguri Bridge checkpoint will close at 8 p.m. on March 14, due to the COVID-19 “outbreak in Georgia”. This applies for all people, including Russian citizens, with the exception of employees of the Ingur Hydropower station. At the end of the month a state of emergency was introduced.
From 27 February 2020 Abkhazia barred entry ‘to all foreigners except Russians’ until 7 April. It imposed restrictions on the Enguri Bridge a day earlier, which is the only crossing point connecting the region with the rest of Georgia. Georgia reported its first COVID-19 case on the 26th of February.
On 20 February residents of Abkhazia region brought the 53-year-old deceased Gocha Tupuria to the Otobaia-Orsantia bridge (closed checkpoint) for his relatives standing on the other side of the bridge to mourn. They were deprived of the right to enter Abkhazia, Radio Atinati reported. Abkhaz officials closed the Khurcha-Nabakevi and Otobaia-Orsantia checkpoints in March 2017.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Abkhaz de facto authorities restricted the issuance of travel permits to foreign travellers as of 27 January. This applied to both entrance from the Russian Psou checkpoint as well as from Georgian controlled territory at Enguri bridge.
The Abkhaz security service declared: “There are mass protest rallies of a provocative character underway in Georgia, which affect the statehood of the Republic of Abkhazia”. Also, “the entry of foreign citizens from the territory of Georgia, as well as the departure of citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia to the territory of Georgia” will be restricted for an undefined period of time. The issue was immediately raised at the Geneva International Discussions on on 2 and 3 July 2019.
The Georgian State Security said the temporary closure of the boundary between the Abkhazia region and the rest of Georgia is an illegal restriction of the right of movement of locals. It isolates them and complicates their livelihoods. Some 30.000 (ethnic) Georgians live in the Abkhaz Gali district, with many being dependent on cross-boundary interaction.
“Some university entrants could not cross Enguri Bridge. We are expecting that the situation may improve at any time. A certain number of entrants faced some problems due to the closing of the Enguri so-called crossing-point. We will do our best to ensure they receive a higher education”
Upon mediation this limitation was partially resolved and “students, individuals who are in need of medical assistance and pensioners are allowed to leave the region,” Georgian Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili said. Mid-July 43 students from the Gali district managed to join the Summer School classes:
“Today’s meeting with students is very important and emotional. The students are doing their utmost to receive a better education. In crossing the so-called border they are sending a very loud message – ‘we will not be a generation beyond the barbed-wire-fences, we are the children of a united Georgia and with our education we will do our best to restore trust and state integrity,” Deputy Reconciliation Minister Lia Gigauri said.
Over the holiday season of 2018 a minor outbreak of the H1N1 “Swine flu” took place in Georgia. This didn’t expand into an epidemic, according to the norms of the Georgian Center of Disease Control. Yet, the two de-facto occupied regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia decided to close their so-called border with the rest of Georgia to “avoid the spread of H1NI”.
Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili criticised the decision essentially saying this is a politicized action restricting the freedom of movement of people who are dependent on the open boundary. She said there is no epidemic, the flu goes around in other countries as well (such as Russia) while no access restrictions apply to those people.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry condemned the opening of a customs point in the region of Abkhazia. A specialized customs post was opened in Sokhumi. The Foreign Ministry believes that in doing so, the Russian Federation aims at integrating Abkhazia within its customs sphere. According to the ministry, this is yet another illegal step towards the factual annexation of the region. The OSCE condemned the move.
Also, only one crossing point from Abkhazia into Tbilisi controlled Georgia remains open: the Enguri bridge near Zugdidi. The Saberio crossing point remains closed, after two others ones were also closed in 2017.
De-facto Abkhazian officials have closed two crossing-points along the administrative boundary line separating Georgia’s breakaway, Russian-backed Abkhazia region from the rest of the country. The two closed crossing points are in the western section: Nabakevi-Khurcha and Otobaia-Orsantia, which will largely affect locals in both breakaway Abkhazia and Georgia who regularly cross the so-called border.
“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.
Direct links to 2018, 2019 or 2020. An introduction in the subject of borderization can be found by opening below green bar.
Overview of borderization
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.
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").
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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.
“Border” sign: land across the Ghebura river that is not accessible anymore for local Georgian residents of Perevi (photo: Davit Katsarava)
2.43 km2 of land has been placed out of Georgia’s control
1989 Soviet era map (K-38-52) indicating the administrative boundary of this part of South Ossetia (autonomous Oblast in that time)
The full K-38-52 map of Java area
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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.”
On 25th July the “Strength in Unity” activist group ran into an argument with Georgian police when they were establishing coordinates of “border” signs recently put up by Russian controlled forces, near Takhtisdziri. Reportedly Russian forces were nearby ready to arrest and detain the group. The police accused the group of provocation staying in the occupied territories, which activist leader Katsarava categorically denied. He assessed the accusations of the Georgian law enforcers as cooperation with the occupation forces. Borderization in this area resumed in mid-April. Since then local farmers cannot access their arable land.
According to the activists the de facto border (or “occupation line”) has been moved 75 meters into Tbilisi controlled territory (see pictures below). It has to be noted that the ABL on Google Maps is not a formally legit nor 100% accurate reference. Nevertheless, local farmers have undeniably been cut of from accessing their land.
Borderization at Takhtisdziri
Borderization at Takhtisdziri
Borderization at Takhtisdziri
Borderization at Takhtisdziri
A few days later the South Ossetian authorities chimed in, distorting the situation as if a “Georgian intelligence group” in the “uniform of Georgian police” tried to penetrate South Ossetian territory. It also goes on saying – as more often recently – the EUMM is conspiring with the Georgian police in such “provocative and destructive activities”.
South Ossetian de facto authorities accused Georgian authorities on 4 June 2020 of “violation of airspace of the Republic by Georgian drones” along the ABL between the villages Tsnelisi/Uista and Okona. The linked press statement contains yet another propaganda and disinformation offensive with all the main talking points of the last period. The de facto authorities accused the Georgians of spreading diseases via UAV’s, directly connecting this with the Lugar biolab and the US once again:
“Considering the available information on the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the United States capable of spreading infected insects, as well as the Lugar’s laboratory conducting a whole range of studies related to infected mosquitoes, the resurgent cases of the appearance of Georgian drones over the territory of South Ossetia are of particular concern. In mid-May, residents of the village of Khando of the Akhalkalaki municipality had found a large number of dead birds near the village, unloaded from trucks by unknown people in protective uniforms and masks.
“This fact caused concern among the local population, because earlier – in April, 2020 an outbreak of Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever was recorded in the municipality, which led to a mor of poultry and livestock. The first case of the mentioned epidemiological disease in Georgia was recorded in 2014 (34 people fell ill, 3 died). The spread of the infection coincided in time with the beginning of the “study of the causative agent of this disease” in the center of Lugar in Tbilisi.”
“In addition, the KGB draws attention to the counterproductive actions of the Georgian side to establish a new modular design in the territory of the post of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in the village of Odzisi, the Khashur municipality, in which it is planned to place a medical unit equipped with special equipment designed to collect biological material from citizens of South Ossetians of the Georgian nationality, followed by its sending to the Lugar laboratory. This decision was made after May 1, 2020 when the US Ambassador to Georgia K. Degnan and Deputy head of the State Security Service of Georgia, curator of the South Ossetian direction of the Service, A. Khodzhevanishvili, visited this settlement.”
On 7 June 2020Formula 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.
Sinaguri police post Georgian MIA
Sinaguri police post Georgian MIA
Sinaguri police post Georgian MIA
Sinaguri police post Georgian MIA
Situation at Sinaguri (Sentinel satellite image 23-06-2020)
“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]
Map: Overview borderization locations May 2020
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.
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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.”
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.
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”.
With hindsight this seemed to have been a warning of what was to come in the second half of 2019, starting in August: the Gugutiantkari and Tsnelisi disputes.
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.”
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.
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”.
“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 Decemberdozens 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 Tskhinvali-controlled territory, but also in Tbilisi-administered area. The government of Georgia strongly condemned this fact and appealed to the international community to react to the illegality of it. The EUMM confirmed the renewed activity.
Tskhinvali said it makes ditches “to protect itself” from the fires which may spread from the Tbilisi-controlled territory. The practice is in fact another means of “borderization”, making the administrative boundary visible in the land: local residents get discouraged to pass the boundary to reach their farmland.
Georgian Akhalgori municipality governor Nugzar Tinikashvili said de facto leadership of South Ossetia announced restrictions for ethnic Georgian farmers. When they will take their cattle and sheep from Tskhinvali controlled Akhalgori to other Georgian (Tbilisi controlled) regions in winter, they will not be able to re-enter South Ossetia region with their cattle and sheep. About 25 Georgian families in Akhalgori will be affected by this, not being able to provide enough food for their cattle in winter.
“The reason Bibilov named was that some illnesses and infections were spread in Georgian regions affecting the cattle which could also be brought to Tskhinvali via the sheep and the cattle of the Georgian farmers. The reason is absolutely groundless as no such infection is reported. Moreover, both the central and local governments of Georgia pay close attention to timely vaccination of cattle to avoid any illness,” according to Tinikashvili.
Murat Dzhioev, the Plenipotentiary of the President of South Ossetia for Post-conflict Settlement,accused the European Union Monitoring Mission of “violation of the state border” on three occasions in February. The diplomat said mission representatives referred to the discrepancy with South Ossetian maps along the border line.
“On February 6, 8 and 20 in the same place – in the vicinity of the village of Nizhniy Tsiglat [Kvemo Okona] in the Znaurs region of South Ossetia, observers from the European Union three times went deep into our republic to 100 meters. We, in turn, noted that since the EU mission has a mandate to work only on the territory of Georgia, let observers who have doubts about the border line simply do not come close to it, but observe from a certain distance how usually, ”said Dzhioev.
The EUMM has a mandate over the entire recognized Georgian territory, including the breakaway regions.
Dzhioev also complained at the GID discussions about alleged “discrimination” against Ossetians who cannot visit their “native lands” near Kazbeg (enter cultural territorial claims, a.k.a “East Ossetia):
“Georgia declares a visa-free regime for Russian citizens to Georgia, and at the same time does not allow persons of Ossetian nationality who come from the Trusov Gorge or have historical roots in the Kazbek region, to the territory of the Kazbek region. That is, we are again dealing with double standards. These citizens cannot visit historical sites, monuments in the Kazbek region, and even lose the property they had there.”
Head of the Border Service of the KGB of South Ossetia, Valery Zozulya, stated construction of barriers at the ABL with Georgia will continue in 2018. In 2017, South Ossetian “border guards” installed over 1200 meters of borderization structures in the ABL zone and 63 signs were installed at the entrance to the sp called “border zone” in all four regions of the South Ossetia region.
At the IPRM Ergneti meeting, the South Ossetian delegation said another “border sign” was shot at from the Georgian side. This time between the villages of Plavi and Zemo Otrevi:
“We drew the attention of the participants of the meeting to another shooting of the South Ossetian border mark in the area of the villages of the Lower Otrev and Korcula from the Georgian village of Plavi. This time, the boundary mark was damaged by using rifled weapons”, Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy Dzhioev said.
The press service of the South Ossetian de facto State Security Committee reported in January 2018 on “implemented measures to strengthen the border”:
“In 2017, for the first time since 2013, the Border Guard Service of the KGB of the Republic of South Ossetia began to equip the state border in engineering terms. In the area of the settlement of Kalet, Znaur region, a barrier fence with a length of 1250 meters was installed. In addition 83 warning signs were installed at the entrances to the border zone of the Republic and on the state border. Despite the measures taken to improve the state border of the RSO, there are facts of damage to warning signs.”