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. Four former checkpoints shown in the map closed in 2016 and 2017 respectively, while the Saberio crossing point closed in 2019. The Enguri crossing has become target of whimsical closures.
On 15 December a ГАИ / GAI (General Administration for Traffic Safety) traffic police checkpoint was opened at Kholodnaia-Rechka, about 10km from the Psou River customs checkpoint at the border of the Russian Federation. The checkpoint was opened to prevent the import of contraband products into the territory of Abkhazia, as well as the illegal import of equipment for cryptocurrency mining. Cryptocurrency mining is a major problem for the Abkhazian power netywork, causing shortages and disruptions due to a wildgrowth of farming and lack of law enforcement.
Abkhazia re-opened the Enguri Bridge crossing point with mainland Georgia on 19 October for pensioners and residents of the Gali region who have Georgian citizenship. They can freely cross the boundary line in both directions three days per week: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
This measure was taken by the Abkhaz authorities so that Georgian pensioners permanently residing in Abkhazia could receive pensions and various kinds of social benefits. This can only be done on Georgian territory.
A man died on 23 September after crossing the Enguri River from Abkhazia with his wife and children to return to Tbilisi-controlled territory. He had arrived in Otobaia a month before on his father’s death anniversary and could not go back to the Tbilisi-controlled territory due to the closure of the only crossing point, the Enguri Bridge.
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.
On 4 August however, Russian authorities acknowledged the Covid019 situation in Abkhazia is worsening, urging visiting citizens to wear masks and gloves. Most new coronavirus cases arrive are individuals who just arrived from Russia. Reopening the border to Russian tourists for summer is therefore a concern. This concern appeared justified on 8 August, when vacationeers arriving from Russia tested positive.
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.
Georgian authorities reported on 20 August 1000 people have entered Tbilisi controlled territory from the “occupied regions”. 316 people were transfered to hospitals for health related reasons.
On 26 August a 65 year old man was found dead in the Enguri River. He tried to cross the river to collect his pension in Tbilisi controlled territory. Due to the coronavirus crisis the Abkhaz side closed the crossing point, leaving people in dire need of their pension.
On 24 July three young Georgians were released at Enguri bridge. They were taken from the surroundings of Muzhava near the ABL on 6 June by Russian controlled forces, and put in detention (see below under June) .
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 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 (Bataiguara) and Otobaia-Orsantia (Bgoura), which will affect locals in both breakaway Abkhazia and Georgia who regularly cross the so-called border. This was announced in late 2016. Two other checkpoints were closed in that year.
The European Union Monitoring Mission made a video report about this closure:
Abkhaz President Khajimba announced in October 2014, shortly after being elected, he would close five crossing points towards Tbilisi controlled territory. In April 2016 the Abkhaz authorities confirmed they would only leave two crossing points open, the Enguri bridge and an unspecified one in lower Gali, closing the others.
The first to close in April 2016 was Tagiloni/Taglan – Shamgona, an improvised footbridge across the Enguri river on the partially destroyed railway bridge, the defunct Sukhumi – Zugdidi railway line. Immediately after the closure the footbridge was destroyed by the Russians as well their checkpoint on the river bank.
In August 2016 the Pakhulani–Lekukhona (Alakumkhara) crossing point followed.
The de facto authorities of South Ossetia frequently close crossing points towards Tbilisi controlled territory for a variety of reasons. In every instance it directly hinders freedom of movement principles, which is precisely the aim of the closures. “Security reasons” are typically cited, but by far most of the time there is no imminent threat at play.
This page follows developments of crossing point closures (and reopening) to provide insight in scale and impact on humanitarian circumstances such as medical aid and so on. It reads with most recent update on top, as a monthly summary.
Map: overview checkpoints South Ossetia
There are five crossing points between South Ossetia and Tbilisi controlled Georgia, of which three can be considered "general" crossing points: Sinaguri, Karzmani and Akhalgori/Odzisi. They have become target of whimsical closures in recent years, and have been mostly closed since fall 2019.
Furthermore, Ergneti is only used for emergency situations (such as medical aid) or transfer of arrested people. Zardiantkari-Khelchua was opened in October 2015 as a "simplified" crossing point for a dozen local residents in order to access their farmland on the other side of the ABL.
Since 2018 the Akhalgori/Odzisi (or "Razdakhan") crossing is a so called "customs checkpoint". An obvious attempt of South Ossetia to establish an "(international) state border". This is the mostly used crossing due to its proximity to Tbilisi, with roughly 400 civilians passing per day under normal circumstances according to European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) sources.
On 18 December the head of the Sinaguri and Karzmani village administration Oleg Gagiev commented on the long term closureof both checkpoints with Georgia-proper in relation to the corona pandemic:
“The fact that the checkpoint is closed brings certain inconveniences to the residents, but precisely because of this, we have not recorded a single case of the disease. In the Georgian village of Perevi, which is located in Georgia, but borders our villages, the virus is simply raging. There are many sick people, and if the border were open, people would get sick here too, because the residents of our villages often go there. They have transport that goes to Tskhinval, and they can buy everything they need, including food. But the locals are used to going shopping in Georgia. The population of Sinagur[i] and Karzman[i] is 90% Georgians. They have in Georgia families, relatives, children, and this is another reason for their frequent travel there.”
Local villagers added in on the consequences of the long closures in their daily lifes. Giorgi Dekanoidze is waiting for the border to be opened, “I haven’t seen my children for a long time, and I miss them a lot, I only communicate with them by phone”. He also noted local prices for food are pretty expensive and opening the road would solve this problem. Zurab Dekanoidze is waiting for the border to be opened, because his daughter-in-law needs medical help. He said that people go there for medical care and to communicate with their relatives. “My daughter-in-law recently went to the local hospital, she needs to replace the filter on her heart. They didn’t help her here. Therefore, we have to go to Georgia, and that is why we are waiting for the border to open.”
In a rare frankness in South Ossetian “state media” the head of the village council confirmed the problem of medical care.
A 68-year-old surgeon at the Akhalgori hospital died of coronavirus after he was refused to get treatment in Tbilisi when he tested positive for COVID-19. The doctor was instead sent to Tskhinvali hospital where his condition worsened, Radio Liberty has reported. It was only then, Tskhinvali doctors decided to send him to Tbilisi, but Onise Gatenashvili died on the way to hospital.
Many people in South Ossetia have been refused to obtain proper medical care in Tbilisi administered territory. Increasing numbers of citizens have died in the process. It once more highlights the lack cooperation on basdic human rights and provide them to the population of South Ossetia.
The municipality of Akhalgori faces a humanitarian crisis due to the continuing closure of South Ossetia from Tbilisi controlled territory. Akhalgori Governor Nugzar Tinikashvili said the socio-economic situation has reached a critical level. Georgian citizens of the region cannot collect their pensions as the Alkhalogori crossing point has been closed for six months.
In August the South Ossetian de faco authorities increasingly recognized the problem with food supply due to the continuing self-imposed (Russian) border and checkpoint closure. Also, the Russian customs took a bureaucratic approach to the economic cooperation and delayed transport over formalities. This made Tskhinvali to seek dialogue with the North Caucasus Customs Administration. Eventually the both sides agreed to a temporary compromise and a road map to solve all the technical issues. At the end of the month the (unrestricted) reopening of the Roki checkpoint to Russia was announced for 15 September. The checkpoints to Tbilisi controlled territory remain closed.
A 40 year old Georgian citizen living in Akhalgoridied in hospital after having been denied access to Tbilisi controlled territory by South Ossetia de facto authorities. Local doctors could not diagnose him for two days in Akhalgori hospital, Radio Tavisupleba explains, before he was transported in unconscious condition to the Tskhinvali hospital. South Ossetia de facto authorities keep the crossing point near Akhalgori closed for citizens seeking (urgent) medical aid, which has cost the life of various citizens.
On the 24th of July the de facto authorities stated the crossing points will remain closed indefinitely. Reasons given are the “epidemiological situation in Georgia” and the conflict in Tsnelisi. The claims on “medical emergencies” sound hollow when reading about the death due to unwillingness to fulfill the patients request earlier that month.
The timing is not a coincidence. All sides agreed to resume the EUMM facilitated IPRM meetings in Ergneti on 30 July. Clearly the South Ossetian side is pushing their agenda point where they left it last year when the last meeting was held.
Also, on the 28th of July the de facto authorities announced the Roki border checkpoint at the Russian border will remain closed for regular traffic until at least 31 August, citing the Covid-19 situation in Russia. President Bibilov said:
“The situation in North Ossetia does not give us the opportunity to relax. Until we are confident in the safety of our citizens, we have no right to endanger their lives. I think that the road should be closed in August,”
The first COVID-19 infections in South Ossetia were detected on 6 May, increasing within 24 hours to a dozen persons. As they all recently arrived from Russia, it prompted the de facto authorities to fully close the border with Russia until initially at least 17 May. This includes trucks as well, meaning supply of food and other commodities wil be halted until 17 May:
“A temporary ban on border crossing applies to all citizens without exception. The ban also applies to trucks. As noted by President Anatoly Bibilov, “the Republic needs time to quarantine, inspect, and provide necessary assistance to arriving citizens, including a large group of cadets of military universities.”
Most of the infected persons are related to the Russian military education, cadets from military universities. The checkpoints with Georgia proper remain closed since February. On 15 may the de facto announced the Russian border remains closed until 25 May, except for certain categories for which special rules apply, while introducing a schedule for goods to pass through the border checkpoint. On 22 May this was extended to 30 June 2020. A day earlier, regional President Bibilov said the [border] will open completely only after the situation in North Ossetia stabilizes, where the pandemic has hit hard.
During a Geneva International Discussions (GID) video conference the de facto South Ossetian authorities declared “humanitarian assistance to South Ossetia by international organizations could be accepted with gratitude, in case it is delivered to South Ossetia via the existing transport communications through the territory of the Russian Federation”. In other words, not via checkpoints from Georgian controlled territory, which is faster and shorter to deliver goods (from Tbilisi).
March – April 2020
The global corona-virus outbreak in winter 2020 didn’t pass South Ossetia unnoticed. One of the first measures taken was closing the checkpoints as far as they weren’t closed already (see February paragraph below) further restricting life for Georgians in the region.
Residents of South Ossetia in Tbilisi administered territory when the checkpoints closed, were allowed to travel back to the region through the Odzisi-Akhalgori checkpoint where they are put in 14-day quarantaine. The same is applied to people who are detained for violating the border regime.
Due to Russian border restrictions to curb the influx of corona-virus infections, only Russian passport holders can travel to Russia from the region, effective 18 March. The Russian diplomatic mission in Tskhinvali won’t issue travel documents to non-Russian nationals and stateless persons. This will affect the Georgian community in South Ossetia who could travel to Georgia-proper via Russia, getting effectively locked in.
Amidst all this, the regional de facto deputy minister of Health paid a visit to the predominantly Georgian community in Sinaguri and Karzmani who are affected by the closure of the checkpoint which was their only gateway to the Georgian town of Perevi. The visit had the aim to give mental support to the local community, deliver extra medicines, but also to explain why the checkpoint had to close: to protect them against the corona virus threat.
The head of the administration of the Dzau distric, Andrei Dzhioev said “the closure of checkpoints, including Sinaguri-Karzmani, is a necessary precaution to protect our republic from the virus. Cases of infection have already been recorded in neighboring Georgia. Many of you traveled to Georgia with special passes, but now the movement of residents of mountain villages across the state border is prohibited. We understand that you have relatives there, children, but today we cannot open the border, we cannot let people in, either from this side or from the neighboring state. We must protect ourselves from this danger”.
A resident of Sinaguri: “I used to go to Georgia with my family, now I find out how they do business only by telephone. We are already used to that checkpoints are often closed. I mainly stock up on food there, because it’s cheaper and there is everything. It will be difficult, but it’s better to wait out for your own safety”.
Meanwhile, the Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia offered to “help Georgian citizens on the occupied territories wherever possible”. This offer was (cynically) rejected by both the Abkhazian and South Ossetian authorities. South Ossetia’s Foreign Minister, Dmitry Medoyev, accused Georgia of “using a problem like the coronavirus for public relations” instead of treating infected Georgians.
South Ossetian citizens
In April, South Ossetian authorities allowed limited numbers of citizens to enter the region from Russia via the Roki checkpoint under strict conditions. The Roki checkpoint was fully closed for a week for all traffic from 4 to 12 April, but resumed limited operations until at least 1 May. Due to the escalating pandemic situation in Russia, the South Ossetian authorities keep tight control of goods being transported across the border into the region. This has resulted in shortages of food supply as the boundary with the rest of Georgia is kept completely closed.
The situation has also led to an increase in smuggling activities across the boundary line according to South Ossetian de facto authorities, specifically medicines and food supplies. The de facto authorities spin this away from their own policies, by accusing Georgian authorities of trying to import the Covid-19 virus into the region. Something they have repeatedly stated, despite the fact the real pandemic danger lies in Russia, and neighbouring North Ossetia-Alania region.
Despite the hopeful – yet temporary – reopening of Odzisi – Akhalgori crossing point in late January, 18 Georgian NGO’s urged international actors to increase pressure on Russia regarding the crossing points. In an open letter they stated:
“We, the Georgian civil society organizations, believe all of this amounts to grave violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, and elicits calls for immediate action.
It is therefore, that we call upon the international community to increase pressure on the Russian Federation, as the power exercising effective control over the areas, to immediately reopen the closed crossing point in Akhalgori, to cease arbitrary detention of civilians across the occupation line and to allow international monitoring missions unimpeded access to the occupied territories.”
On the 5th of February, a 60 year old woman who got seriously injured after falling into a well in November 2019, was finally allowed to leave South Ossetia to get proper treatment.
Meanwhile the Georgian government raised the profile of the boundary closures: not only Georgians are held hostage by the closure, Ossetians are too. State Minister for Reconciliation Ketevan Tsikhelashvili expressed a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Akhalgori district due to the ongoing restrictions, as did the President.
That didn’t impress the South Ossetian side: they closed the Odzisi-Akhalgori crossing point again on the 7th of February, without specifying when it will open again. Earlier they indicated the crossing point will open every two months for pensioners to collect their pension in Tbilisi administered territory. Local Georgian activist Tamar Mearakishvili shared pictures of a dead empty Akhalgori town.
In EkhoKavkaza an article appeared based on a publication by Tbilisi based Democracy Research Institute on an alleged closure of the Sinaguri crossing point. This is the sole crossing point open at the moment of writing between South Ossetia and Tbilisi administered territory. This would affect the (ethnic) Georgian community in the Akhalgori district the most. It would mean that they would get entirely cut off from interaction with their relatives in Tbilisi administered territory.
Due to corona-virus in Georgia, the closure of all checkpoints to Tbilisi administered territorywas officially announced by the South Ossetian leadership on the 27th of February. Effectively only the checkpoint near Karzmani was still open, Odzisi and Sinaguri were already closed. Earlier rumors about pending closure of Karzmani mentioned unsafe road conditions. The Deputy Minister of Health of South Ossetia indicated a few days later during a visit to Sinaguri and Karzmani, the closure will be as long as corona virus infections are present in Georgia.
Akhalgori resident and activist Tamar Mearakishvili urged Georgian authorities to apply to European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to ensure their freedom of movement from South Ossetia to Tbilisi. According to her 10 people died since September 2019 as they were not allowed to be transported to Tbilisi for medical aid. The travel from Akhalgori to Tbilisi via Sinaguri is very time consuming (up to 9 hours), difficult and expensive. Ordinarily travel time should not take more than 1 hour. International pressure was also applied by the US Chargé d’Affaires, Elizabeth Rood.
In the last week of January, a little breakthrough was achieved regarding the closed crossing points. After 142 days of closure, de facto authorities of South Ossetia temporarily allowed pensioners and seriously ill to pass through the Odzisi – Akhalgori checkpoint. Among other rules, they got ten days to collect their pension Tbilisi controlled territory. About 300 residents of Akhalgori district got a pass. The step was welcomed by the EUMM:
“At EUMM we are pleased that the Odzisi crossing point is open today. We call for it to be opened every day. There should be no restriction on freedom of movement, especially on the vulnerable conflict-affected population”
South Ossetia’s “state press agency” RES used the occasion for a propaganda piece.
In early December a decree was accepted by the Security Council of South Ossetia to give permission to travel to Tbilisi controlled territory through the Odzisi – Akhalgori checkpoint for medical emergency and other advanced medical assistance. This only applied to persons who do not have South Ossetian or Russian citizenship. In other words, geared towards the Georgian community in the Akhalgori district.
On the 3rd of November it was reported by Agenda and others “a 60-year-old teacher, Tamar Gigauri, fell into a well of seven meters deep in Akhalgori” and got seriously injured. Her relatives and the district’s governor demanded she should be transported to Tbilisi hospital, but the de-facto regime planned to transport the patient to Tskhinvali hospital, a more complicated transport.
“Recent months have seen a serious deterioration of the security situation on the ground, which has raised fears amongst the local population….The ongoing closure of crossing points is aggravating an already difficult situation, as illustrated by recent medical cases, with a severe impact on the local conflict-affected population”
The German Embassy chimed in with a fitting remark: “borders which are based on inhumanity will never last long“, urging Russia and its controlled de facto government of Tskhinvali to recall why the Berlin Wall collapsed.
Tbilisi based Democracy Research Institute reported on 15 November Tamar Gigauri’s health condition deteriorates and urges all sides to get her transported to a Tbilisi hospital.
On 7 November, Democracy Research Institute reported the death of a 49-year-old Georgian citizen in Akhalgori hospital due to closed crossing points towards Tbilisi controlled territory, making transport to Tbilisi impossible.
“People are able to cross the occupation line at the village only on foot and then they have to walk a long distance to the police checkpoint. To ease their movement, the checkpoint will be relocated and work has been launched for this. The de facto Tskhinvali leadership was informed regarding the change in May 2018 and afterwards, during several Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meetings.”
On the 28th of October information was released a 70 year old Georgian woman from Ikorta, Akhalgori in South Ossetia deceased in Tskhinvali hospital. After a stroke she was refused passage through the Akhalgori checkpoint to be transported to Tbilisi, where her relatives live. The checkpoint closed earlier over the tensions at the villages of Tsnelisi and Chorchana.
In a vile editorial piece on South Ossetian “state press agency” RES this tragedy was held against the Georgians: they were to blame for the checkpoint closure preventing passage of emergency transport.
This tragedy became illustrative of the degrading humanitarian situation in South Ossetia in 2019, when crossing points closed structurally. Both the EUMM, the European Union and the United States issued statements on the matter.
State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili released a strong statement demanding the Odzisi – Akhalgori checkpoint to be reopened, as basic human rights are critically at stake.
The checkpoints have a “tradition” of being closed over celebrations and other occasions in South Ossetia as a way to “legitimze” the closures for “security reasons”. On 4 September the South Ossetian side initially closed the checkpoints until 6 September because of “Knowledge Day”. But the real reason was the conflict over Chorchana: South Ossetian officials frequently made comments linking the two. On the 9th of September they announced indefinite closure due to “escalation of tension at certain sections of the border with Georgia”.
Odzisi, the main crossing point at the South Ossetian ABL. On a normal day #EUMM observes around 400 crossings, now 0. Closed since 5 SEP without clear justification. Measure negatively affecting local communities on both sides of ABL. pic.twitter.com/avFg1UY8Cf
The Akhalgori district in South Ossetia is home to most of the Georgian community still residing in the region. The closure has an impact on both market trade, school bound travel, family visits and medical assistance. Mid september the checkpoint between Perevi and Kartsmani was closed as well, effectively closing South Ossetia from Georgia proper.
The closure of the checkpoints as well as the Chorchana crisis have been a central talking point at IPRM meetings in Ergneti since the beginning of September. Also, co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussion (GID) traveled to Tskhinvali to discuss the continued closure of crossing points by the South Ossetian side. For the South Ossetian side this closure is highly connected with the Chorchana – Tsnelisi conflict: they are only prepared to revoke this measure when the Georgian side removes the police post near Tsnelisi which started this conflict. The international fora, through the IPRM and the GID, insisted on separation of these issues. At the end of September Georgian public turmoil was aroused when a mother was not allowed to leave the Akhalgori district to mourn her deceased son in Tbilisi-administered territory.
Between 6 August 8 pm and 9 August 6 am the de-facto authorities of South Ossetia region temporarily closed the “border crossings” with mainland Georgia. This was in relation to events held in South Ossetia to “mark the 11th anniversary” of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in the region in 2008.
Due to “parliamentary elections” scheduled for 9 June 2019, the South Ossetian de facto authorities temporarily closed the crossing-points connecting with the rest of Georgia. Crossings into the region were temporarily banned for three days from 8 June 6 am until 11 June 6 am.
At the end of June the South Ossetian leadership announced changes to rules for crossing the boundary line. The reason given was a twofold increase of “illegal border crossings” in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. “As of 24 June 2019, 164 individuals have been held accountable for violating the border rules, while the figure stood at 78 in the same period of 2018,” the State Security Committee of South Ossetia reported.
The changes apply both to people who want to leave or enter the region. If residents of South Ossetia want to conduct economic activity at “border areas” (like farming), they must notify the security agency beforehand. If locals have to host people from other regions of Georgia, they will have to notify the same agency to allow passes for the visitors.
The de facto leadership of South Ossetia region announced it would close the so called border with Georgia for two days, due to May 9 celebrations: “In connection with the provision of security measures during the events dedicated to the 74th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War, from 8 pm on May 8, 2019, the border with Georgia will be closed.”
The crossing points were again closed between 19 May 8pm and 21 May 6am by the South Ossetian de-facto authorities. They strengthened security measures around the anniversary of a tragedy during the 1991-92 civil war. On 20 May 1992, 33 people including women and children died in a shooting en-route between Java and Tskhinvali. Local authorities blame ethnic Georgians for the tragedy, although an investigation never took place.
In April the de-facto authorities of South Ossetia changed the procedure for residents of the Akhalgori district to visit the rest of Georgia. Before a “passport” of South Ossetia was sufficient, but now people will have to get special passes. Civic activist Tamara Mearakishvili living in Akhalgori said the step aims to further hamper and complicate the free movement of locals.
January – March 2019
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 both the norms of the Georgian Center of Disease Control and World Health Organization (WHO). 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 border. 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 Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions welcome the reopening of crossing points on 15 March. However, they also reiterate their conviction that the closure was not justified. They have made this position clear through continuous engagement since the first day of the closure on 12 January […].
The Co-Chairs have taken note of the public health concerns voiced and, for this reason, have referred to the World Health Organization (WHO), which is the competent international body on such issues. The WHO’s position is that closing crossing points offers no public health benefits.
Therefore, the Co-Chairs have on numerous occasions restated their firm view that freedom of movement as a basic human right should always be upheld. They have stressed in particular the impact of the closure on people’s lives and have expressed the hope that in any future similar situation both the IPRM and the hotline would be fully used in order to avoid imposing undue hardship on the population.”
On 26 December the de facto cabinet of ministers of South Ossetia amended rules for “crossing the state border with Georgia”, agency RES reported. To date it was possible to cross into Tbilisi controlled territory in a simplified manner either using the passport of South Ossetia or a special pass. Now it will only be possible to pass the boundary with a special permit (which needs to be applied for separately).
Georgian Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili commented: “The decision, which concerns the introduction of special passes for crossing the so-called border particularly affect ethnic Ossetians who live in remote villages and vitally need contact with the rest of Georgia to meet their everyday needs. People already visit Georgian-administered territories via Russia, and the complication of movement is something that makes them do this. The recent decision is another message that the occupation regime works against everyone, Ossetians among them. We should oppose such decisions by further enhancing contacts and more development.”
From 30 December 8 pm till 2 January 6 am the crossing points of South Ossetia closed “in connection with the strengthening of security measures on the eve of the New Year”, the South Ossetian KGB press service reported.
Similarly to October, due to the Presidential elections in Georgia (2nd round runoff) the crossing points of South Ossetia will be closed from 27 November 8 pm until 29 November 6 am, the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali announced, saying it is a “security measure”.
Due to the “28th anniversary of the Republic of South Ossetia” crossing points with mainland Georgia were closed from 19 September 8 pm until 21 September 6 am, according to the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali.
This date commemorates that on 20 September 1990 the Council of People's Deputies of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region of the Georgian SSR proclaimed the South Ossetian Soviet Republic (SOSR) as part of the USSR. As a result of which the Georgian SSR revoked the autonomy on 10 December 1990. Soviet leader Gorbachev decreed both decisions void, which the South Ossetian Council of People's Deputies followed up by annulling the SOSR declaration on 4 May 1991, returning to the Autonomous Oblast status. Which the Ossetians overturned again the following September. Georgia had declared itself independent on 26 May 1991, including the territory of South Ossetia which it refused its autonomy. With the step in September the Ossetians tried to officially return into what was left of the crumbling Soviet Union. On 21 December 1991 when the Soviet Union was just short of officially buried, the regional Council of People's Deputies declared the "independence of the Republic of South Ossetia", which was affirmed in a referendum vote in January 1992 with the prospect of "reunification with Russia" as 2nd option. On August 26, 2008, the independence of the Republic of South Ossetia was recognized by Russia. The de facto authorities in South Ossetia see the original date of 20 September 1990 as the starting point of their "independent republic".
The South Ossetian State Customs Committee stated in July 2018 “customs officers and border guards stopped three attempts to smuggle home wine from Georgia to South Ossetia” in the first half year. The “offenders” were subjected to administrative fines.
The US State Department commented “these closures coincide with Georgia’s celebration of Victory Day and restrict freedom of movement for residents living on both sides of the administrative boundary line.”
Due to the so alleged threat of the spread of infections driving cattle from Georgia into South Ossetia is prohibited by the South Ossetia Agricultural Supervision, President of the Republic Anatoly Bibilov said on 27 April 2018. Traditionally cattle is driven across the boundary for summer and winter season. This restricts the options of local farmers in Tbilisi controlled territory to whom this measure is directed: “we are talking about livestock owned by residents of Georgia, who negotiate with the population of the Leningor [Akhalgori] region and use pastures in South Ossetia for their own benefit”.
Due to the Presidential elections in Russia the crossing points of South Ossetia with Tbilisi controlled territory will be closed from 17 March 9 pm until 19 March 6 am, the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali announced, saying it is a “security measure”.
In January 2018, the South Ossetian de facto authorities opened a so called “customs station” at the location of the Akhalgori – Odzisi crossing point (called Razdakhan in South Ossetia). The Georgian government protested this move, as “yet another illegal step towards the factual annexation of these regions”. The OSCE also condemned the move. This is another example of establishing a so called “(international) state border”, by imposing customs control on economic goods between Tskhinvali and Tbilisi controlled territory.
Customs officials said: “In total, 18 people work at the customs post. For personal use, citizens can carry up to 50 kg, and for trade up to three tons of goods. We weigh the goods, products up to 50 kilograms can be transported through the customs post free of charge, for the goods of larger mass you need to pay a fee according to the established prices. Mostly fruits and vegetables are transported. The nitrate content is determined on site by a special device, after the quarantine service gives an opinion, the product is let through or sent back.”
Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Rosselkhoznadzor said “a list of goods that are forbidden to be imported into the republic from Georgia is defined. All meat and dairy products are included in this list. As for plant products, there are no problems with them when importing. The restriction on the import of livestock products was introduced in order to protect against infectious agents. We do not yet have the opportunity to take a sample of meat and dairy products on site and conduct appropriate analyzes”.
The de facto South Ossetian authorities stated in October 2015 they would open a new crossing point “to make it easier for relatives to keep contact”. This will be the fourth crossing point between the breakaway area and Tbilisi controlled territory, between Khelchua and Zardiantkari. The other three are located near Akhalgori, Sinaguri and Karzmani.
Caucasian Knot reported the opening regime of the “simplified” Zardiantkari crossing point will allow 12 people who have farmland on the other side of the ABL to cross four days per week. The ABL runs here right through the two closely tied villages and sometimes through yards and houses.
Breakaway South Ossetia’s state security service said that its border post in Karzmani was attacked in the early hours of 29 September. Allegedly automatic rifles and grenade launchers were used. Troops of the post did not return fire, but they captured “an employee of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs on South Ossetian territory, close to the state border line”, armed with an M4 assault rifle with underbarrel grenade launcher. The arrest was confirmed by Georgian authorities.