Tag
Georgia

Checkpoint regime Abkhazia

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.

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2020

December 2020

According to the head of the Abkhaz border service over 500 people used the “humanitarian corridor” at the Enguri Bridge crossing point between 3 and 10 December. The humanitarian corridor allows residents of Abkhazia to return from Georgia-proper. They need to undergo medical and sanitary control and must also submit a certificate issued by Georgian medical institutions that they do not have the coronavirus.   

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. 

October 2020

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.

September 2020

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.  

August 2020

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. 

July 2020

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 reported on 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 authorities 1269 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 3 July a 21 year old Georgian was kidnapped by Russian controlled forces on Tbilisi-controlled area close to Enguri Bridge and taken to Gali prison in Abkhazia on accusations of ‘illegal border crossing’. He was visiting relatives in Rikhe. The State Security Service of Georgia reported he was released on 6 July.

On 5 July three 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”

 
June 2020

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.

On 6 June 2020 three Georgian citizens were reportedly abducted from the surroundings of Muzhava, which is in Tbilisi controlled territory close to ABL of Abkhazia. They live near the ABL. On 9 June they were still in custody, Radio Tavisupleba reported. Sputnik Abkhazia reported on 9 June the men (born 1987, ’90 and ’92) were arrested for “illegally crossing the border”, facing 2-5 years prison. Caucasian Knot reported on 16 June criminal charges are pressed. On 24 July they were released at Enguri bridge.

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.

May 2020

“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.

April 2020

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.

March 2020

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.

February 2020

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. 

January 2020

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.

2019

October 2019

Abkhazia announced on 2 October 2019 the checkpoint at Enguri Bridge with the rest of Georgia has been reopened. It was closed since June 2019. The EUMM recorded 2580 daily crossings in the first week of reopening.

June – July 2019

Due to ongoing protests in Tbilisi since 20 June the de facto leadership of Abkhazia announced on 27 June a “temporary closure” of the crossing points. The protests in Tbilisi erupted after a visiting Russian MP sat in the Speaker chair of Georgia’s Parliament.

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.

Closure crossing points Abkhazia (photo: Erik Hoeg, EUMM)
Closure crossing points Abkhazia (photo: Erik Hoeg, EUMM)

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.

Students

Among the directly affected are Georgian students from Abkhazia enrolling in universities in mainland Georgia who had to take exams.  Deputy Education Minister Irina Abuladze:

“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.

Ultimately the Georgian government decided to enroll all 190 students from Abkhazia in university wavering their enrollment exams.

January 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 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.

Despite international pressure from the EUMM and others the crossing points were not reopened in January. Abkhazia reopened the crossing points at Enguri Bridge and Saberio after 26 days on 6 February 2019.

EUMM on patrol at ABL Abkhazia at the Saberio Checkpoint.
EUMM on patrol at ABL Abkhazia at the Saberio Crossing Point.

2018

January 2018

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.

2017

March 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:

2016

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.

Tagiloni - Shamgona railway bridge
Tagiloni – Shamgona railway bridge across the Enguri River

When recognition is not the aim — Civil.ge

What was Russia’s intention with the recognition of the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 war? In a comment on Civil.ge I shed a light on that, and where this recognition is heading. Follow the links below for an English, Georgian or Russian version. 

Russia’s unilateral recognition of the self-declared independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions on the 26th of August 2008, while pointing to the US-led recognition of Kosovo independence earlier in 2008, was not picked up by the international community. After 11 years, only five countries recognize the independence of the two, as opposed to 101 for Kosovo. Where are Abkhazia and South Ossetia heading with their “independence”? […]

via When recognition is not the aim — Civil.ge

ქართული (Georgian)

2008 წლის 26 აგვისტოს აფხაზეთისა და სამხრეთ ოსეთის რეგიონების დამოუკიდებლობის ცალმხრივ აღიარებას რუსეთის მიერ, რასაც იგი ამერიკის წინამძღოლობით 2008 წლის დასაწყისში კოსოვოს აღიარებას უკავშირებდა, საერთაშორისო საზოგადოების ენთუზიაზმი არ მოჰყოლია. მას მერე 11 წელი გავიდა, თუმცა კოსოვოსგან განსხვავებით, რომელსაც 101 ქვეყანა აღიარებს, საქართველოს ამ ორი რეგიონის დამოუკიდებლობა მხოლოდ 5-მა სახელმწიფომ ცნო. რა გზას ადგას აფხაზეთი და სამხრეთ ოსეთი ამ „დამოუკიდებლობით“? […]

via როცა მიზანი აღიარება არ არის — Civil.ge

ქართული (Georgian)

Одностороннее признание Россией независимости регионов Абхазии и Южной Осетии 26 августа 2008 года, которое она связывала с признанием Косово под предводительством США в начале 2008 года, не вызвало энтузиазма у международного сообщества. С тех пор прошло одиннадцать лет, но в отличие от Косово, которое признают 101 страна, независимость этих двух регионов Грузии признали только пять государств. На каком пути стоят Абхазия и Южная Осетия с этой «независимостью»? […]

via Когда признание не является целью — Civil.ge

Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the 10th anniversary of Russian "recognition" with de facto President of Abkhazia Raul Khadjimba (right) and de facto President South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov. (Photo: Kremlin)
Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the 10th anniversary of Russian “recognition” with de facto President of Abkhazia Raul Khadjimba (right) and de facto President South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov. (Photo: Kremlin)

Territorial dispute Chorchana-Tsnelisi over old and “fake” maps

In August 2019 tensions between Georgian and de facto South Ossetian authorities shifted away from the borderization at Gugutiantkari to the southwestern tip of the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) at the villages of Chorchana and Tsnelisi. The construction of a Georgian police post on Tbilisi administered territory revived a simmering territorial dispute driven by South Ossetia.

In the past, Tskhinvali laid a (historic) claim on the area. Now it came to an explicit non-physical confrontation, with Georgia de facto losing control of territory, for the moment. A series of incidents, heated rhetoric and Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meetings were some of the direct and visible elements of the dispute which is still ongoing into 2020.

The beginning

According to South Ossetian authorities on 24 August 2019, the Georgian side constructed a police post near the South Ossetian controlled village of Tsnelisi, close to the ABL, and near the Yugostalk marble plant. The South Ossetian authorities called this a provocation from the Georgian side in the run-up to their “independence” celebrations. They also reported “construction of a site for equipping Georgian police facilities” in the vicinity of Sinaguri, more north. This was not confirmed at this point, but the South Ossetian side insisted on this alleged construction on 4 September.

Georgian Police lookout near Tsnelisi.
Georgian Police lookout near Tsnelisi.

Plenipotentiary of the President of South Ossetia for post-conflict settlement, Murat Dzhioev,  said that “according to border guards, in the region of Tsnelisi village of the Znaur district of South Ossetia, above the Yugostalk enterprise, Georgian law enforcement agencies cut down a forest, paved the way, put up a post and a Georgian flag, thereby violating the state border”. Which was echoed by Zaza Driaev of the South Ossetian Parliament as well.

Ultimatum

On the 27th of August the South Ossetian authorities released a video which shows Georgian works on the road to the police post, illustrating their earlier statements. Despite the allegations expressed in South Ossetian “state media”, Georgian media did not pick up on this, which only happened after South Ossetians demanded the Georgian police to leave the area, eventually expressing an ultimatum for August 30th 6:00 am during the EUMM facilitated and scheduled IPRM meeting at Ergneti on the 29th of August.

The recent incidents at Gugutiantkari and Chorchana were the main talking points at the IPRM meeting. South Ossetian and Russian sides however decided to leave the meeting unfinished after the Georgian side refused to agree with the ultimatum to clear their police post by August 30 6:00 AM. The Georgian government confirmed this refusal the next day.

Delineation and demarcation

Yelena Panin, a Russian Duma deputy of United Russia said “South Ossetia had always been an independent state. There is no need to talk about some kind of peaceful return of South Ossetia to Georgia, especially after the tragic events of 2008”. The Russian Foreign Ministry described the construction of the Georgian police post as “provocative actions” carried out “against the background of Tbilisi’s repeated refusal of Tskhinval’s proposal to begin negotiations on delimitation and demarcation of the border.”

In the run-up to the IPRM meeting South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov visited Tsnelisi, with a militarized  entourage and additional security forces which alarmed people in Georgia. Meanwhile Zaza Driaev, head of the South Ossetian Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Policy and Inter-Parliamentary Relations earlier said “It will be fair if we set up our posts where the border of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region previously ran”.

Boundary lines

So what does Driaev mean with “where the border previously ran”? And was there really a “violation of the [state] border” as the South Ossetians claim? First, let’s check the map below. The location of the Georgian police post (blue) is in Tbilisi administered area. In accordance with (Georgian and international community) traditional interpretation of the Administrative Boundary Line.  However, South Ossetian authorities contest the post is on their territory. This difference of interpretation of “borders” drives the South Ossetian accusations against Georgian authorities.

Territorial dispute Tsnelisi - Chorchana
The purple dashed line is the Administrative Boundary Line upheld by Georgia. 
The red line indicates the "border" as claimed by South Ossetia.

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Archives and history

In 2018 a Commission installed by the de facto Parliament of South Ossetia performed a “historical and archival research”. It was specifically tasked to solve “the issue of the border demarcation” after alleged appeals from Tskhinvali controlled Tsnelisi village. Civil.ge cited the Georgian Reconciliation Minister Ketevan Tsikhelashvili who said “the Commission is a provocation” that could “aggravate security and humanitarian situation on the ground.” Locals however, complained parts of their village are located outside the “border of the republic”.  The Commission concluded the disputed area near Tsnelisi “belongs” to South Ossetia. “It was always part of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region since its creation in 1922”. The Commission concluded among other things a fake map from 1982 was used for marking the (current de-facto) “border”.

More in the explainer below.

Parliamentary Commission on demarcation and delimitation of the borders of South Ossetia with Georgia
In June 2018 the de facto Parliament of South Ossetia created a Commission to investigate the demarcation and delimitation of the "state border with Georgia", after appeals from villagers in Tsnelisi. Locals complained parts of the village remained outside of the "border of the republic". Many villages are split by the Administrative Boundary Line, affecting both Ossetian and Georgian communities. In the case of Tsnelisi the Yugostalk quarry, currently under control of Tbilisi, is another point of dispute. Tskhinvali claims the talc and marble quarry. Local Georgian communities however fear consequences for their inter-communal life, such as connecting roads being cut. According to Tskhinvali the need to agree on and mark the "border" is proven by the "illegal border violations" (by Georgians). 

Tskhinvali has frequently requested Tbilisi to jointly work on the delimitation of the boundary. But the Georgian government systematically holds that of. It does not recognize the authority nor legality of the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali. Since the abolition of the South Ossetian autonomy within the Georgian SSR in December 1990, Georgia does not recognize the former region as an administrative unit at all. For Georgia most of South Ossetia is nowadays officially part of the Shida Kartli province. However, in the current status quo situation it regards the line of control as de facto boundary. Tskhinvali currently uses a map of 1984 as base reference, regarding it incomplete. With Tbilisi refusing, Tskhinvali decided to unilaterally determine the so called "border" at Tsnelisi by starting an investigation into the (history of the) boundary and imposing the outcome on Tbilisi. This process of demarcation pushed by South Ossetia is yet an example of "borderization": the formalization and transformation of an administrative boundary into a "state border".

For six months the Commission investigated archives looking for proof where the border is supposed to run. Obviously the task was to find the territorial and political beneficial boundary line. The starting point in June 2018: “We have a decree on the formation of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region [in 1922]. In addition, there is a map used from 1931 to 1937, indicating the borders in accordance with the decree. Studying this issue it turned out that there are still places where the [current] border was drawn incorrectly”. One of the Commission members specifically stated “We have one goal, it is necessary to delimit the state border within the border of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region, and return our territories that have moved to Georgia.” The presumption is clear.

The de facto ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Ossetia remarked the current "Republic of South Ossetia" is roughly within the borders of the South Ossetian autonomy of 1922. However, the ministry went on saying “in fact, the Ossetian territory is much larger and it is simply absurd to talk about the seizure of new territories. It is necessary to talk about the annexation by Soviet Georgia of the eastern part of Ossetia, the Tyrsyg [Truso] and Kobi valleys, which the Bolsheviks illegally rejected [to the Ossetian autonomy] in favor of the newly formed Georgian SSR without the will of the Ossetian people. Definitely, Ossetians will never recognize the legitimacy of the decisions of the Bolsheviks of 1921, adopted in violation of all international norms”. Civil.ge wrote a backgrounder on this so called "Eastern Ossetia". In other words, the scope of the "correction" of the so called border is stretched to alleged historical lands beyond the original Autonomous Oblast. With one hand the Soviet imposed creation of the Oblast is used as a reference point, and with the other it is dismissed. 

Also, a frequent talking point on the Ossetian side is disputing that South Ossetia was ever Georgian: "South Ossetia has never been part of Georgia except during the Soviet period from 1921 to 1990. It was the Bolsheviks who forcibly included the southern part of Ossetia into Soviet Georgia". Obviously that is the world upside down. South Ossetia only exists by the grace of the Soviets giving it a separate status within territory what has long been under Georgian rule or administration. 
 
First things first, Tsnelisi acts as a test case. If the de facto authorities can create facts on the grounds based on the historic claims in the relatively small case of Tsnelisi, it might pursue the same elsewhere. The Commission concluded the disputed area near Tsnelisi "belongs" to South Ossetia. "It was always part of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region since its creation in 1922". A 1982 "fake map" was used for marking the (current de-facto) boundary, the Commission claims. Also, head of the Commission Tedeev told Republika RSO “We discovered a map of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region of 1927, published by typography in Russia. As well as some very interesting documents regarding the territorial demarcation of the times of the USSR. It is strange that no one paid attention to these documents before".

But history is history. And in today's world people have real problems, created by a policy of separation.  Georgian  Reconciliation Minister Ketevan Tsikhelashvili hit the mark: “Instead of erecting barbed wires and other restrictions, it would be better to listen to the residents of Muguti, Tsnelisi, Artsevi, Ikorta, Abrevi, Orchosani and Tsinagari [villages controlled by Tskhinvali bordering Georgia proper], where both Georgians and Ossetians are suffering and are asking for the freedom of movement, but are getting barbed wires in response”. The Commission actively contributed to separating communities and restricting freedom of movement.

 

Juggling with maps

Both Russian and separatist South Ossetian representatives have determined previous administrative boundaries of the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast. They are using reference material of different years for demarcation activities that suits their benefit. According to the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)

“the Russian occupational regime is planning to go back to the old administrative borders of the South Ossetian autonomous province which existed during Soviet times. In order to define the so-called borders (occupation lines) of Georgia’s occupied territories, the border-guards of the Russian Federation and the separatist regime use the topographic maps of the general staff of the Soviet military published between 1976-1986.

“First of all, there were numerous topographic maps of the Soviet general staff and they have been published throughout different times. At the same time, they differed in the way they defined the boundaries of the former South Ossetian Autonomous District. For example, to define the administrative borderline in Gori region, the Russian side uses the topographic map of 1988 which portrays the locations as of 1984.”

“Secondly, during the demarcation and establishment of the administrative border after the 2008 war, the Russian and Ossetian sides did not take into account the complex administrative outline of the South Ossetian district. As a result, much of the Georgian population lost access to the lands that they utilized on every-day basis.”

The latter sums up the complications of today’s reality.

Mandates and access

The EU Monitoring Mission has obviously been very concerned about the conflict resolution and security environment. As impartial observer and mediating party they were not dragged into the dispute itself, so far. But that was to change in September 2019. Their mandate formally covers the entire internationally recognized Georgian territory, including the de-facto separated areas. In practice the monitors observe everything from Tbilisi controlled territory, being denied access to Tskhinvali controlled territory:

Erik Hoeg, 30-08-2019: “We continue monitoring Chorchana/Tsnelisi area at the ABL. 24/7. Tonight we have 9 monitors from 6 countries out there supported by 2 Georgian colleagues. According to regular updates from our patrols to HQ everything quiet so far.”

September 2019

Early September a police post was constructed by South Ossetian troops on a hilltop in Tbilisi administered territory, overlooking Chorchana. This is the southwestern corner of territory Tskhinvali claims in this dispute (“point 17”, 944 m, see maps below and above). They also carved out an access road from Tsnelisi through the forest, up to 1.3 km into Tbilisi administered territory.

The construction of the police post coincided with an extra IPRM meeting in Ergneti called to mediate in this crisis. Both sides accused each other of illegal and provocative activities in the disputed territory. South Ossetian authorities demanded the Georgians would give up the police outlook near Tsnelisi as a condition to “remove tensions“. Which the Georgian side refuses to. Moreover, the Tskhinvali didn’t elaborate how they would “remove tensions” if the Georgians would fulfill their request.

The South Ossetian political class meanwhile requested assistance from Moscow: “The South Ossetian Parliament asks the Russian Federation Council and the State Duma to hold inter-parliamentary consultations to develop a unified policy to promote de-escalation, restore territorial integrity and ensure the security of South Ossetian citizens.”

EUMM

After the Ergneti IPRM meeting on the 13th of September the EUMM released a statement, saying:

Beginning in January this year [2019] the Mission noted paint markings on trees in the area between Tsnelisi and Chorchana. The Mission assesses these as a feature of ‘borderisation’. However, no actor has claimed responsibility for these markings.

Between 20 and 24 August a new Georgian observation post was established on the outskirts of the village of Tsnelisi by the MIA Special Tasks Department. According to EUMM findings, the post is located some 240 metres away from the ABL and on Tbilisi-administered territory (TAT) in accordance with the traditionally understood run of the ABL in that area.

Security actors from South Ossetia have in the last week established new positions and installed a number of borderisation features, including ‘green signs’ and flags on the TAT side of the ABL as traditionally understood in this area. The features are up 1.3 kilometres beyond the ABL. In the meantime Georgian MIA units have also reinforced their presence in the Chorchana forest area.

South Ossetian Envoy to the President Murat Jioyev condemned the “illegal visits” of the EU Monitoring Mission: “EU observers are unlawfully visiting the right-bank side of the Tsnelisi settlement. They have no mandate on the territory of South Ossetia, so every visit is unlawful”. Dragging the EUMM in the conflict.

EUMM observing the situation above Yugostalk, site of territorial dispute near Tsnelisi, September 2019 (photo: Erik Hoeg, EUMM)
EUMM observing the situation above Yugostalk, site of territorial dispute near Tsnelisi, September 2019 (photo: Erik Hoeg, EUMM)

Separation of issues

The co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussion (GID) traveled to Tskhinvali to discuss the ongoing closure of crossing points by the South Ossetian side. For the South Ossetian side this closure is highly connected with the Chorchana – Tsnelisi conflict: reopening is made conditional to the Georgian removal of the police post near Tsnelisi.

Through the IPRM and GID dialogue formats international stakeholders insist on the separation of these issues. In Tskhinvali, the co-chairs of the GID were handed a decree on the establishment of the South Ossetian Autonomous District in Tskhinvali in 1922. This decree allegedly claimed that the Chorchana forest was formerly controlled by the Oblast and therefore belongs to its successor, the “Republic of South Ossetia”.

Self-inflicted damage

Former minister of Reconciliation and Civic Equality of Georgia Paata Zakareishvili voiced criticism towards the Georgian government: “The government’s silence is troubling, and this is contributing to the creation of various myths. Their incompetence shows that they do not know the situation and do not know how to act in the direction of conflict management, I am not talking about a solution anymore, we have no dreams, they cannot manage it”.

Effectively Zakareishvili blames the government for self-inflicted damage. He says the Georgians should not have constructed the police post without consultation at the Ergneti IPRM meetings. Regardless whether the lookout is legit on Georgian administered territory. It predictably fueled tensions and escalation from the South Ossetian side

He said this escalation with South Ossetian police posts and borderization on Tbilisi administered territory “is an extremely dangerous and destructive act that seriously damages the security environment and poses additional problems for indigenous people on both sides of the occupation line.

October 2019

The fifth IPRM meeting in Ergneti in a month, entirely focused on the Chorchana crisis, didn’t produce any results, illustrating the deep stalemate. A week later, at the 49th round of Geneva International Discussions (GID) the impasse on various dossiers continued.  South Ossetian officials reiterated the need “to work on the delimitation of the South Ossetian-Georgian [state] border”.  Which got support from Moscow

Mid October saw counter claims by activists and officials on either side of the conflict. The “Power in Unity” activist group claimed borderization was pursued by the South Ossetians in the direction of Kobi village. This was denied by the Georgian State Security Service, yet they reiterated continued “provocative activities” in the area. According to a local villager occupation forces did move across the Lamushuristskali River, which is the ABL here.

Subsequently the South Ossetian side claimed a group of Georgian “intelligence scouts” attempted “to penetrate into the territory of South Ossetia”, at night. No visual proof was provided, nor specific coordinates. It was denied by the Georgian State Security Service as misinformation. The controversial actions of “Power in Unity” led South Ossetian authorities into accusing Georgian police, EUMM and activists of coordinating “in order to achieve specific political goals”.

EUMM monitors at Chorchana forests
European Monitors overlooking the Chorchana forests (Photo: EUMM)

EUMM arrest

On the 24th of October a new low was hit when an EUMM patrol was stopped and held by armed South Ossetian security forces in Tbilisi administered area. This is the first time since the early days of the mission in 2008 an arrest like this happened. The statement of the mission is clear:

“The Mission is still looking into the details concerning the incident, which happened in an area understood to be on Tbilisi-Administered Territory in accordance with the traditional interpretation of the Administrative Boundary Line in that area. 

Following recent security developments, EUMM has significantly increased its patrolling to support stability in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area. The EUMM is deeply concerned about cases in which armed security actors prevent  EUMM Monitors from conducting their daily activities in accordance with the mandate.”

In a clear attempt of misleading propaganda and disinformation by South Ossetian officials the observers were accused  of “violating the state border” and of lying about “getting lost”. This all happened a day before a scheduled IPRM meeting in Ergneti.

November 2019

Tbilisi and the EUMM strongly denied reports by the de facto government of South Ossetia of alleged shootings near the ABL at Koda. According to them a violent confrontation took place between local villagers and Georgian authorities. Locals interviewed by Radio Tavisupleba denied such a thing took place. Below statement illustrates the vile attempt to sow division between the local Georgians and their authorities,  spreading disinformation:

South Ossetian claims: “Information received by State Security Committee of Republic of South Ossetia indicates that near the border with South Ossetia in Koda on 5 November automatic weapons were associated with an armed incident between the Georgian Interior Ministry and the local Georgian population.

The cause of the conflict was discontent of Koda residents with the reinforced checkpoints of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in the area of ​​Chorchana-Kobi-Koda-Atotsi, a general escalation of tension, as well as attempts by Georgian police officers to establish Georgian flags at the heights prevailing over the village.”

An interview on “state press agency” RES with Yuri Vazagov, Head of the Information and Analytical Office of the Presidential Administration, illustrates the confrontational stance in South Ossetia. He recommends a principled position on the territorial issue, including “strengthening the borders”, while he voiced explicit accusations against the European monitors. During his European trip South Ossetia’s de-facto minister of Foreign Affairs Dmitry Medoev said international peacekeepers are a closed chapter since the 2008 war, referring to the Tsnelisi crisis.

December 2019

In a bold move, South Ossetia de facto President Anatoly Bibilov inspected the South Ossetian police post on the “944.8 height” near Chorchana, which is located on Tbilisi administered territory. Georgian authorities have effectively lost control over this height. The so called “creeping annexation” does not get more explicit. But a next chapter was added after New Year.

January 2020

On 14 January 2020 South Ossetian forces reportedly started erecting “illegal installations” (fences) in the Chorchana forests. They followed the line that is the “real border” of South Ossetia according to Tskhinvali (see red line in map above). In other words: brutal unilateral annexation of territory without any dialogue or finding any resolve on the demarcation dispute. Not even considering upholding the status quo of the last decade. A hardly surprising move given the recent past. David Katsarava visualized the borderization works in the forested hills with a drone (see also Radio Tavisupleba):

Drone view of borderization by Russian controlled forces in Chorchana forest
Aerial view of the borderization by Russian controlled forces near Chorchana, March 2020. Video by David Katsarava


 

Meanwhile South Ossetian state media were spinning things completely different: “a Georgian state drone violated airspace”. Subsequently Georgian authorities closed media and civil society access to the area by blocking the road at Brolosani. A few days later the Georgian State Security Service reported that borderization works were resumed at both the Chorchana area and the Gugutiantkari village (link to the main page on this subject).

Trees

Georgian activists geo-located marked trees which the EUMM  reported about in September 2019 (observed in January 2019). The EUMM did not identify publicly who was responsible for the markings. However, the Georgian activists drew their conclusions on who did and with which intentions in Tbilisi controlled territory.

US acting Ambassador stated in relation to the borderization initiatives: “I believe that all resources must be used to settle the issue, including the Geneva International Discussions. The US firmly supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and urges Russia to fulfill the ceasefire agreement signed with Georgia in 2008 [and withdraw its forces from the Georgian territory]”.

Akhalgori checkpoint

The checkpoint near Odzisi (Mosabruni) in Akhalgori district remained closed all this time. South Ossetian de facto President  Anatoly Bibilov reiterated the condition for reopening, at a reporting meeting of the Russian FSB Border Administration in January 2020. This checkpoint is the most important of three, with up to 400-500 civilian crossings on a daily basis. It finally reopened shortly at the end of January 2020 only to allow pensioners to collect their Georgian pension, closing again 10 days later. Scheduled to reopen again in March 2020, it closed indefinitely due to the Corona virus outbreak. More on the checkpoint regime in a separate page.

April 2020

On 16 April the Georgian State Security Service stated in its report the “occupying forces also used the ongoing incidents near the village of Chorchana to discriminate against ethnic Georgians living in occupied Tskhinvali”.

“Against the background of the active propaganda and disinformation campaign, the de facto regimes have linked the fake news to the restriction of movement on the occupation line. At the beginning of 2019, the so-called The so-called seasonal spread of swine flu (H1N1). To avoid danger, the movement on the occupation line was restricted for 45 days [by South Ossetian authorities]. The so-called Checkpoints and locals were isolated. In Septe