The de facto Abkhazian authorities frequently close the sole remaining checkpoint towards Tbilisi controlled Georgia at the Enguri Bridge near Zugdidi. The reasons vary per occasion, but in every instance it hinders freedom of movement principles. Since 2017 this is the only one official crossing point for passage of locals, after other minor ones were closed.
This page keeps track of closures (and reopening) of the Enguri Bridge to provide insight in scale and impact on humanitarian circumstances such as medical aid, education access of students and so on. It reads with most recent update on top. A similar page for South Ossetia can be visited here.
Map: overview checkpoints Abkhazia
Currently there is only one crossing point active for passage of locals between Abkhazia and Tbilisi controlled Georgia, the Enguri bridge near Zugdidi in the S-1 highway. Two former checkpoints shown in the map have been closed since 2017 (Orsantia and Khurcha) while Saberio closed in 2019. The Enguri crossing has become target of whimsical closures.
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While visiting Moscow, de facto President of Abkhazia Aslan Bzhania negotiated the terms to reopen the border checkpoint with Russia at Psou per 1 August, as Apsnypress reported on 31 July. Just days earlier Abkhaz de facto authorities extended restrictions until at least 4 August. Under the new regime, Russian visitors won’t be restricted in any sense, and won’t be required to show a certificate of being covid-19 free, despite a surge of cases in Abkhazia, tripling since 21 July.
Apsnypress: “As you know, representatives of Rospotrebnadzor and the Ministry of Health, who visited Abkhazia with a monitoring mission, gave a positive assessment of the epidemiological situation in Abkhazia. This, of course, played a role in a positive decision on the issue of opening the border. Details, mechanisms and conditions for the implementation of the adopted decision are still under discussion. Concrete conclusions will be made following the results of working consultations between the authorities of Abkhazia and Russia.
A “humanitarian corridor”was opened for the fourth time at the Enguri Bridge by Abkhazia de facto authorities from 5 to 9 August. It is a one way “corridor” however: holders of Abkhaz “passports” and residence permits are only allowed to return to the region after checking their medical conditions at the crossing point. The de facto authorities did not allow residents to leave the region to Tbilisi controlled territory.
In Georgian media it was reportedon 10 July the Abkhazia de facto authorities will temporarily reopen the Enguri Bridge crossing point. Between 13-17 July residents can only pass from Tbilisi controlled area to Abkhazia, a one way passage, according to Radio Tavisupleba. The movement from Abkhazia to Zugdidi remains restricted. According to de facto Abkhaz authorities1269 people used the opening period to return to Abkhazia.
During the first days of July a series of incidents around the Abkhazia ABL illustrated the Georgian community (in Gali district) is suffering from the systematic closure of the crossing points. This leads to desperate attempts to cross anyways.
On 5 Julythree Georgian women went missing in the Gali district of Abkhazia. One of them just moved to Tagiloni in Abkhazia a week prior and planned to return to Georgian-controlled territory. She and the others were refused at the Enguri Bridge crossing point. A relative said: “We know she left early in the morning and had to cross the river as the Abkhazians did not let her go [via the bridge]. They say she drowned in the river, but we don’t have exact information yet.” According to relatives she ended up in quarantaine. The other two are unaccounted for.
And on 5 July late in the evening a middle aged man was shot in his leg by Russian controlled forces while he tried to cross the administrative boundary line from Abkhazia to Tbilisi controlled Ganmukhuri village. He was able to stay out of Abkhaz hands and was taken to Zugdidi hospital and later transported to Kutaisi hospital.
The systematic and long term closure of checkpoints during (but also prior to) the corona pandemic is a burden on the (ethnic) Georgian community in Abkhazia. They rely on services in and interaction with the Tbilisi controlled side of the Administrative Boundary Line: from education to health services but also collecting pensions and IDP benefits. Due to the long closure they have not been able to collect their money for many months. It is clear the restrictions on the free movement is putting pressure on the community to try to cross the boundary through other ways, risking drowning, arrest or even shot at (a rarity in recent years).
“Residents of Gali in occupied Abkhazia have not received IDP benefits and pensions for four months. The reason is that these people used to receive this money in Zugdidi or elsewhere on Georgia-controlled territory but now the borders are closed at the Enguri Bridge by the Sokhumi de-facto government amid the coronavirus. In Gali district we are dealing with a terrible humanitarian catastrophe. We must assume that [entering Georgia by crossing Enguri river] will continue in the future. If this situation is not improved, people who are in this hopeless situation will definitely continue to cross the Enguri River and try to enter Zugdidi. It is not impossible many could drown”
After just a week the de facto government of Abkhazia closed the only crossing point with the rest of Georgia again on 2 June 2020. It temporarily opened on 26 May to allow individuals back into the region who had undergone treatment in Tbilisi controlled territory. According to the Abkhaz 532 people have returned to the region since 26 May.
The region originally closed the Enguri crossing point with the rest of Georgia in March to ‘prevent the spread of the coronavirus.’ However, it did not close the region to Russian citizens at that time. Most of the coronavirus cases which have been reported in Abkhazia were connected with Russia.
Between 22 and 24 June 2020 the Abkhaz de facto authorities temporarily opened the crossing point at Enguri Bridge, during daytime hours between 9am and 7pm. A “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate Abkhazia residents to return to their home from Tbilisi controlled territory. People had to undergo medical and sanitary control while entering the Abkhazia. Reportedly 102 people used the opportunity in the first few hours of reopening. A total of 907 people, including 200 children have used the opportunity to travel (back) to Abkhazia, de facto authorities said.
“Starting today, Abkhaz authorities have allowed passage to resume through Enguri bridge crossing point for Abkhaz passport holders who travelled to Georgia proper to receive medical treatment”, Civil.ge reported on 26 May 2020 based on local Abkhaz reports. Around a 100 residents from Abkhazia (and South Ossetia) travelled to Georgia proper since the covid-19 pandemic seeking medical treatment. The next day 51 people passed the Enguri crossing. These were people who were forced to stay in Tbilisi controlled territory due to the closure of the crossing point, and not those who were seeking medical treatment, the Abkhaz de facto authorities stated.
On 8 April 2020 it was reported the border checkpoint with Russia at the Psou River, will be closed from 20 April for “all categories of citizens”. The decision was made after Abkhazia’s first two COVID-19 infections were detected, originating from the Russian Federation. This also led to a curfew in Gagra. On 9 April Russian military forces started to build a field hospital at the Russian military base, with a capacity of 200 patients. On 21 April the state of emergency and curfew were lifted. They were in place since 28 March. The entry ban to the Georgian populated Gali district was also lifted, as well as in Gagra. The official reason was “the situation in the de facto republic is under control”. However, in mid-May, the total number of COVID-19 cases increased to 17, with two recovered and one deceased. All cases are linked to returnees from Russia or its military forces.
De facto officials of Abkhazia Russian have announced the Enguri Bridge checkpoint will close at 8 p.m. on March 14, due to the COVID-19 “outbreak in Georgia”. This applies for all people, including Russian citizens, with the exception of employees of the Ingur Hydropower station. At the end of the month a state of emergency was introduced.
From 27 February 2020 Abkhazia barred entry ‘to all foreigners except Russians’ until 7 April. It imposed restrictions on the Enguri Bridge a day earlier, which is the only crossing point connecting the region with the rest of Georgia. Georgia reported its first COVID-19 case on the 26th of February.
On 20 February residents of Abkhazia region brought the 53-year-old deceased Gocha Tupuria to the Otobaia-Orsantia bridge (closed checkpoint) for his relatives standing on the other side of the bridge to mourn. They were deprived of the right to enter Abkhazia, Radio Atinati reported. Abkhaz officials closed the Khurcha-Nabakevi and Otobaia-Orsantia checkpoints in March 2017.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Abkhaz de facto authorities restricted the issuance of travel permits to foreign travellers as of 27 January. This applied to both entrance from the Russian Psou checkpoint as well as from Georgian controlled territory at Enguri bridge.
The Abkhaz security service declared: “There are mass protest rallies of a provocative character underway in Georgia, which affect the statehood of the Republic of Abkhazia”. Also, “the entry of foreign citizens from the territory of Georgia, as well as the departure of citizens of the Republic of Abkhazia to the territory of Georgia” will be restricted for an undefined period of time. The issue was immediately raised at the Geneva International Discussions on on 2 and 3 July 2019.
The Georgian State Security said the temporary closure of the boundary between the Abkhazia region and the rest of Georgia is an illegal restriction of the right of movement of locals. It isolates them and complicates their livelihoods. Some 30.000 (ethnic) Georgians live in the Abkhaz Gali district, with many being dependent on cross-boundary interaction.
“Some university entrants could not cross Enguri Bridge. We are expecting that the situation may improve at any time. A certain number of entrants faced some problems due to the closing of the Enguri so-called crossing-point. We will do our best to ensure they receive a higher education”
Upon mediation this limitation was partially resolved and “students, individuals who are in need of medical assistance and pensioners are allowed to leave the region,” Georgian Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili said. Mid-July 43 students from the Gali district managed to join the Summer School classes:
“Today’s meeting with students is very important and emotional. The students are doing their utmost to receive a better education. In crossing the so-called border they are sending a very loud message – ‘we will not be a generation beyond the barbed-wire-fences, we are the children of a united Georgia and with our education we will do our best to restore trust and state integrity,” Deputy Reconciliation Minister Lia Gigauri said.
Over the holiday season of 2018 a minor outbreak of the H1N1 “Swine flu” took place in Georgia. This didn’t expand into an epidemic, according to the norms of the Georgian Center of Disease Control. Yet, the two de-facto occupied regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia decided to close their so-called border with the rest of Georgia to “avoid the spread of H1NI”.
Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili criticised the decision essentially saying this is a politicized action restricting the freedom of movement of people who are dependent on the open boundary. She said there is no epidemic, the flu goes around in other countries as well (such as Russia) while no access restrictions apply to those people.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry condemned the opening of a customs point in the region of Abkhazia. A specialized customs post was opened in Sokhumi. The Foreign Ministry believes that in doing so, the Russian Federation aims at integrating Abkhazia within its customs sphere. According to the ministry, this is yet another illegal step towards the factual annexation of the region. The OSCE condemned the move.
Also, only one crossing point from Abkhazia into Tbilisi controlled Georgia remains open: the Enguri bridge near Zugdidi. The Saberio crossing point remains closed, after two others ones were also closed in 2017.
De-facto Abkhazian officials have closed two crossing-points along the administrative boundary line separating Georgia’s breakaway, Russian-backed Abkhazia region from the rest of the country. The two closed crossing points are in the western section: Nabakevi-Khurcha and Otobaia-Orsantia, which will largely affect locals in both breakaway Abkhazia and Georgia who regularly cross the so-called border.
The de facto authorities of South Ossetia close crossing points towards Tbilisi controlled Georgia frequently for a variety of reasons. In every instance it directly hinders freedom of movement principles, which is precisely the aim of the closures. Typically “security reasons” are 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 for passage of locals between South Ossetia and Tbilisi controlled Georgia. Two of them have been permanently closed in recent times: Ergneti and Khelchua. The three others have become target of whimsical closures. Since 2018 the Odzisi (or "Razdakhan") crossing near Akhalgori is a so called "customs checkpoint". An obvious attempt of South Ossetia to establish an "(international) state border". This is the most 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.
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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 Sinagur 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”.
Georgian civilians living around the Administrative Boundary Line frequently experience arrest, abduction and detention by Russian or South Ossetian “border guards” for alleged violation and tresspassing of the “border”. This page keeps track of the latest developments of such arrests.
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According to Radio Tavisupleba, Georgian citizen Malkhaz Lezhava was detained by Russian controlled forces on 25 July 2020 near the Church of the Mother of God between Mejvriskhevi and Russian controlled Ghromi. State Security Service stated he has been set free and was put in quarantine in the territory controlled by the central government of Georgia.
12 July (Mgebrishvili case)
On 12 July it got public knowledge (in Georgia) a Georgian citizen from Mejvriskhevi was arrested by “occupying forces” near the ABL at Adzvi and put in COVID-19 quarantaine for two weeks. The de facto South Ossetian authorities reported on this on 10 July. On 19 July it was confirmed Khvicha Mghebrishvili remains in detention after clearing his 14 days quarantaine.
On 16 July the State Security Committee of South Ossetia reported Mgebrishvili not only “violated the State border” but that “he intended to get the so-called bat cocoons for sale in Georgia”. According to the report came forward with this explanation himself, as reason to “violate the border”. The South Ossetian de facto authorities already had a convenient story ready to join this explanation, connecting it with the activities of the Lugar biolab in Tbilisi (once again):
“Regarding the testimony of Kh.A. Mgebrishvili, it is necessary to clarify that the bats living in the Republic of South Ossetia – Pointed-eared bat, like the rest of the bats, are viviparous and do not build any nests, cocoons and other shelters. At the same time, there is an increased interest in the population of South Ossetian bats mice, since 2012, has been showing the so-called. R. Lugar “Center for Public Health “
“In 2018, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), together with the Lugar Center, as a field laboratory, is implementing a US $ 2.9 million project on bats and coronaviruses. The program is designed for 5 years and is implemented with the help of NGOs” Eco Health Alliance “.
In this regard, the KGB of the Republic of South Ossetia emphasizes that the bat, Myotis blythi, inhabiting the territory of South Ossetia, is listed in the Red Book of the Republic of South Ossetia. Thus, any cross-border activity related to its extraction and illegal movement outside the Republic is qualified in accordance with Articles 258.1 and 226.1 of the Criminal Code and entails a corresponding criminal penalty in the form of imprisonment.
In other words, also in Mgebrishvili’s case just as with others recently a second crime is attached to the “border violation”, typically a more serious crime, up for long prison sentence.
The Head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health of Georgia under which the Lugar Lab resides, explained such a program investigating the relationship between bats and corona viruses does exists. But that the Center’s uses zoo-entomologists, not ordinary citizens as Tskhinvali suggests, in sample collection works. Gamkrelidze slammed the information released the region’s KGB as “lies” and “staged provocation.”
11 July (Gakheladze case)
IPN and others reported a Georgian citizen from Kvemo Chala was shot, arrested and taken by “occupying forces” from allegedly Tbilisi controlled territory near Skhivo Fortress, ~500 metres beyond the Administrative Boundary Line. According to local reports, he was injured which the State Security Service of Georgia confirmed.
According to South Ossetian de facto authorities the 33 year old Gakheladze crossed the ABL near Akhmaji and shot at the “border guards”. Return fire was the cause of his injuries, according to the State Security Committee of South Ossetia. Relatives said Gakheladze and his friend (who could escape) were picking mushrooms in the fields near the Skhvilo Fortress. They have frequently sighted Russian controlled “border guards” roaming around the Fortress which is Tbilisi controlled area.
“Such a dangerous and unjustified incident would not have happened if Russia had fulfilled its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of the armed forces from pre-conflict positions and access to unhindered access to humanitarian aid. “
On 17 July the South Ossetian de facto authorities stated Gakheladze is charged with two crimes: “illegal crossing of the State Border and encroachment on the life of a law enforcement officer of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation” Furthermore, the press service of the regional KGB gave a rambling lecture written like an op-ed over the reasons why Georgia “whips up excitement”. it also takes aim again at the EUMM mission: “the mission decided to “actively” observe, while making biased but beneficial statements for Georgia”
A day later on 18 July the military prosecutor of South Ossetia stated Gakheladze shot at least five times at the border guards before being shot himself, while “moving deep into the territory of South Ossetia”. The latter is contrary to multiple statements of relatives and Gakheladze’s friend who was able to escape.
Gahkeladze was transferred from hospital to an isolator in Tskhinvali, Georgian media reported on 26 July 2020. On 27 July the Red Cross is expected to visit Gakheladze, something it has been trying to do from the beginning. The ICRC is the only international organization allowed and active in South Ossetia.
A Georgian citizen who was detained for several months by Russian-controlled occupation forces for ‘illegally crossing the border’ was released on 7 July. She will return to her family after spending two weeks in the quarantine zone.
IPN and others reported on 21 June 2020: “Occupying forces detained a 60 year old shepherd on the outskirts of the village of Akhalubani on the perimeter of the dividing line on the territory of Gori Municipality”. The shepherd was taken to Tskhinvali before being released the same day and transferred to Georgian authorities.
“Jumber Psitidze, a resident of Akhalubani, was grazing cattle with two villagers, during which armed uniforms appeared and he was arrested. The two shepherds who were with him managed to escape. According to the relatives of the detainee, the shepherds did not move to the occupied territories and the cattle were in the territory controlled by the central government of Georgia”.
The South Ossetian “State Security Committee” reported 30 “border violations” for April 2020, down from 41 in March. Most people were simply fined. An “increase of uncontrolled cattle grazing near the state border” was observed.
Relatives of Data Vanishvili, a nationally well known local of Khurvaleti, have been detained by Russian controlled forces. They were on Georgian controlled territory for several days. Data Vanishvili told VOA Georgia that first his grandson, who was on his way to Akhalgori, was arrested. The next day soldiers of the Russian military went to his house and pulled out his grandson’s wife. Reportedly, the two were first taken to Akhalgori for detention. Subsequently they were transported to Tskhinvali for medical isolation in line with local policies regarding the coronavirus pandemic. After the quarantaine a trial will decide about the penalty for “illegally crossing the border”. They were released on 3 May 2020 after fulfilling a 2-week quarantaine.
Voice of America Georgia interviewed Data Vanishvili:
The de facto authorities in Tskhinvali claimed Georgian media distorted the story: “Due to the fact that Georgian citizens who were contacted by Vanishvili’s spouse could be carriers of the virus and in order to prevent the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic entering South Ossetia, a decision was made to isolate them for up to 14 days in the Tskhinval medical institution”.
They also highlighted another recent case, painting Georgians negatively: “In addition, the KGB is seriously concerned about the situation surrounding the observance of the right to life of ethnic Ossetians living in Georgia. So, on April 16, having violated the state border regime, a citizen of the Republic of South Ossetia and South Ossetia, an ethnic Ossetian with two minor children, arrived in South Ossetia from Georgia. Having not received protection in the law enforcement bodies of Georgia, fleeing regular domestic violence against her and children by her husband, a Georgian by nationality, she was forced to cross the state border and turn to the leadership of South Ossetia.”
Separately, according to the annual report of the Georgian State Security Service released on 16 April, 86 citizens were “illegally detained” in 2019 by South Ossetian de facto authorities (and 27 by Abkhazia).
In its monthly report on “state border violations” the KGB of South Ossetia warned that everyone in the “border zone” (a one km wide zone along the ABL) needs to “obtain permits for economic, fishing and other activities”. (such as access to arable land, hunting, etc.)
It notes “increasing facts of uncontrolled cattle grazing near the state border of the Republic of South Ossetia, which entail a violation of the state border regime and the border zone of South Ossetia”. In other words, farmers on either side of the ABL have to control their cattle better or obtain permits to be in the “border zone”.
In February 2020, 38 violators of “border regime” were detained at various sections of the “state border of South Ossetia”, the KGB of South Ossetia reported. This is up from 36 in January 2020.
Subsequently, 26 people were fined, 5 were subjected to an administrative fine with expulsion from South Ossetia, 2 were expelled from the region without penalties (under Art. 14 of the Law “On the State Border of South Ossetia”), 3 were warned, and two violators were not punished.
A woman has been arrested and taken by militia from South Ossetia near the Administrative Boundary Line at the village of Bershueti. She has been transported to Tskhinvali for detention. The EUMM hotline has been activated. (see also 1TV, 05-03-2020)
A local Georgian resident (Eldar Gundishvili, 70) has been detained by Russian border troops near his village of Adzvi. The EU Monitoring Mission has been informed of the incident and the emergency hotline has been activated. Georgia’s Foreign Minister Zalkaliani will raise the issue at the next Ergneti IPRM and Geneva GID meetings. The citizen was released the next day. It was his third arrest.
Allegedly he “was collecting firewood in the forest together with his fellow-villagers when gunmen appeared.” His companions managed to escape, while he was taken by so-called “border guards”.
Activist Davit Katsarava provided information at the village about an SOS button he has been proposing. This is a device that can identify and geolocate where a civilian is. On Facebook and Radio Tavisupleba he said that if the residents of the occupation line have such technical equipment, it will be easy to find them in case of abduction. He is looking for additional funding for this project, with each button costing 110 USD.
On December 7, 2019, four Georgian citizens were detained near Akhmaji by “border guards” for violation of South Ossetian border. The men were 15, 39, 43 and 57 years of age. The minor was expelled, against the three others court proceedings were prepared.
Near Khelchua a Georgian citizen was detained for violating “border regime”, South Ossetia the KGB press service reported on 29-11-2019. During inspection, about nine grams of marijuana was found on the suspect. Criminal proceedings were instituted and the Tskhinvali District Court decided to detain the suspect during preliminary investigation
Two men were detained in the outskirts of the village of Kodistskaro by Russian controlled security forces. The detainees were then transferred to Tskhinvali controlled territory. Locals said they were shepherding their cattle on Tbilisi administered territory.
Well known Georgian doctor and traumatotogist Vazha Gaprindashvili and three others were detained by Russian-controlled forces, Georgian State Security Service confirmed. According to South Ossetian authorities the men were detained on 9 November (confirmed by Radio Tavisupleba).
Gaprindashvili was eventually sent to two years of prison before being released in December 2019 after strong international pressure.
A 28-year-old Georgian man was detained by South Ossetian de facto security forces in the outskirts of Kveshi near the ABL. Zakro Butkhuzi’s family says he was working in the vineyard with his brother, which adjoins the village of Zemo Artsevi, located on the occupied territory. He was released two days later.
On October 22, 2019, Radio Tavisupleba and others reported Lasha Khetereli, from refugee settlement Shaumiani (Marneuli district) was released from a two month prison sentence in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia. He was arrested on August 25 for “illegal border crossing” when visiting his grandmother.
24-year-old Giorgi Zangurashvili, was detained for “illegally crossing” the so-called “border” by Russian occupation forces near the village of Artsevi, where a Russian military base is located. He has been released the next day, the State Security Service of Georgia confirmed. The de-facto security committee reported the detainee had health problems and therefore he would be transferred to the Georgian side without any penalty.
A Georgian citizen was detained on 20 August 2019 in the southeastern outskirts of Tskhinvali for violating the state border of the republic, the KGB of South Ossetia said. Agenda.ge reported as well.
According to South Ossetian authorities, “the offender was brought to administrative responsibility in the form of a fine, followed by expulsion according to part 2 of article 4 of the law “On administrative responsibility in the field of protecting the state border”.
17 – 18 August
Seven Georgian citizens have been detained near the occupied Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) region for “illegally crossing the border”. All of them are the locals of the village of Akhalubani, Gori Municipality. They were reportedly visiting a church, which is located near the occupation line.
A day later another Georgian citizen has been detained near the village of Akhalubani, in Gori Municipality, close to South Ossetia region for “illegally crossing the border”.
Two residents of Kvemo Chala were detained on 11 May 2019 near the boundary line of South Ossetia “illegally crossing the border”. DimitriIsergishvili and VasilPatarkatsishvili, were picking asparagus at the edge of the village of Karapila.
Russian border guards have arrested and abducted 80-year-old Amiran Meladze on 5 May 2019 from his village Kveshi, Gori district. His house is located near the boundary line, and reportedly he was harvesting asparagus in his garden. He was taken in the direction of Artsevi.
Two residents of Nikozi, Gabriel Melanashvili and Tamaz Mchedlidze, were detained on 23 April for “violating the border of South Ossetia”. Allegedly they were held in Tskhinvali prison, while locals claimed the de facto authorities of South Ossetia demanded $295 for their release.
Upon their release the next day, South Ossetian authorities they let them go without a fine. They cited health problems of one of the two men, something his mother said a day earlier. Locals said they went to clean graves at the cemetery near the village, ahead of Easter holiday.
Occupation forces detained Georgian citizen Gocha Pidiuri near his village Mejvriskhevi close to the ABL with South Ossetia for “illegally crossing the border”, Georgian media reported. His neighbours said Pidiuri was often visiting the Lomisi shrine located near the boundary line. Two days later he was released and transferred to Georgian authorities at Ergneti.
Two Georgian citizens, Alan Marghishvili and Giorgi Chitishvili, from Karapila and Zadiantkari were detained near the ABL for “illegally crossing the border” on 13 March 2019. They were released the next day.
The Georgian State Security Service reported327 Georgian citizens have been detained “by occupying forces for illegally crossing the border” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia between 2017 and 2019. Near the South Ossetian ABL 242 persons were detained for “illegally crossing the border”, the remaining 85 in Abkhazia (in 2019 so far 16 and 4 respectively)
Occupying forces detained a cleric, Father David Durglishvili, near the village of Nikozi in the evening of 4 February 2019, claiming he “illegally crossed the border”. Witnesses say the cleric was on his own agricultural farm land on territory under the control of the central Georgian government. The next day he was released.
Russian controlled “border guards” arrested a resident of Khurvaleti village for ‘illegally crossing the border’ on 23 December 2018. He was released a day later.
De facto parliament of Georgia’s South Ossetia region increased the penalty for ‘illegally crossing the border’ with Georgia to $300 as they deemed the current amount of $30 to be ineffective. More than GEL 116.000 ($42.000) has been collected between 2008 and 2017 and added to the separatist budget.
The representative of the border service of the KGB of South Ossetia informed de facto lawmakers that since 1 January 2018 to date 460 people violated the “state border of the republic”, an increase of 10% compared to 2017. [Note: this may include people coming from Russia via Roki as the Georgian numbers don’t match]. He also noted in October 58 violators (53 in September) were detained, of which 44 were fined.
Usually the clergymen go down to the Ksani Gorge in Tskhinvali controlled territory to get water which is lacking at the monastery. This time a new resident of the monastery went down, who the Russian controlled militia did not know and recognize as from Lomisi, father David explained.
Russian controlled forces kidnapped a 50 year old Georgian citizen from the village of Kirbali (Gori municipality) on 6 October 2018. He was detained for so called “illegally crossing the border” near the ABL of South Ossetia. He was released on 9 October together with another detainee and transferred at Ergneti (see below).
Khurvaleti resident Maia Otinashvili (37) was detained by Russian controlled “border guards” in her village allegedly from her own garden. Villagers said she was near the administrative boundary line when armed individuals detained her and transported her in the direction of Tskhinvali.
“We understood from the family of Otinashvili that she was beaten on the Russian military base in Kardzmani village. Even though Otinashvili has a lawyer he was not allowed to see the detainee. None of the independent observers were permitted to see her, which gives credibility to the family’s suspicion that she has been beaten,”
Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were allowed to see Maia Otinashvili in prison later that day, but guidelines prohibit the organization to disclose details to the media. “We will provide the information in a closed format with the responsible state bodies” the ICRC stated. South Ossetian press agency organized local journalists talking to her: she denied the alleged abuse. On 9 October, after 10 days of detention, she was released and transferred to Georgian authorities at Ergneti. According to South Ossetian “state media” Otinashvili was convicted for “violating the state border” receiving a probational sentence of one year.
Two polish citizens were detained on 1 September 2018 by South Ossetian “border guards” in the Java district near the abandoned village of Khoz (Хоз) for allegedly “violating the state border between Georgia and South Ossetia”. They were trekking to Keli Lake in Truso Gorge. After paying a fine they were released on 3 September and expelled from the South Ossetia region.
Five Georgian hikers were detained on 28 August 2018 for ‘violating the state border’ with Georgia’s occupied region of Tskhinvali (South Ossetia), officials from Tskhinvali confirmed. The young hikers from Tbilisi started their journey on 24 August to reach Keli Lake in the pictorial Truso Gorge in the northeastern Georgia in Kazbegi Municipality. They were released and transferred on 30 August.
On the same day a 67 year old shepherd was detained near Balta for ‘violating the state border’ with Georgia’s occupied region of Tskhinvali (South Ossetia).
Russian controlled border guards kidnapped a Georgian citizen near Sakorintlo, Kaspi municipality on territory administered by the central Georgian government on 31 July 2018. The State Security Service of Georgia confirmed the man was kidnapped for so called “illegal crossing of border” of South Ossetia.
According to the KGB of South Ossetia a 40-year-old woman from Rustavi was detained by “border guards” near the village of Balta on 10 July 2018, for “violating the state border regime”. The press service of the State Security Committee added that after facing a court and paying a fine, she violator was expelled back to Tbilisi controlled Georgia.
Russia-controlled border guards abducted a 28-year-old Georgian citizen in the village of Akhrisi, Gori municipality, near the occupation line with South Ossetia region, on 6 July 2018. Three days later he was released after paying a 2000 RUB (31 USD) fine.
A 16 year old high school student from Chvirnisi which is located near the boundary line of South Ossetia was arrested by the so called border guards of South Ossetia on 30 June 2018. He was released two days later after his family paid a fine amounting to 2,000 Russian rubles (31 USD).
Russian controlled border guards of South Ossetia detained on 29 June 2018 a 94-year-old Georgian citizen in the village of Sakorintlo, Kaspi municipality, on Tbilisi-administered territory. Locals said they saw how armed “border guards” attacked the old man and kidnapped him. It is the second time he was abducted by occupants.
Caucasian Knot reported two residents of 19 and 27 year old from the “border” village of Bershueti were detained on 21 June 2018 by Russian border guards. According to their relatives, the young men were detained when going to a village chapel, “Georgia Online” reported. They were taken to Tskhinvali.
Villagers said three other local residents were near the chapel together with the two arrested, but they returned to the village before the “border guards” arrived at the place.
Caucasian Knot reported based on a South Ossetian KGB press release a 22-year-old Georgian was detained on 20 June 2018 near Ksuisi in Tskhinvali controlled territory. He is a resident from Mereti village (Gori District).
The Tskhinvali de facto District Court opened a case against him under Article 322 of the Russian Criminal Code (“illegal border crossing”) and put him in pre-trial custody for two months “due to repeated violation of the border”.
“It has been established that this person had already been detained in May for a similar offense and was subjected to administrative liability with subsequent expulsion out of South Ossetia,” the KGB said in its statement.
68 year old shepherd Misha Petriashvili, herding cattle with two fellow villagers, was kidnapped on 17 June 2018 from Akhalubani, Gori district near the ABL of South Ossetia. Locals said the three people were on Georgian controlled territory at the moment of the incident and did not cross the so-called “border”. On 18 June South Ossetian authorities stated they prepared a trial at Tskhinvali District Court.
Caucasian Knot reported that according to Georgian “Channel One” Russian controlled militias arrested a woman with two young children near Atotsi on the “border” with South Ossetia. They tried to visit her relatives in South Ossetia, “Georgia-Online” added. Unlike usual, they were not taken to the detention centre in Tskhinvali but were released on site.
The Georgian village of Atotsi is located on the Georgian-South-Ossetian dividing line. Close to it is the village of Balta, Znaur District, which after the 2008 war got unde South ossetian control. Many residents of the two villages are relatives.
Near the South Ossetian controlled village of Artsevi a 41 year old resident of Kveshi, on Tbilisi controlled territory close to the ABL, was arrested and detained on 15 June 2018. On 18 June information was released by South Ossetian de facto authorities a trial was prepared for so called “violation of the state border”.
On 5 June the South Ossetian de facto authorities announced they would “strengthen control over the state border regime” in June and July by “planning joint activities aimed at preventing violations in the border sphere”.
A 23-years old resident of Plavi was detained on 24 May 2018 by so-called border guards near the administrative boundary line. He was herding cattle near his land while he was detained for “illegally crossing” the so called border.
Russia-controlled “border guards” detained on 17 May 2018 near Zemo Dvani a 29 year old Georgian citizen from Tirdznisi village. Locals said that the detained allegedly could not find the way and accidently appeared on the territory which is under Russia’s control. They said the young man who suffers from a serious heart disease, has been detained for “illegal crossing of border”. Due to his health problems he was released the next day without penalties.
Russian-controlled border guards detained Sergo Darbaidze (50) near the administrative boundary line of Georgia’s South Ossetia region. His family stated he was abducted in the evening of 25 April 2018 when he was herding cattle in his own garden, in Kveshi. Darbaidze was detained for “illegally crossing the border” and was taken to a Tskhinvali detention facility.
His son told media “the territory is controlled by Georgia. After the abduction Sergo phoned me and told me that he was in Tskhinvali detention facility.”
A Georgian citizen of Kere (Gori municipality), Akaki Misireli (66), was detained near the administrative boundary line of breakaway South Ossetia by “border guards” on 21 April 2018. He was taken to Tskhinvali’s police department for detention. This news led to protests by representatives of the Strength in Unity movement, which, in particular, began to patrol the territory near the village of Kere. After paying a fine in South Ossetia, he was handed over to Georgian law enforcement officers at the roadblock in Ergneti, on 23 April.
A 31 year old resident, Soso Dvalishvili, from Gori municipality was detained by South Ossetian “border guards” near Ghromi on 20 April 2018. He was released on April 23 after paying a fine for “violating the border”, together with Akaki Misireli (above).
On 20 April 2018, Elizbar Mestumrishvili (77) was detained by Russian-controlled border guards in Jariasheni (Gori municipality), near the administrative boundary line with South Ossetia. Locals said he was herding cattle on territory controlled by Georgia. After being taken to Tskhinvali for detention he was released the next day.
A Georgian citizen (52) was detained by Russia-controlled border guards near Plavismani (Gori municipality) on 17 April 2018. According to Georgia’s State Security Service, Tamaz Iluridze was accused of illegally crossing the so-called border. He was released and expelled to Tbilisi controlled territory the next day after paying a fine. Locals said that Iluridze was herding cattle with his neighbor Gela Giunashvili when armed “border guards” detained him. Giunashvili managed to escape and inform the police. According to the residents of the village, the incident took place while the two were on Georgia-controlled territory.
Traffic police officers in South Ossetia, serving in a stationary post in the village of Avnevi (Znaur district), arrested a 35-year-old Georgian citizen on 9 April 2018. He crossed the administrative boundary line at Tsnelisi (Znaur district) and was walking to Tskhinvali. He was accused of “illegally crossing the border” and subsequently transferred to the FSB border service in Tskhinvali.
Two locals of Adzvi village, Eldar Gundishvili and Temur Kazievi, who were illegally detained by Russian occupants on 7 April 2018, were released a day later. Eldar Gundishvili said he was detained while he was grazing his cattle in his own yard.
Two Georgian citizens of 27 and 41 year old from Akhalsopeli and Adzvi (Gori municipality) were detained on 22 March 2018 by Russian controlled border guards “for violating the state border of South Ossetia”. This happened near Adzvistavi.
A Georgian and Russian citizen were detained near Tskhinvali controlled Prisi, for alleged “violation of the state border”, RES reported on 14 February 2018. According to the local KGB the Russian citizen, with the help from the Georgian, “tried to hide from criminal responsibility in Georgia, using the territory of the Republic of South Ossetia as a transit area”. They were transferred to Russian authorities at Roki border checkpoint.
A 50 year old citizen of Georgia was taken by Russian controlled forces “for violating the state border regime” near Khelchua, RES reported on 12 February. The de facto KGB inquiry agencies opened a criminal case under Article 322 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (illegal border crossing), as he has been detained multiple times for similar “offenses” in 2017. The Tskhinvali District Court detained him for the duration of the preliminary investigation (for a period of 2 months)
In January the de facto authorities arrested 19 Georgians for “violation of the state border with Georgia”, the KGB of South Ossetia stated. Most of them were fined.
In April 2018 Georgia’s State Security Service (SSS) released its annual report. It recollects 126 Georgian citizens were illegally detained by Russia-controlled border guards in 2017, at the administrative boundary line with South Ossetia. And 52 others at the Abkhazian administrative boundary line. The individuals were detained for the “illegal crossing of the border” and many of them were released shortly after paying a fine. According to the South Ossetia de facto authorities a total of 514 “violators of the state border with Georgia were detained“, reportedly 11% less than in 2016.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Russian controlled military convoy visits Tsnelisi – August 2019
Georgian police lookout above the Yugostalk plant near Tsnelisi
Delineation and demarcation
Yelena Panin, a Russian Duma deputy of United Russia said“South Ossetia had always been an independent state. There is no need to talk about some kind of peaceful return of South Ossetia to Georgia, especially after the tragic events of 2008”. The Russian Foreign Ministry described the construction of the Georgian police post as “provocative actions” carried out “against the background of Tbilisi’s repeated refusal of Tskhinval’s proposal to begin negotiations on delimitation and demarcation of the border.”
In the run-up to the IPRM meeting South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov visited Tsnelisi, with a militarized entourage and additional security forces which alarmed people in Georgia. Meanwhile Zaza Driaev, head of the South Ossetian Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Policy and Inter-Parliamentary Relations earlier said“It will be fair if we set up our posts where the border of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region previously ran”.
So what does Driaev mean with “where the border previously ran”? And was there really a “violation of the [state] border” as the South Ossetians claim? First, let’s check the map below. The location of the Georgian police post (blue) is in Tbilisi administered area. In accordance with (Georgian and international community) traditional interpretation of the Administrative Boundary Line. However, South Ossetian authorities contest the post is on their territory. This difference of interpretation of “borders” drives the South Ossetian accusations against Georgian authorities.
Territorial dispute Tsnelisi - Chorchana
The purple dashed line is the Administrative Boundary Line upheld by Georgia.
The red line indicates the "border" as claimed by South Ossetia.
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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.
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.
South Ossetian reference map Tsnelisi/Chorchana area, source of territorial dispute
Soviet topographic map (1984) – fragment of K-38-64 depicting Tsnelisi area with administrative boundary highlighted
Soviet topographic map (1984) – Sheet K-38-64 Kareli and Znaur district
1926 Soviet Map depicting South Ossetia Autonomous Oblast
Map of Tsnelisi Forestry 1982 “fake map”
Georgian SSR ethnic composition (1931) with South Ossetia projected into the map.
Juggling with maps
Both Russian and separatist South Ossetian representatives have determined previous administrative boundaries of the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast. They are using reference material of different years for demarcation activities that suits their benefit. According to the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI)
“the Russian occupational regime is planning to go back to the old administrative borders of the South Ossetian autonomous province which existed during Soviet times. In order to define the so-called borders (occupation lines) of Georgia’s occupied territories, the border-guards of the Russian Federation and the separatist regime use the topographic maps of the general staff of the Soviet military published between 1976-1986.
“First of all, there were numerous topographic maps of the Soviet general staff and they have been published throughout different times. At the same time, they differed in the way they defined the boundaries of the former South Ossetian Autonomous District. For example, to define the administrative borderline in Gori region, the Russian side uses the topographic map of 1988 which portrays the locations as of 1984.”
“Secondly, during the demarcation and establishment of the administrative border after the 2008 war, the Russian and Ossetian sides did not take into account the complex administrative outline of the South Ossetian district. As a result, much of the Georgian population lost access to the lands that they utilized on every-day basis.”
The latter sums up the complications of today’s reality.
Mandates and access
The EU Monitoring Mission has obviously been very concerned about the conflict resolution and security environment. As impartial observer and mediating party they were not dragged into the dispute itself, so far. But that was to change in September 2019. Their mandate formally covers the entire internationally recognized Georgian territory, including the de-facto separated areas. In practice the monitors observe everything from Tbilisi controlled territory, being denied access to Tskhinvali controlled territory:
Erik Hoeg, 30-08-2019: “We continue monitoring Chorchana/Tsnelisi area at the ABL. 24/7. Tonight we have 9 #EUMM monitors from 6 countries out there supported by 2 Georgian colleagues. According to regular updates from our patrols to HQ everything quiet so far.”
Early September a police post was constructed by South Ossetian troops on a hilltop in Tbilisi administered territory, overlooking Chorchana. This is the southwestern corner of territory Tskhinvali claims in this dispute (“point 17”, 944 m, see maps below and above). They also carved out an access road from Tsnelisi through the forest, up to 1.3 km into Tbilisi administered territory.
The construction of the police post coincided with an extra IPRM meeting in Ergneti called to mediate in this crisis. Both sides accused each other of illegal and provocative activities in the disputed territory. South Ossetian authorities demanded the Georgians would give up the police outlook near Tsnelisi as a condition to “remove tensions“. Which the Georgian side refuses to. Moreover, the Tskhinvali didn’t elaborate how they would “remove tensions” if the Georgians would fulfill their request.
The South Ossetian political class meanwhile requested assistance from Moscow: “The South Ossetian Parliament asks the Russian Federation Council and the State Duma to hold inter-parliamentary consultations to develop a unified policy to promote de-escalation, restore territorial integrity and ensure the security of South Ossetian citizens.”
Beginning in January this year  the Mission noted paint markings on trees in the area between Tsnelisi and Chorchana. The Mission assesses these as a feature of ‘borderisation’. However, no actor has claimed responsibility for these markings.
Between 20 and 24 August a new Georgian observation post was established on the outskirts of the village of Tsnelisi by the MIA Special Tasks Department. According to EUMM findings, the post is located some 240 metres away from the ABL and on Tbilisi-administered territory (TAT) in accordance with the traditionally understood run of the ABL in that area.
Security actors from South Ossetia have in the last week established new positions and installed a number of borderisation features, including ‘green signs’ and flags on the TAT side of the ABL as traditionally understood in this area. The features are up 1.3 kilometres beyond the ABL. In the meantime Georgian MIA units have also reinforced their presence in the Chorchana forest area.
South Ossetian Envoy to the President Murat Jioyev condemned the “illegal visits” of the EU Monitoring Mission: “EU observers are unlawfully visiting the right-bank side of the Tsnelisi settlement. They have no mandate on the territory of South Ossetia, so every visit is unlawful”. Dragging the EUMM in the conflict.
Separation of issues
The co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussion (GID) traveled to Tskhinvali to discuss the ongoing closure of crossing points by the South Ossetian side. For the South Ossetian side this closure is highly connected with the Chorchana – Tsnelisi conflict: reopening is made conditional to the Georgian removal of the police post near Tsnelisi.
Through the IPRM and GID dialogue formats international stakeholders insist on the separation of these issues. In Tskhinvali, the co-chairs of the GID were handed a decree on the establishment of the South Ossetian Autonomous District in Tskhinvali in 1922. This decree allegedly claimed that the Chorchana forest was formerly controlled by the Oblast and therefore belongs to its successor, the “Republic of South Ossetia”.
Former minister of Reconciliation and Civic Equality of Georgia Paata Zakareishvili voiced criticism towards the Georgian government: “The government’s silence is troubling, and this is contributing to the creation of various myths. Their incompetence shows that they do not know the situation and do not know how to act in the direction of conflict management, I am not talking about a solution anymore, we have no dreams, they cannot manage it”.
Effectively Zakareishvili blames the government for self-inflicted damage. He says the Georgians should not have constructed the police post without consultation at the Ergneti IPRM meetings. Regardless whether the lookout is legit on Georgian administered territory. It predictably fueled tensions and escalation from the South Ossetian side.
He said this escalation with South Ossetian police posts and borderization on Tbilisi administered territory “is an extremely dangerous and destructive act that seriously damages the security environment and poses additional problems for indigenous people on both sides of the occupation line.”
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.
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.”
Tbilisi and the EUMM strongly denied reports by the de facto government of South Ossetia of alleged shootings near the ABL at Koda. According to them a violent confrontation took place between local villagers and Georgian authorities. Locals interviewed by Radio Tavisupleba denied such a thing took place. Below statement illustrates the vile attempt to sow division between the local Georgians and their authorities, spreading disinformation:
South Ossetian claims: “Information received by State Security Committee of Republic of South Ossetia indicates that near the border with South Ossetia in Koda on 5 November automatic weapons were associated with an armed incident between the Georgian Interior Ministry and the local Georgian population.
The cause of the conflict was discontent of Koda residents with the reinforced checkpoints of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia in the area of Chorchana-Kobi-Koda-Atotsi, a general escalation of tension, as well as attempts by Georgian police officers to establish Georgian flags at the heights prevailing over the village.”
An interview on “state press agency” RES with Yuri Vazagov, Head of the Information and Analytical Office of the Presidential Administration, illustrates the confrontational stance in South Ossetia. He recommends a principled position on the territorial issue, including “strengthening the borders”, while he voiced explicit accusations against the European monitors. During his European trip South Ossetia’s de-facto minister of Foreign Affairs Dmitry Medoev said international peacekeepers are a closed chapter since the 2008 war, referring to the Tsnelisi crisis.
In a bold move, South Ossetia de facto President Anatoly Bibilov inspected the South Ossetian police post on the “944.8 height” near Chorchana, which is located on Tbilisi administered territory. Georgian authorities have effectively lost control over this height. The so called “creeping annexation” does not get more explicit. But a next chapter was added after New Year.
On 14 January 2020 South Ossetian forces reportedly started erecting “illegal installations” (fences) in the Chorchana forests. They followed the line that is the “real border” of South Ossetia according to Tskhinvali (see red line in map above). In other words: brutal unilateral annexation of territory without any dialogue or finding any resolve on the demarcation dispute. Not even considering upholding the status quo of the last decade. A hardly surprising move given the recent past. David Katsarava visualized the borderization works in the forested hills with a drone (see also Radio Tavisupleba):
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
Georgian activists geo-located marked trees which the EUMM reported about in September 2019 (observed in January 2019). The EUMM did not identify publicly who was responsible for the markings. However, the Georgian activists drew their conclusions on who did and with which intentions in Tbilisi controlled territory.
US acting Ambassador stated in relation to the borderization initiatives: “I believe that all resources must be used to settle the issue, including the Geneva International Discussions. The US firmly supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and urges Russia to fulfill the ceasefire agreement signed with Georgia in 2008 [and withdraw its forces from the Georgian territory]”.
The checkpoint near Odzisi (Mosabruni) in Akhalgori district remained closed all this time. South Ossetian de facto President Anatoly Bibilov reiterated the condition for reopening, at a reporting meeting of the Russian FSB Border Administration in January 2020. This checkpoint is the most important of three, with up to 400-500 civilian crossings on a daily basis. It finally reopened shortly at the end of January 2020 only to allow pensioners to collect their Georgian pension, closing again 10 days later. Scheduled to reopen again in March 2020, it closed indefinitely due to the Corona virus outbreak. More on the checkpoint regime in a separate page.
On 16 April the Georgian State Security Service stated in its report the “occupying forces also used the ongoing incidents near the village of Chorchana to discriminate against ethnic Georgians living in occupied Tskhinvali”.
“Against the background of the active propaganda and disinformation campaign, the de facto regimes have linked the fake news to the restriction of movement on the occupation line. At the beginning of 2019, the so-called The so-called seasonal spread of swine flu (H1N1). To avoid danger, the movement on the occupation line was restricted for 45 days [by South Ossetian authorities]. The so-called Checkpoints and locals were isolated. In September 2019, the occupation regime once again restricted free movement on the occupation line, this time by the central government to “worsen” the security situation and link it to the developments in Chorchana. Occupying forces have been actively covering misinformation about the village of Chorchana. As part of the targeted information campaign, the occupation forces spread false news, including the mobilization of additional police forces from Tbilisi and the confrontation between the police and the population”.
During a Geneva International Discussions (GID) video conference on 13 May 2020 the de facto South Ossetian authorities reiterated “the need to withdraw the Georgian police post illegally placed near the village of Uista (Tsnelisi)”.
Disinformation by South Ossetian side
On 20 May 2020 the South Ossetian KGB released a statement accusing the EUMM mission of facilitating “Georgian side’s plans to collect biological samples in South Ossetia by illegally moving South Ossetian citizens across the state border line”, connecting this with an alleged Georgian genocidal policy and the Lugar Biolab in Tbilisi:
“The KGB of South Ossetia reported on Wednesday that the direct continuation of the South Ossetian genocide policy at the present stage is the activities in Georgia of the so-called “R. Lugar Research Center for Public Health.”, whose representatives continue the attempts to take biological material from citizens of the Republic of South Ossetia.”
It further claimed that the EUMM patrol “accompanying the Private vehicles” were part of this covert plot providing a disguise:
“The KGB has noted that, according to objective control data, both times “Private” vehicles were accompanied by two EUMM patrol cars, which ensured the secret movement of the Georgian doctors to the state border line, their disguise, protection and departure in the opposite direction.”
This allegedly happened at two locations on 26 April 2020: near the quarry and Georgian police post just outside of Tsnelisi and at a height between Chorchana and Kobe villages.
This was strongly refuted by the EUMM, declaring the accompanying vehicles were legitimate ambulances, used for many years, with full knowledge of the de facto South Ossetian authorities.
“Reports that appeared in South Ossetian media focusing on the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Georgia on 20 May 2020, made inaccurate and completely false references to the activities of the EU Monitoring Mission ( EUMM) in Georgia along the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) with South Ossetia on 26 April.
Categorically denying the false claims which are yet another example of malicious and irresponsible disinformation targeted at the Mission, we state the following:
On 26 and 27 April the Mission responded to Hotline activations regarding enquiries about ‘private vehicles’ that accompanied its patrol. In response, the Mission explained, as it does here, that the named vehicles were ambulances.
Ambulance cars have been present with EUMM patrols since its inception. They are a standard precautionary measure. It is part of our duty of care towards our staff that they accompany EUMM personnel so that they can swiftly provide the necessary help in case of need, such as a car accident. This is particularly important in remote areas where speedy medical support is difficult to obtain.
The ambulance was clearly visible. There was no secretive movement. The patrol was conducted as planned. There was no contact with any persons. There was no collection of any samples and there is no intent to do so. EUMM is a monitoring Mission, it monitors every day, including during the COVID pandemic.”
On 30 may 2020 activists of Power in Unity determined more marked trees in the Chorchana forests, allegedly in preparation of further borderization of the Tbilisi controlled area that Tskhinvali claims and attempts to occupy. Radio Tavisupleba wrote an article about it citing the State Security Service saying in a statement “every provocative act is being responded to”. Davit Katsarava commented: “We were in the Chorchana-Perevi forest massif, in the territory controlled by our government, which is probably no longer under our control. Today we have already found new landmarks that are moving in the direction of Perevi. It can be said that we followed the occupants on wet tracks. We found a special trap on one of the sections of the road, which was designed to detect if a stranger passed by on this section.” More video images and an interview can be found at VOA (in Georgian).
In line with propaganda and disinformation developments during the Covid-19 crisis, the de facto South Ossetian authorities have accused Georgia of biowarfare activities through the Lugar biolab and UAV flights. In a typical propaganda stint in line with this disinformation the KGB forces of South Ossetia performed “chemical & biological reconnaissance” in the Tsnelisi area. After Georgia performed UAV flights near Seribalta and the Yugostalk plant above Tbilisi administered territory (which SO contested was above theirs):
“The Committee has noted that, in particular, the employees of the Radiation and Chemical-Biological Protection Unit of the RSO KGB Border Service selected “soil, water, air, green cover, and various insects in order to further study them in the laboratory conditions.
In connection with the outbreak in Georgia, in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic of the Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever, as well as experiments carried out at the Lugar laboratory with bats and insects, the KGB of the Republic responsibly declares that if pathogenic microflora or disease vectors are detected in the samples taken, this fact will indicate the use of forms and methods of bioterrorism by the Tbilisi regime against South Ossetia.”
During a video conference between the new EUMM head Marek Schigol and South Ossetian delegates Yegor Kochiev and Murat Dzhioev all participants reiterated the importance of the IPRM format which meetings have not been held since August 2019. However, the South Ossetian side maintains its position on the Georgian police post near Tsnelisi and Yugostalk plant as an obstacle for progress. Obviously, the police post hinders South Ossetia in annexing the territory it claims.
According to South Ossetian KGB (17 June 2020) a Georgian police post is allegedly being constructed in the northeastern forested outskirts of Chorchana village. There was no official reaction from Georgian authorities.
“The State Security Committee has noted that in the northeastern outskirts of the settlement of Chorchana a new post of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has been constructed, the object is located in a forest belt, and at least five police officers are registered there.”
IPN and others took notice of the Ossetian claims. However, RFE/RL reports based on Power in Unity civil patrols and experts this is malign disinformation of the South Ossetian side to provoke and expect further escalation:
Teona Akubardia, a former deputy secretary of the Security Council of Georgia and a security analyst: “The first goal is to raise the temperature of this community and, despite the pandemic, to maintain a constant high temperature in relation to this community. The users of this topic, first of all, are the internal audience, the population living in the occupied region of Tskhinvali. The second direction is to put pressure on the Georgian government and ignore these issues during the pre-election period. The risks, of course, are for the national security of the country. “
The South Ossetian State Security Service also mentioned the activities of Power in Unity which identified “marked trees” (see above). The Georgian activists say these are marked by “occupation forces” (Russian/South Ossetian) and are a precursor to further borderization in Tbilisi controlled territory. The South Ossetian de facto security authorities however, twist this around: they claim this is a precursor to Georgian activities in the area they claim is theirs. Referring to 2019 when tree markings were “observed” followed by construction of a Georgian police post:
“So, on the state border section, in the area of the village of Uista (Tsnelis), the Georgian side is trying to simulate the situation that preceded the unlawful post of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs in August 2019. In a forest located in the area of the village of Chorchana of the Khashur municipality are recorded marks and symbols made by paint on trees. In 2019, the Tbilisi regime, before the start of the “Tsnelis crisis,” held a similar event, presenting the marking of the area as an activity of the Border Service of the RSO KGB, after which the illegal post of the Georgian law enforcement agencies was installed”.
On 20 June 2020Mtavari TVjoined a civil patrol in the Chorchana forested areas by the Power in Unity group (Georgian language only)
All eight have been transported to the Tskhinvali isolator. The South Ossetian side changed their narrative during the day. They claim all eight were arrested at the same location, the St George church near Adzvistavi (see map), drunk and in possession of drugs “of plant origin”.
Annually hundreds of Georgians get arrested in a similar fashion, but this incident is extra highlighted by the unusual high number of involved people.
The seven (young) Georgian citizens were visiting a church in the wooded hills just outside of Adzvi village to lit some candles according to one of the mothers. The church is situated between the Adzvistavi FSB base and Ghromi FSB base which covers this side of the river bank. The detained were allegedly taken to the Adzvistavi base.
Despite the boundary line used in Google Maps and OpenStreetMap, suggesting the locations are within the “South Ossetian” area, the territory is considered to be Georgian controlled. Yandex Map uses a different demarcation (see below).
Locals told Rustavi2 the situation on the ground lacks clear indication of the boundary line, causing the occupying forces randomly arresting people claiming they trespassed. This causes a lot of anxiety, as by far most alleged trespassing is unintended, often related to farming.
In the morning of 18 August information was released another Georgian citizen was arrested nearby Akhalubani. He is a local from Mejvriskhevi, having been arrested previously for “border trespassing” as his uncle told Radio Tavisupleba. Just like the other seven he has been transferred to the Tskhinvali isolator.
The Russian-Georgian war of August 2008 resulted in a massive increase of Russian military presence in Georgia’s Abkhazia region. An estimated 5.000 Russian military personnel (3.500 Armed Forces, 1.500 border guards) are deployed in the region.
This page visualizes some of the expansion of Russian presence over the years, based on public material available.
The Russian-Georgian war of August 2008 resulted in a massive increase of Russian military presence in Georgia’s South Ossetia region. An estimated 5.000 Russian military personnel (3.500 Armed Forces, 1.500 border guards) are deployed in the region. This is a tenfold of official Russian (“peacekeeping”) presence prior to 2008 and with much stronger warfare equipment. According to the latest data just 53.000 people live in the area.
In 1992, after the Georgian-Ossetian civil war of 1991-1992, a cease-fire was reached through the Sochi Accords. This also established the Joint Control Commission (JCC) and the Joined Peacekeeping Force (JPKF). It was the start of post-Soviet Russian military presence in South Ossetia. The JPKF was commanded by the Russians, and was composed of 1.320 troops: Russian Federation (500), Georgia (320), and North/South Ossetia (500). Dwindling down functioning in the years prior to the 2008 war, the JCC and JPKF ceased after the war.
The six-point agreement between Russia and Georgia was signed in August 2008 to end the war after mediation by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on behalf of the EU. This stipulated, among other things, “Russian armed forces to withdraw to the positions held before hostilities began in South Ossetia”, the source of dispute between Russia and Georgia (and most of the international community) since then.
Two weeks after the agreement was signed Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia (and Abkhazia). In September 2008 the EU and Russia worked out the six-point agreement in terms of deadlines and implementation of observer missions. It was at the press conference the separate visions on withdrawal became clear.
Medvedev said: “Russia will withdraw in full its peacekeepers from the zones adjoining South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the positions where they were stationed before the start of hostilities”. While Sarkozy stated: “…within a month Russia’s Armed Forces will have left Georgian territory”. In the vision of Sarkozy that included both regions as he repeated the EU’s position on the status of the regions as inseparable parts of Georgia.
Russia was quick to announce in september 2008 roughly 7.600 troops would be deployed equally divided over both regions. Since that moment Russia has rapidly expanded its military infrastructure in the region to host troops and equipment. In a second stage it has built compounds for the families of the military personnel on long term deployment.
In March 2015 the Kremlin and the de facto leaders in South Ossetia signed an “Alliance and integration Treaty”, effectively integrating the security forces (including border security) of the Ossetians into the Russian structures. Among other things. The full merger of the Ossetian forces into the Russian forces was formalized in 2018. In other words, South Ossetia has become a colonized protectorate of Russia.
This article visualizes some of the expansion of Russian presence over the years, based on public material available.
Russian military locations in South Ossetia region
Along the entire Administrative Boundary Line a string of FSB "border guard" compounds have been constructed since 2009.
The 4th Russian Military Base of the Russian Southern Military District is located in Tskhinvali. Additional infrastructure such as shooting ranges can be found along the Liakhvi River, the former site of (ethnic) Georgian villages which have been abandoned and at the town of Java / Dzau.
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Main Russian military bases
Capital Tskhinvali and Java in central South Ossetia are the main Russian military locations with multiple sites including military camps, residential compounds, large exercise areas, and storage facilities.
The main base of Russia’s Armed forces in South Ossetia is the 4th Military Base on the western outskirts of capital Tskhinvali. This vast complex opened in February 2009, together with residential housing north from the base. In 2011 expansion took place on a free plot north from the base compound, and various minor expansion within the existing perimeters of the base.
In 2012 construction of a compound with family apartments was finished just south-east from the main base, and in 2013 a military compound was constructed within a city block. A substantial enlargement took place in 2015 on the west side of the base. The capacity of the base is estimated at 4.000 troops. According to an official statement in April 2020 more than 450 South Ossetians serve at the 4th Military base under Russian command.
Java (or Dzau in Russian and Ossetian references) is the main town of the Java / Dzau district in central South Ossetia on an important junction of roads. It is also on the route from the Roki tunnel on the Russian border, the sole access road from Russia. The town is outside of the 15 km conflict zone as determined by the JCC, and was under control of the South Ossetians by the time the 2008 war broke out.
Russia secretly rebuilt the supposedly disbanded Ugardanta military base here since 2006 outside of the JCC mandate and international monitors. The area was outside of international oversight. The base played an important strategic role in Russia’s invasion in 2008. Java maintained its importance for strategic deployment of Russian troops and equipment after the war; the military infrastructure rapidly developed into the second largest in South Ossetia.
Border Guard compounds
Along the Administrative Boundary Line a string of sites have been constructed over the last decade in the post-2008 period, mostly between fall 2009 and 2011. These stations take care of patrolling and monitoring the ABL, adding physical barriers (such as barbed wire, fences and more recently trenches). The border guards are (mostly) Russian and serving under FSB command. Dozens of times per year locals (mostly Georgians) are arrested and detained by the border guards for trespassing the (mostly unmarked) ABL. The arrested persons generally get transported to Tskhinvali or other stations for detention and ransom. Most of the sites have helipads. A walk through per administrative district below.
Kornisi / Znauri District
The south western corner of South Ossetia was the scene of tension buildup and shelling of villages in 2008. The eastern portion fell within the 15km JKPF “Conflict Zone” around Tskhinvali. The Georgian populated area (Nuli, Avnevi and Didmuha) was 100% ethnically cleansed as result of the war, with a total of nearly 1800 dislocated Georgians. Traces of the deserted and looted villages can still be seen. A relative high density of military infrastructure has been developed in the southern area of the district between 2009 and 2011.
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Java / Dzau District
Java / Dzau is the largest district of South Ossetia consisting mostly of high mountain territory. It also forms the entire South Ossetian border with Russia. The sole access route, the infamous Roki tunnel played a crucial role in the Russian invasion in 2008. The western flank is made up of the boundary line with Georgia proper. Here are a few populated river valleys with cross-boundary roads. Prior to the 2008 war the area around Kvemo Karzmani and Sinagur was Georgian controlled and a community of Georgians still lives here. In the northern most corner is the Mamisoni Pass, an old high mountain passage from Georgian controlled lands into Russia, passing through South Ossetia for 2km (and thus closed). It does not have any connections into South Ossetia.
The difficult terrain and the limited points of potential interaction with Georgian controlled land result in few compounds of Russian security forces.
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The district of the capital Tskhinvali is obviously key to the Russian military presence with a large military base in the capital. The district itself hosts the longest section of the Administrative Boundary Line in the populous southern lowlands of the region, often farmland. A complicated boundary line that zigzags seemingly random through the lands of local farmers and between villages. With Georgians (or relatives) living on both sides of the boundary line. In this section most of the arrests and abductions happen, as most of the “borderization”, meant to separate communities and prevent farmers to reach their land. The presence of security forces is therefore quite strong, contrary to the Java district, but comparable with the southern section of the Znaur district and mostly near the ABL.
The Didi Liakhvi river gorge, north from Tskinkvali leading up to Java, was prior to the 2008 war a Georgian populated area under Georgian control. A strategic position where a lot of (pre-war) exchanges of fire took place. Nowadays the villages are deserted and looted, which can still be seen from satellite images. This area has been ethnically cleansed with more than 9000 IDP’s. Patara Liakhvi river valley in the central-eastern part of the Tskhinvali District was a Georgian populated area as well, which has been ethnically cleansed resulting in more than 6000 IDP’s.
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Akhalgori / Leningor District
The eastern most district of South Ossetia is the closest to the Georgian capital Tbilisi, a predominantly Georgian populated area, especially along the Ksiani river valley, the central river of the district. It is a generally mountainous area, with the one exception to the southern most point.
The southern point is an area that often raises publicity with borderization and arrests. Also, the ABL runs the closest to the central East-West highway a distance of just 300 metres. It is here that two Border Guard station are concentrated as a clear signal of Russian presence, with obscured observation posts in the landscape.