On July 4, Russian forces moved fences and installed a new “Green Sign” placing the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) with South Ossetia approximately 10 hectares deeper into Georgian-controlled territory, near the village of Bershueti in the Gori region. By moving the ABL, Russian forces have again disrupted the lives of Georgian citizens - several have been separated from their agricultural lands - and continued Russia’s policy of borderization.
In 2013, Russian military forces began installing barbed wire fences on the occupation line between separatist-controlled South Ossetia and Tbilisi-controlled Georgian territory. Citing a map from 1922, the Russian military explained to residents of Ditsi, a village near the occupation line, that their homes resided in South Ossetian territory. Zakaria Vatikadze, the administrator of Ditsi village, was threatened with arrest and detainment in South Ossetia if he did not comply with the Russian military’s demands.
Commenting on the installation of barbed wire fences along the ABL in 2013, Paata Zakareishvili, then the State Minister for Reintegration, stated that “[Georgia’s] occupation continues; this is not a one-off act, but a process.”
Regarding the most recent incident near the village Bershueti, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling the news a “provocation,” and that “false allegations that are fabricated in such cases are very repetitive.”
“[The European Union Monitoring Mission’s] Incident Prevention of Response Mechanism will convincingly expose these absurd claims,” the announcement declares.
While Russian leaders may deny individual incidents, the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia has confirmed that Russia’s “creeping occupation” is indeed an ongoing process. An official press release published this week reads:
“The EUMM can confirm that borderisation activities took place in the Gduleti area in June, but is not able to confirm the installation of new ‘Green Signs’ during the past week.
Nonetheless, the EUMM considers the placement of ‘Green Signs’ unwarranted. Borderisation activities in any form, including placing of such signs, create obstacles to the freedom of movement and deprive farmers, who have been farming there for years, from cultivating their land.”
While the State Security Service of Georgia has remarked that this recent incident is “a continuation of the unlawful process of so-called borderization,” Sozar Subari, Georgia’s Minister for IDPs, Accommodation, and Refugees, believes that Russian occupation ended in 2008.
“Although the moving of the border and occupation is a very painful topic, I still think that we often cover these events in the wrong context. Occupation began in the 90s, and ended in 2008. We forget this and for some reason think that every new sign is a new occupation. The occupation happened, Russia is the occupier, and we need to end this occupation. The installation of new signs doesn’t change anything,” Subari said.
Since the conclusion of the 2008 conflict with Georgia, however, Russia has increased its threat on Georgian territory by violating international laws and employing its policy of borderization. Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, Georgia’s State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality (the office that replaced the Minister of Reintegration) has stated that the Russian Federation has signed over 80 illegal agreements, many related to Russia’s military presence in the territories, with the de facto authorities of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Several Georgian citizens have been detained near Georgia’s ABL with both Abkhazia and South Ossetia for allegedly crossing illegally. Often, Georgian farmers in the Gori region have woken up to discover that portions of their land have been absorbed into South Ossetia territory. In addition to violating the rights of Georgian citizens, the advancement of the border has increased Russia’s potential to exploit Georgian pressure points by bringing separatist territory within close proximity to key pieces of Georgian infrastructure. South Ossetia has already brought a one-mile stretch of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline into its territory. The border also stands within a mile of Georgia’s main East-West highway.
While Georgia waits endlessly for NATO membership and its accompanying security guarantee, Georgian leaders are forced to rely on the condemnation of Russia’s actions from the international community and the hope of a diplomatic solution. Tengiz Pkhaladze, Advisor to Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili on Foreign Affairs, stated earlier this week: “It is extremely important for any action that violates Georgia’s territorial integrity to be strongly condemned. Georgia will use all diplomatic means to stop the creeping occupation.”
Meanwhile, hectare by hectare, Russia continues to eat away at Georgian sovereignty.
Recent Incidents Near the Occupation Lines of Abkhazia and South Ossetia
May 19, 2016 - Giga Otskhozoria is shot and killed by a border guard near the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) between Georgia and Abkhazia.
August 4, 2016 - Aleksandre Shaverdashvili is kidnapped on accusations of trespassing while getting water from an irrigation canal near the occupation line near South Ossetia.
August 25, 2016 - Georgian farmers near the South Ossetian occupation line discover Russian soldiers harvesting their fields.
September 12, 2016 - 60-year-old shepherd Valiko Khizanishvili is kidnapped near the occupation line by Russian Soldiers near the village Koshka, in the Gori region.
October 24, 2016 - While going out to collect wood near his village in Kirbaly, Ilia Takadze is detained by Russian soldiers near the ABL with South Ossetia..
March 1, 2017 - Russian soldiers detain Kakhaber Kisishvili, a resident of the village Plavi in the Gori region, for allegedly illegally crossing the ABL with South Ossetia.
March 7, 2017 - De facto Abkhaz authorities close two crossing points along the ABL between the occupied territory of Abkhazia and Georgia.
April 6, 2017 - While searching for a lost horse, Archil Rogava, 59, and his son Paata Rogava, 25, are detained by Russian soldiers near the Enguri River in the Zugdidi region for allegedly crossing the ABL with Abkhazia illegally.
April 17, 2017 - Russian soldiers detain three individuals from the village of Artsevia in the Gori region for crossing wire entanglements to get to a local cemetery.
April 26, 2017 - While shepherding his animals near the occupation line with South Ossetia, 68-year-old Eldar Gundishvili is detained by Russian soldiers.
April 30, 2017 - Russian soldiers detain 52-year-old Enver Beria for illegally crossing the ABL with Abkhazia; according to locals, Beria was working in his cornfields when he was detained.
July 4, 2017 - Russian soldiers move the Administrative Boundary Line near the village of Beshureti in the Gori region, separating several citizens from their agricultural lands.