Russia Surreptitiously Moves South Ossetia’s Border Deeper into Georgia

Barded wire of the border between the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia and Georgia in the village of Khurvaleti some 60 kms from Tbilisi, Georgia, 14 July 2015. Two years ago, Georgians rallied there to protest against the creeping annexation of their territory by Russia. Photo: Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Russia has secretly moved the border of South Ossetia, a breakaway Georgian region it controls, deeper into Georgia.
  • It has snatched about 25 acres of Georgian territory near the village of Bershueti.
  • Border move occurred right before the G-20 summit meeting of Trump and Putin but went unnoticed by the international community for several days.
  • Georgia’s government is outraged at the act, and has declared it is worsening the overall security situation.
  • Former US representative to NATO, Kurt Volker, has urged the West to stand up to Russia, which he says has been playing its weak hand aggressively.

Russia has secretly moved the border of Georgia’s breakaway region South Ossetia – which is controlled by Russian forces – deeper into Georgia, snatching illegally about 25 acres (10 hectares) of Georgian territory.

In March, South Ossetia’s President declared that the breakaway region of Georgia whose independence has been recognized only by Russia and a couple of other states, wanted to be annexed by Moscow.

In 2015 and 2016, there were several reports of Russian troops moving the South Ossetian border deeper into Georgia in what the Georgians call “creeping annexation” of their territory.

South Ossetia, which has a population of slightly over 50,000 and a territory of 4,000 square km (1,500 square miles), together with another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, declared its independence from Georgia as a result of the six-day Russian-Georgian War in August 2008.

Independent South Ossetia has so far been recognized by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru, and is heavily dependent on Russian aid. Georgia, the West, and much of the rest of the international community consider it to be a Georgian region under Russian occupation.

Before the 2008 Russian-Georgian War, however, the South Ossetians first declared their independence in 1991, at the time when the former Soviet Union was breaking up. This lead to the 1991-92 South Ossetia War, which was ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire, establishing a Russian-Georgian-Ossetian peacekeeping force but nonetheless leaving the region divided.

Ethnic Ossetians also make up the majority of the population of the Republic of North Ossetia – Alania, which is located north of the Russian-Georgian/South Ossetian border, and is part of the Russian Federation.

South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Trasnistria (in Moldova), and Nagorno-Karabakh (disputed by Armenia and Azerbaijan) are known as frozen conflicts left over from the former Soviet Union. Two more of those might be considered as having been added to the list following the 2014 Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and the ensuing pro-Russian insurgency in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass.

‘Dynamic Occupation’

Russia secretly moved South Ossetia’s border, pinching a small strip of land from Georgia on the eve of crucial G-20 talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.

According to media reports, Russia troops illegally moved a border sign into a village called Bershueti, snatching about 10 hectares, or 25 acres, of what was Georgian territory.

The audacious move has largely gone unnoticed but came just before Putin and Trump had their first meeting as leaders, on Friday, Yahoo News UK reported.

The Georgian government said the border move had affected local farmers and called Russia’s swoop illegal.

“This is a continuation of the illegal process of the so-called borderization, which not only violates the fundamental rights of local residents but directly damages the security situation,” a statement from the Georgian state security services said.

Gerogia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili said he was outraged by the land grab.

“Georgia will use all diplomatic levers at its disposal to stop the creeping occupation,” he said.

Georgia’s Minister of Reconciliation and Civil Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili said it was not “creeping occupation” but a “very open and dynamic occupation process”, according to local media.

“The process has been in progress since the Russia-Georgia 2008 war,” she said.

“We are doing our utmost to achieve the removal of all kinds of barriers, banners or barbed-wire-fences from  the territory of Georgia, which is a challenge not only for security, but also creates very serious daily problems for locals, many of whom lack access to their own lands.”

Playing ‘Weak Hand’ ‘Aggressively’

Kurt Volker, a former US representative to NATO, told BBC Radio 4 that  Russia has behaved generally “aggressively” in the last few years.

“Neither can Russia act unilaterally such as they did the other day just moving the borders inside Georgia and having no one reacting to that – that’s not something that should go on,” Volker said.

He called on the West to stand up to Moscow, declaring,

“I believe Russia would back away from any nuclear confrontation because it knows it would not survive.”

“Russia is in a much weaker position but it has managed to play a weak hand very aggressively – because it has counted on the fact we are not going to respond in any assertive way,” Volker added.

The Russian moving of South Ossetia’s border deeper into Georgia comes at the same time as reports of 2,500 Russian troops massing close to NATO member states Estonia and Latvia.

The development also comes amid the ongoing standoff between the West and Moscow over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula back in 2014, and the ongoing pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine’s Donbass region since then.

In the winter of 2013-2014, the Euromaidan Revolution in Kiev ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, and promised to bring Ukraine closer to the West, including through EU and N ATO membership.

In response, led by President Vladimir Putin, in February-March 2014, Russia occupied and then annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea.

Shortly after Russia’s seizure of Crimea, a pro-Russian insurgency possibly instigated and aided by Moscow began in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine and has been raging ever since.

Since then, the war in Ukraine has claimed some 10,000 lives, and has displaced millions of people.

The US, the EU, and other Western nations have imposed sanctions on Russia over both the annexation of the Crimea and the insurgency in Ukraine’s Donbass which the West deems to be instigated and supported by Moscow.

Top Russian officials recently told the West to “stop obsessing” over the Crimea, and kept denying Moscow’s involvement in the war in Donbass.

In June, the US introduced new sanctions against Russia, a “pointless” move, according to Moscow, and the EU renewed one of its three sets of sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing war in Ukraine, and just extended the third set of sanctions. Another set of EU sanctions against Russia was renewed in March.

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