Hybrid war is a long-established strategy of Russia in the former Soviet countries. Georgia faced it for the first time in 1992, when Moscow provoked a series of conflicts in this country, which eventually led to a carefully planned Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the final secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The creeping occupation of Georgian lands continues, and the so-called “administrative” borders between the territories occupied by Russia and the Tbilisi-controlled areas continue to change. The border signs installed by Russian border guards on the border of the “Republic of South Ossetia” continue moving deeper into Georgian territory.
The Force in Unity civilian volunteer movement the was organized about two years ago to prevent the encroachment of Russian occupiers onto Georgian land has been patrolling the demarcation lines for 18 months.
In early November the Force in Unity patrol observed new fenceposts installed by the border guards from the Ossetian side 50 meters inside the Georgian territory. A month later, the situation escalated again when on December 5 the border guards of the occupier deployed along the new line. The tension continues. Volunteers do not intend to give up and are ready to counteract.
Creeping demarcation line and terror
The demarcation line established after the five-day war between the breakaway regions and Tbilisi-controlled territory is changing continuously. The Georgians call it “the occupation line”. Observers from the EU Monitoring Mission use the more neutral term, “administrative border line”. The Russians claim it is a state border. There are 20 Russian military bases in the territory of South Ossetia.
The length of the occupation line is 418 km. Since 2011, fences or barbed wire have been unilaterally installed by the occupiers along 53 kilometers of it. Sometimes the barbed wire separates a house from its orchard or divides a village. Since 2008, the line has been moved over 50 times into the Georgian territory. According to international observers, the number of “Attention! State border” green signs mounted by Russian border guards exceeds 200.
The Georgian population on the occupied territories and in the immediate vicinity of the occupation line is subjected to constant terror, assaults, arrests, and extortion. It is a mass practice to kidnap Georgian citizens for ransom. The critical point was reached in February 2018 when the occupiers kidnapped, cruelly tortured and killed Georgian citizen Archil Tatunashvili.
In March 2018, the Georgian Parliament adopted the resolution on the gross violations of human rights by the Russian Federation in the occupied territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali and passed the Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili law, named after two of the victims. The “Otkhozoriya-Tatunashvili” package of sanctions is being drawn up, targeting the persons accused and convicted of murder, kidnapping, torture and inhuman treatment of Georgian citizens in the occupied regions, and those harboring the perpetrators of such acts.
On August 21, 2018, the Georgian Justice Department filed with the International Court in Strasbourg third interstate claim against the Russian Federation on behalf of Georgia for breach of the European Convention, in particular Art. 2 (Right to Life), Art. 3 (Prohibition of Torture), Art. 5 (Freedom and Security) and others. Georgia presented the necessary evidence in the Strasbourg Court, which gave particular attention to the murders of three Georgian citizens:
The 19-year-old David Basaruli was apprehended on July 14, 2014 by South Ossetian militiamen and then disappeared. Rumors were later spread that he had been killed by the militia. For many months, his relatives and relatives searched for him without success. Half a year later, the young man’s body was found hanging on a tree between the villages Ahgallari and Icoti. Local residents claim that the body of the long-dead youngster was brought there, otherwise it would have been discovered much sooner.
The 30-year-old Giga Otkhozoria was killed on May 19, 2016 by a border guard of the self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia in the village of Hurcha (territory controlled by the Georgian authorities). Otkhozoria attempted to bring some food to his relatives in the occupied territory but refused to give a bribe to Abkhaz border guards. Giga turned back trying to avoid the conflict, but the Abkhaz border guards chased him to a nearby café and one of them shot Giga six times from point blank range, killing him. The murder was recorded on camera. A Georgian court sentenced the murderer in absentia to 12 years of prison, but Abkhaz and Russian side have refused to hand him over to the Georgian state.
The 35-year-old Archil Tatunashvili was detained along with two other Georgian citizens and taken to the Tskhinvali detention facility, where he was killed. Tskhinvali authorities claimed that he had fallen on the stairs while being transported to the facility, then he was taken to a hospital where he died of heart failure. For 26 days, the occupying authorities refused to hand over the body to his relatives. He was returned with his internal organs removed. The experts of the Georgian National Bureau of Forensic Medicine, in the presence of an expert of the International Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture, described more than a hundred injuries – burns, fractures, etc. and concluded that Tatunashvili was subjected to brutal tortures.
The European Parliament passed Resolution on occupied territories in Georgia ten years after the Russian invasion.
“Power in Unity” is a civil anti-occupation movement not affiliated with any political power. Georgian activists announced their intention to organize a 24-hour patrol of the occupation line in July 2017 when South Ossetia once again relocated the border signs near the village Bershueti 500 meters into the Georgian territory and took another 10 hectares of land.
“The goal of our patrol is timely detection of the activities of Russian border guards and technical teams in order to inform the international community,” said David Katsarava, one of the founders of the movement, a Georgian actor and the chairman of Georgian Rafting Federation. In 16 months since the start of patrols in the conflict zones, only 1,000 meters of fence have been placed, and it was in unpopulated forested areas where information wasn’t received on time.
In the beginning of November, a new move of the occupation line into the territory of Georgia started near the village of Atotsi. Border troops of the occupation regime began to install fenceposts 50 meters away from the demarcation line, with the intention of seizing over 30 hectares of Georgian land. The Power in Unity activists arrived soon after that and managed to stop the process.
Since November 7, they have been patrolling the area to prevent the encroachment. For months, the posts have been standing unused, they do not even have barbed wire, and the activists are watching the area and are ready to stand on the line. All parties to the conflict have been informed of their presence there and of their intentions. Currently, a team of five to seven people patrols along the line, but other activists are ready to stand on the line if the situation escalates.
In an interview to “Borderline ZONA” with Egor Kuroptev, David Katsarava declared their readiness to oppose the occupiers by any available means:
“We will not step back, this is our land, and it is our duty to defend it …
If we see vehicles and teams getting ready to install a new post, we will immediately stand on the line, and they will either have to shoot unarmed people or remove us in some other forceful way…
If they start shooting, we are ready for that. If we don’t have weapons in our hands today, it doesn’t mean that we are not ready to stand in front of guns. Our determination is stronger than their weapons. I am sure that if they dare shoot at us, where today there are five people, tomorrow there will be five thousand. To apprehend us, they have to take us to their territory. And we will not go with them, so they will have to shoot again … We know what the Tskhinvali regime’s torturers can do to us. And that’s why we don’t intend to surrender to them alive.”
Georgia’s Foreign Ministry in an official statement condemned the illegal actions of the Russian occupation regime in the Tskhinvali region and urged the international community to respond adequately.
The laying of barbed wire around the village of Atoci was condemned by the USA and Great Britain and these countries declared their firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.
On December 5, a group of Russian occupiers appeared again near the village of Atotsi. As with their first encounter with patrol activists, they listened silently to the message of the Georgians. The tension in the area continues to grow.
დავით ქაცარავა, მოძრაობა „ძალა ერთობაშია“ წევრი, სოფელ ატოცში, საოკუპაციო ხაზთან ე.წ. მესაზღვრეებს მიმართავს. ➡ "იცოდეთ, რომ ოკუპანტები ხართ და ჩემ მიწაზე ხართ, ქართულ მიწაზე."მოძრაობის ინფორმაციით, საოკუპაციო ძალები ბორდერიზაციის განახლებას გეგმავენ.
Posted by რადიო თავისუფლება on Wednesday, December 5, 2018
How Shida Kartli became South Ossetia
The Georgians call their country Sakartvelo, which is derived from Kartli, the name of one of Georgia’s main historical and geographic regions, the cradle of its statehood. Recognized only by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Tuvalu and Nauru, South Ossetia occupies a part of the territory of the Georgian region Shida Kartli (Central Kartli). Georgians usually use “Samachablo” as the name for South Ossetia, after the family name of Prince Machabeli who ruled these lands until 1801 when the Georgian Principalities began joining the Russian Empire and this process continued until 1864. In May 1918, Georgia declared independence recognized by Moscow under a treaty of 1920. Only a few months later, at the end of February 1921, after heavy fighting the Red Army occupied Georgia and included it in the Soviet Union. In April 1922 the South Ossetian Autonomous Region was formed within the Georgian SSR. With the beginning of disintegration of the USSR, the tensions in the region began to rise, leading to a decision by the Supreme Council of the Georgian SSR to end Ossetian autonomy. After Georgia’s exit from the USSR, separatist movements supported by Russia appeared in South Ossetia, as well as in the regions of Abkhazia and Adjara. Despite the continuing armed clashes throughout 1991 and early 1992, Georgia failed to regain control over the area. Dagomys agreements were signed to end the war in July 1992 and peacekeeping forces were introduced in the conflict zone.
After the Rose Revolution and the election of President Saakashvili, Georgia established closer ties with the West. In 2004, the country agreed on an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO and joined its missions. In August 2008, Russian special services, using their Southern-Ossetian separatist puppets, provoked a military conflict in the Samachablo region (South Ossetia). Russia declared that it was conducting an “operation to force the peace” and started bombing Georgian towns and villages. Russian troops and armor invaded Georgia. As a result of Russian armed aggression, hundreds of Georgians were killed, and more than 100,000 Georgians were expelled from their homes. The damages amounted to billions. Nearly 10,000 Russian soldiers remained in the two occupied Georgian territories in violation of the peace agreement that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed on August 12. The Five-Day War led to the recognition of the separatist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia and the establishment of demarcation lines between the territories controlled by Georgia and the breakaway regions occupied by Russia. Besides destroying Georgia’s hopes to regain control over the troubled South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the August war disrupted its plans to join NATO. This is despite Georgia being an exemplary candidate – it allocates 2% of GDP to defense and is far more active in NATO missions than many of the Alliance countries. Also, over two-thirds of the Georgians want their country to join the EU and NATO. But the presence of Russian troops on its territory makes accepting the country as a member impossible.
Absence of a proper reaction from the world community to the Russian invasion of sovereign Georgia left the door open to the Kremlin regime for its new military endeavors, such as in Ukraine and Syria.
Prepared specially for InformNapalm.
Translated from Bulgarian by Andrii Gryganskyi, edited by Max Alginin
First picture: smr.gov.ge