Russia Intensifying Annexation of Georgian Territories
By David Iberi
On September 29, 2010, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia made a statement accusing the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) troops stationed in the occupied Georgian province of Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia of conducting “illegal ‘border demarcation works,’” which will “further limit free movement in the region for the local population,” including areas adjacent to the line of occupation. The brief statement by the ministry was followed by Georgian media’s own reports claiming that the Russians started to advance deep into Georgian territory that was not previously held by the occupying forces. Some media sources say that the Russians seized “25 hectares” in one Georgian village and “five hectares” and “half a hectare” in two others, leaving some local farmers virtually without land.
A spokesperson for the European Union’s Monitoring Mission to Georgia (EUMM) – the only international body on Georgian soil to monitor the implementation of the 2008 ceasefire agreement between Russian and Georgia – told Civil.ge, Georgia’s online news agency, that the situation in the region was “calm and quiet” and declined to give details “at this stage…as EUMM monitors were currently “looking into the situation.” The EUMM headquarters in Tbilisi has since not made any public comments on the issue.
Representatives of the Russian FSB deployed in the occupied region told the Russian news agency that they are not involved in any demarcation activities on the “border between Georgia and South Ossetia.”
While Russia has put up myriads of obstacles to minimize contact between Georgian citizens on both sides of the occupation line, it has long intensified the process of annexation of the two Georgian territories – Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia and Abkhazia – by improving infrastructure connecting those regions with the Russian Federation. In addition to stationing nearly 10,000 troops in those provinces, almost completely subsidizing the local budgets and directly or indirectly appointing local apparatchiks, building roads, tunnels and bridges across the major Caucasus Ridge has become the important business for the Russian authorities.
On September 27, Gazeta.ru published an interview with Boris Ebzeyev, president of the Russian Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, who said Russian authorities plan to construct a new road that will link his republic with Abkhazia. According to Ebzeyev, the road will help “Karachay-Cherkessia gain access to the Black Sea via Abkhaz ports… [and] attract more tourists to the region.”
The creation of new infrastructure in the high mountains that separate the North and South Caucasus is apparently part of a Russian military strategy aimed at facilitating faster movement of troops. But no less important are political, social and cultural aspects of those infrastructure projects, since they will further contribute to isolating the occupied provinces from the rest of Georgia and firmly chain them to the Russian territories in the North Caucasus.
Although, arguably, Georgia has limited means at its disposal to counter geostrategic schemes of its nuclear neighbor, it still can take some steps that would raise the international awareness of the situation on the ground and at least slow down Russia’s pace. Georgia should speak more openly on the world stage about Russia’s annexation efforts by making regular reports to the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, of which both Georgia and Russia are members. Georgia might as well request that the European Union, as the guarantor of the ceasefire between Russia and Georgia, establishes a fact-finding mission to study the compliance of the parties with the provisions of the agreement.