[lg policy] Georgia: Russia Flashes Territorial Appetite

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 19 14:54:52 UTC 2013


 Georgia: Russia Flashes Territorial Appetite
  June 13, 2013 - 12:23pm, by Molly
Corso<http://www.eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/2686>

   - Georgia <http://www.eurasianet.org/resource/georgia>
   - EurasiaNet's Weekly Digest<http://www.eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/3279>
   - Georgian-Russian Border <http://www.eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/4188>

   [image: Georgian border guards on patrol near the Russian frontier. Two
decades after independence, Georgia still lacks fully demarcated borders
with Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. (Photo: Molly
Corso)]<http://www.eurasianet.org/sites/default/files/imagecache/gallery/061313_0.jpg>
   Georgian border guards on patrol near the Russian frontier. Two decades
after independence, Georgia still lacks fully demarcated borders with
Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. (Photo: Molly Corso)

The Greater Caucasus Mountains form a natural buffer between Russia and
Georgia. But in the absence of a border agreement between the two states,
even some of the highest peaks in Europe are not enough to protect Georgia
from the risk of Russian territorial nibbling, analysts say.

The 894-kilometer-long Georgian-Russian border is largely delineated –
meaning there is a line on a map, based on Soviet-era documents, that
defines it. But that line has not been confirmed by both sides. Before the
2008 war <http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66825> between the two states, 86
percent of the border had been agreed upon, according to Georgia’s Ministry
of Foreign Affairs. The topic has not been addressed since then.

With both sides now divided over the status of the breakaway regions of
Abkhazia and South Ossetia – Russia recognizes them as independent
states<http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav082608b.shtml>;
Tbilisi does not – further discussion in the near future is unlikely.

Shota Utiashvili, the former head of the Interior Ministry’s Analytical
Department and currently an analyst at the Free University’s Tbilisi Center
for Policy Analysis, noted that over the past two years Russian forces
within South Ossetia have taken over hundreds of meters of land, at times
dividing Georgian villages in half. He called the Russian encroachment a
“danger.”

“[T]hey are moving this [administrative border line] to basically wherever
they please, and they are telling Georgia … ‘Let’s create a border
demarcation commission,’” he said, in reference to Russian soldiers’ recent
installation of a fence a few hundred meters inside the Tbilisi-controlled
region of Shida Kartli.

Meanwhile, Tbilisi State University political scientist Kornely Kakachia
described efforts to push the frontier forward as part of a Russian
campaign “to somehow propagate the idea that there is a ‘new political
reality’ … that there are the two independent states, South Ossetia and
Abkhazia.”

The lack of an agreement presents potential problems beyond these two
disputed territories. Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, there have been a few
border flaps involving the two countries.

In 1997, Russia attempted unsuccessfully to take over Larsi, now the sole
functioning Georgian-Russian land border crossing, situated in the
northeastern part of the country. A similar unsuccessful Russian push
occurred at the Mamisoni Pass, an area to the west where the
Georgian-controlled region of Racha runs up against the South Ossetian and
Russian frontiers.

In the past, territory near the medieval fortress village of Shatili,
several kilometers from Russia’s Chechnya, also has been under question,
while locals in the southeastern region of Tusheti, which borders on
Chechnya and Dagestan, have raised the alarm at the appearance of Russian
border guards near highland villages.

Kakha Kemoklidze, head of the Analytical Department at the Georgian
Ministry of Internal Affairs, which oversees Georgia’s border guards,
stressed that no major issues exist at present on the Georgian-Russian
border. At the same time, he allowed that “particular segments” could be
considered “problematic.” He declined to elaborate. Meanwhile,
representatives of the border guards did not respond to written requests
for details.

Demarcation has been a tricky issue for the formerly Soviet republics.
Russia and Ukraine, for example, agreed on their border just three years
ago, in 2010. And although Estonia is a member of the European Union, its
border with Russia is not yet demarcated. Central Asian frontiers remain in
dispute <http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66432> in many places.

For Georgia, the lack of a demarcated border is fraught with risk.

“One never knows how this unfinished business of demarcation/delineation
might come out as a new trigger for additional military confrontation …
given Russia’s ambitions to stop Georgia’s sovereign development,” said
Davit Darchiashvili, deputy chairperson of the Georgian parliament’s
Defense Committee. [Editor’s note: Darchiashvili is a former director of
the Open Society Georgia Foundation, an entity in the Soros foundations
network. EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of the Open Society
Foundations in New York, a separate entity in the network].

The lack of an officially demarcated frontier means that abandoned,
highland villages like Ch’ero and Ints’okhni in Tusheti can end up serving
as a de-facto buffer zone for border guards from both sides.

Utiashvili, the former Interior Ministry official, stressed that the
countries’ border guards do not “share” the Tusheti villages. A Tbilisi
tour company that operates in the region confirmed to EurasiaNet.org that
the villages remain under Georgian control.

While reports about Russian border guards allegedly trying to seizing
strategic spots along the border have caused stirs before among Georgians,
Tbilisi is essentially powerless to prevent such acts, noted political
scientists. “How can you … demarcate a border with a power that is a
thousand times stronger than you and has a different view than you?” asked
Alexander Rondeli, the founder of Tbilisi’s Georgian Foundation for
Strategic and International Studies. “It is a big problem, but this problem
has to be solved.”

A special commission was created in 2006 to finalize the border agreement,
according to the Foreign Ministry. The process is also underway with
Armenia and Azerbaijan. Georgia’s only fully demarcated border is with
Turkey.

Although problems periodically flare up on the borders with Armenia and
Azerbaijan, they are less problematic than the border with Russia, said
Darchiashvili.

The Russian-Georgian situation merits close international attention, said
Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in
Washington, DC. “Borders are only as good as both sides decide to recognize
them,” Cohen noted. “If … one of the sides decided to push a border, and
the international community does not react … not only does it put in danger
the weaker power, it threatens international order in Europe and in the
world.”
  Editor's note:
Molly Corso is a freelance journalist who also works as editor of
Investor.ge, a monthly publication by the American Chamber of Commerce in
Georgia.

Forwarded from Eurasianet.org

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/67115?utm_source=Weekly+Digest&utm_campaign=d7a73ee598-my_google_analytics_key&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d6d0d0e55f-d7a73ee598-205692161


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