Weekly Tripwire 10-16 July

Lavrov fights NATO encroachment – …and Medoev has his back – Western allies condemn ‘borderization’, again – EUSR Salber bows out – Russia amps its grip on Tskinvali – Russian military wake to “invasion” drill – Crime wave in Abkhazia worsens, Russian tourist dead – Ethnic Armenians scolded by Abkhaz ex-warlord – Ethnic Georgians in Gali get residence permits  

Dispatch from Moscow – Lavrov justifies occupation by a phantom NATO threat: During a press-conference with Tskhinvali representative Dmitry Medoev, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that there was “instability” in the South Caucasus region, one of the reasons for which were “Georgia’s efforts to establish itself in NATO, through which NATO wants to establish itself in the region.” In response, said Lavrov, there should be “coordination of actions by Russia, South Ossetia and, of course, our Abkhaz allies.”

…while Medoev kills off discussions on transit through Tskhinvali: Lavrov reiterated Russia’s interest in the project of a transit route that would go through Tskhinvali and the rest of Georgia. He praised Tskhinvali leadership for their support of such a project. Medoev confirmed the support, but added that Tskhinvali would participate in the project “as an equal side” – a stance that is a priori unacceptable for Georgia in the discussion regarding the possible transit route.

Georgian Perspective – President’s statement: Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili spoke at a security conference in Batumi, calling the Russian occupation of Georgia’s territories “a historic injustice,” and asking the international community to stand by Georgia.

Western Voices – the U.S. appalled by ‘borderization’: American ambassador to Georgia Ian Kelly visited the Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia line of control on July 14, saying he was appalled by continuing ‘borderization’ – a term meaning periodic setting of border signs, fencing off and land seizures by the Russian forces at the line of control. Kelly said these Russian actions “artificially and inhumanely divide people and have a tremendous impact on farmers,” while also being strategically significant due to their proximity to “the most important highway in Georgia.” Kelly said the U.S. would never recognize Russia’s actions in Georgia, drawing a parallel with US never recognizing the 1940s Soviet occupation of the three Baltic states.

The U.S. Mission to the OSCE also denounced Moscow’s ‘borderization’ and called on “Russia, as a party to the conflict, to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including by withdrawing all its forces to pre-conflict positions.”

and so is NATO: The Alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told journalists before a NATO-Russia Council meeting in Brussels that Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia were “part of Georgia, part of the international recognized borders of Georgia”, and that NATO was concerned about the “border signs” installation by the Russians.

Western Voices – OSCE PA declaration: The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly final declaration of the annual session held in Minsk included a resolution on Georgia. The document calls for the full implementation of the EU-brokered August 2008 ceasefire agreement, which ended the Russo-Georgian War and is presently being violated by Russia. It also voices concern “over the humanitarian and security situation in occupied Abkhazia, Georgia, and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia.”

Geneva Discussions – Herbert Salber bows out: EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, presiding co-chair of the Geneva International Discussions will leave his post in mid-August. Salber had infuriated Georgians back in May, by congratulating Anatoly Bibilov on camera for his victory in the “presidential election” held by the Russian-backed authorities in April. Georgian officials and the opposition were united in their extreme outrage, some called for Salber to step down. The diplomatic decorum was kept, as Amb. Salber’s return to the German Foreign Service was named as the official reason for his departure.

On the Line – 79th IPRM meeting: Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) meeting was held in Ergneti village, Gori municipality. OSCE and EUMM representatives noted the higher number of detentions of the local Georgian residents at the Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia line of control than during the previous period, and compared to the same period last year. The continuing imprisonment of one such detainee Giorgi Giunashvili was also raised. Meanwhile, Tskhinvali representatives at the meeting claimed that Georgian law enforcement servicemen had briefly crossed the line of control in the end of June.

On the Line – Protest rallies: Georgians protested at the Tskhinvali region line of control in response to the reports of the latest Russian land seizure there. Civil society organizations, opposition parties and journalists joined in.

Sokhumi Happenings – Tourist’s murder angers the Russians: Two families of Russian tourists were assaulted in the Gudauta district in Abkhazia. The two attackers, later identified as brothers from a nearby village, murdered one of the tourists and briefly kidnapped the others. They were arrested later. Russians scolded the local authorities, with the “Russian ambassador” in Sokhumi saying after the crime: “I have told the leadership of the Republic of Abkhazia a number of times that providing for the safety of Russian tourists is a priority task for them.” The incident, especially damaging during the tourist season crucially important for the cash-strapped province, follows on the general concerns about rampant crime.

…while the opposition holds authorities responsible: The opposition coalition in Abkhazia, which had recently withdrawn from the cooperation agreement with the authorities, issued an incendiary statement  framing the crime wave as an “open terror against the population,” “total fear,” “undeclared war,” and the assertion that the crime wave has reached the scale where it “actually threatens the very existence of Abkhazia.”

Sokhumi Happenings – Anti-Armenian diatribe causes outcry: A lively discussion followed in Abkhazia after a participant of the war of 1992-1993 Jemal Bartsits spoke against ethnic Armenians residing in Abkhazia at a public meeting. Bartsits said that the Abkhaz felt “unwanted in our own country,” while the Armenians were enriching themselves. He threatened that unless Armenia recognized independence of the region, the ethnic Armenians “would have to leave these lands.” Bartsits’s speech caused a fierce argument among the Abkhaz, as well as the local Armenians’ protests, while the Russian-backed Sokhumi leader Raul Khajimba issued a statement denouncing “nationalism”.

Sokhumi Happenings – ‘Residence permits’ are issued for the ethnic Georgians: The Russian-backed authorities in Abkhazia are issuing “residence permits” to the ethnic Georgians still remaining in the region. The permit allows Sokhumi to document ethnic Georgians without giving them full political rights only associated with “citizenship”. The residence permit also enables its holder to sell and bequeath property in Abkhazia, but does not permit the property purchase.

Tskhinvali Happenings – Medoev vs. NATO: Tskhinvali “foreign affairs minister” Dmitry Medoev took part in a round table discussion in the local university, dedicated to “NATO’s expansion all over the world.” Medoev called for vigilance, saying that “South Ossetia is located at the crossroads of the military-political influences and currents of NATO, and we cannot allow ourselves to be relaxed.” He also said that NATO operated through “changing the population’s consciousness, ideology, which we can clearly see in the example of Montenegro.”

The Military Aspect – Russian troops train to repel ‘invasion’: A thousand soldiers and 300 military vehicles participated in a battle readiness check when the Russian troops based in Abkhazia were raised by training alarm on July 13.  They proceeded to the firing grounds in both seaside area and the mountains. Another battle readiness check took place in Tskhinvali Region, with 600 Russian troops participating.

Russia’s Network – Moscow amps its grip during Medoev’s trip: Hosting Tskhinvali “foreign affairs minister” Dmitry Medoev in Moscow on July 9-11, Russia’s FM Lavrov also said during the press-conference that “in the nearest weeks and months” Russia would adopt a new package of documents tying Tskhinvali even further to its law enforcement, social and education spheres. Lavrov added that particular constituent regions of the Russian Federation would also keep developing their own ties with Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.

Russia’s Network – Moscow’s commercial official visits Sokhumi: Boris Titov, Vladimir Putin’s Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights, visited Abkhazia and held a meeting with Raul Khajimba, discussing Russian investments and business ties in Abkhazia.

Russia’s Network – Luhansk invites Tskhinvali students: The newly established tradition of closeness between the Russian-backed leaders of Tskhinvali and Ukraine’s Donbass region keeps developing, with Luhansk National Agricultural University offering students from Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia free study. Luhansk State Medical University apparently prepares to follow suit.