Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russian Troops Try To Shift South Ossetia Border Markers

The village of Kveshi, where Russian troops erected posts marking a new "border" between Georgia and South Ossetia, and then took them down the next day.
KVESHI, Georgia -- Russian soldiers based in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia have attempted to relocate a section of the de facto border between the region and the rest of Georgia.

Residents of the village of Kveshi, on the Georgian side of the border, told RFE/RL that Russian soldiers entered the area on August 2 and moved the markers delimiting the border some 500 meters further into Georgian territory.

Tariel Elizbarashvili, a Kveshi resident from a mixed Georgian-Ossetian family, said the Russian soldiers were using Soviet-era maps. He said he contacted a representative of the European Union's monitoring mission.

"They [the Russian soldiers] said, 'According to our maps, the posts should be here.' Then the EU mission people came and they had computer maps. And they said [the Russians] shouldn't be on this side of that ditch," Elizbarashvili said.

"And [the EU monitors] promised us that by tomorrow the posts would be removed. And this morning, my wife saw how they came and they were swearing at one another while they removed the posts."

The independent website quoted Steve Bird, a spokesman for the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia, as saying the Russian forces on the ground told the EU monitors they had no intention of moving their checkpoint to the location marked by the posts.

Official South Ossetian media have quoted Russian military officials as denying the Kveshi incident took place at all.

The boundary of South Ossetia was delimited in the 1920s when the region was granted autonomous status within the Soviet Republic of Georgia. However in an interview with Russia's RIA Novosti last week, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity said he hoped to annex some parts of Georgia that he said are "native Ossetian land that for unclear reasons in the Soviet period" were not included in the territory of the region.

One-Year Tensions

The situation along the border -- and between Russia and Georgia generally -- is becoming increasingly tense as the first anniversary of the war in the region last August approaches.

On August 1, the EU Monitoring Mission said it is "seriously concerned" about the escalation of rhetoric and accusations of incidents along the border.

South Ossetian officials have complained about alleged mortar fire from Georgian-controlled territory in the direction of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. The EU said it has seen "no evidence" of such incidents from its position on the Georgian side of the border and again appealed to South Ossetia to allow independent monitors into the region.

In an interview with Reuters on August 1, Kokoity called for more Russian troops, including "more serious weaponry," in the region. The same day, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying it would use military force to protect South Ossetia.

Neighbors No More

In Kveshi, people are worried.

Margalita Meladze remembers happier times in the village.
"We live here. This is my son's house and this is ours. We are in a very tense situation. Where can we go?" asks Margalita Meladze, a grandmother whose house was briefly incorporated into South Ossetia.

"Everybody's frightened, especially the children. I don't care about myself -- you, young people, should have a normal, safe life. This is what I want. And they only want trouble. So many young people have died and they want even more to die."

The impassable border that now passes between Kveshi and the nearby South Ossetian village of Artsevi wasn't always so intimidating, Meladze says.

"We have always lived as good neighbors. We visited each other," she says. "They didn't do us any harm and we didn't harm them."

Meanwhile the war of heated words continues. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Nalbandov told journalists in Tbilisi on August 3 that "the temperature of destabilization" is rising.

"Everybody now understands that as the major tool -- in fact, the only tool -- of its foreign policy, Russia has chosen blackmailing, threatening, and aggression.," Nalbandov said.