Author: Mamuka Komakhia, Analyst
After the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, the control of Russia over the security field in the occupied regions of Georgia is growing every year. The level of influence of the Kremlin is especially high in Tskhinvali region, leaders of which talk about merging with Russia openly. The events unfolding recently make it clear that Russia is taking full responsibility over the field of security in Tskhinvali region.
The Fourth Russian Military Base and the Integration in the Military Field
After the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, the protection of the interests of the Russian Federation in the field of defense in Tskhinvali region is ensured by the Fourth Russian Military Base. Aleksander Kravtsov has been commanding the base since September 2016. The Fourth Russian Military Base has been in Tskhinvali region since 2009 and it houses about 4,000 military personnel.
The Fourth Russian Military Base, much like the Seventh Russian Military Base operating in Abkhazia, is subject to the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation. The District has been headed by Aleksander Dvornikov since 2016. Dvornikov personally oversees the processes and projects taking place in the field of defense in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region, inspecting them being his direct responsibility.
The steps recently taken by the parties indicate that Tskhinvali region will not be retaining its illegitimate military units for much longer. On 31 March 2017, the Minister of Defense of Russia and the de-facto Minister of Defense of Tskhinvali region signed an agreement on the incorporation of certain separatist military units into the armed forces of the Russian Federation. According to the new agreement, the soldiers of Tskhinvali region will now be able to serve on the Fourth Russian Military Base as well.
Before the full abolition of the Tskhinvali region armed forces, Russian militaries retain top positions in the de-facto armed forces of Tskhinvali region. The First Deputy de-facto Minister of Defense and the Head of the General Staff of Tskhinvali region is the representative of Russia, much like it is in Abkhazia as well. Before being appointed as the Head of the General Staff, Viktor Fedorov, who has been living in Tskhinvali since June 2011, worked on various positions in the armed forces of Tskhinvali region.
Integration in the Russian Law-Enforcement System
Unlike Abkhazia, where implementing joint projects in the field of security with Russia is openly criticized by parts of the public and political elite, in Tskhinvali region the integration of the local law-enforcement structures in the Russian law-enforcement system enjoys strong support. Hence, the Kremlin has taken over much more authorities in terms of law-enforcement in Tskhinvali, than it has in Abkhazia. The decision of the de-facto Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tskhinvali region to reduce the number of employees from 1,600 to 1,150 from 2019 also indicates a high level of integration with Russia.
Signing the agreement on creating the Joint Information-Coordination Center among the Ministries of Internal Affairs of Russia and Tskhinvali region, signed on 4 July 2016, is also a significant step towards deepening cooperation in the field of law enforcement. From the Russian side the agreement was signed by the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Russia, Igor Zubov, who supervises the occupied regions of Georgia on the part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation.
According to Zubov’s assessment, the Center will be a legally independent service, whilst practically it will be an international organization, the first head of the structure being a local person. The aim of the Center is to coordinate the work of the Russian and Ossetian law enforcement structures in terms of battling organized crime and other violent criminal activity. In order to achieve its goal the Center is expected to record, analyze and exchange the information connected with criminal activity. The work of the Center will entirely be funded by the Russian side.
Despite the negative attitudes towards the formation of such a Center in Abkhazia, it has already started operating and the Head of the Center has already been appointed. In Tskhinvali region, there are still some preparatory works taking place. During his meeting with the de-facto President of Tskhinvali region on 26 June 2017, Zubov stated that “the creation of the Information-Coordination Center in Tskhinvali is a done deal”. According to Zubov’s statement, the funding for opening the Center already exists and it must be used up until the end of 2017, with money being spent on the capital rehabilitation of the building and equipping the Center with modern technologies.
The Center will employ 23 people from the de-facto Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tskhinvali region and seven people from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. It is interesting to note that due to the discontent with the formation of the Center in Abkhazia, it will have 20 employees (10 from each side) there. At the same time, in the case of Tskhinvali the agreement specifies that the working language of Center will be Russian. Unlike Abkhazia, the Officers of the Center in Tskhinvali region will also be authorized to hold, carry and use weapons, also being allowed to conduct operations and carry out investigations.
Due to the delays of the activation of the Center a new panel was created in the de-facto Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tskhinvali region in October 2017, tasked with resolving the issues connected with the creation of the Center.
Strengthening the Occupation Line
On 30 April 2009, an agreement was signed between the leaders of the Russian Federation and Tskhinvali region on the “Joint Measures for Protecting the State Border of South Ossetia”. It is the responsibility of the Border Police Department of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation to “protect” the 467.4 km de-facto border of the occupied Tskhinvali region, which also includes the 391.4 km “border” with Georgia.
Since March 2017, Major General Anatoly Utkin, the Head of the Border Police Department has been in charge of “protecting” the de-facto border of the occupied region with Georgia. On 30 June 2017, the newly elected de-facto President of Tskhinvali region, Anatoly Bibilov held a meeting with Utkin, demanding that he improve the border security with Georgia. More specifically, according to Bibilov, the “violation of borders” by the Georgians must be eradicated fully. It is Utkin’s structure that is arresting Georgians near the occupation line. Since 2009, his Department has arrested and detained over 900 Georgians with the charge of crossing the so-called border.
After 2008 Russia-Georgia War, in terms of the illegal process of “borderization”, the Department has been installing barbed wires, fences and so-called border demarcating banners, as well as digging the trenches and making anti-fire structures, as a result of which the land that has been controlled by the Government of Georgia since 2008 War end up within the occupied territories.
The occupation line, which has practically turned into Russia-Georgia border, has become even more “secure” lately. A so-called border zone has been created in Tskhinvali region, where the citizens of Tskhinvali region and Russia can only enter through special passes. The overall area of the border zone is 693 sq. kilometers. The minimum distance between the occupation line and the border zone is 100 meters whilst maximum is 8 kilometers.
- After the 2008 Russia-Georgia War and the recognition of the independence of Tskhinvali region by the Russian Federation, the aim of the Kremlin’s policy is to establish full control over the domestic processes taking place in Tskhinvali, including the fields of defense, policing and securing the de-facto border, in which the Kremlin has the support of the local illegitimate government as well.
- The recent steps taken by the Kremlin in Tskhinvali region indicate that the full or at least partial integration of the armed forces and law enforcement structures of Tskhinvali region into the corresponding structures of the Russian Federation is a practically irreversible process.
- The growth of the influence of Russia over the security field of Tskhinvali is further reinforced by the existing consensus in the separatist republic about the issue of integrating with Russia. However, at the same time it should also be noted that in Abkhazia, where there is no such consensus on the issue, the Russian influence has been growing regardless.
- The actions of the Border Police Department of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation have turned the occupation line into a de-facto Georgia-Russia border. The actions of the Russian border control forces on the occupation line endangers the security, private property and economic activity of the Georgian citizens, especially those living near the occupation line.
- The growing control over the field of security in both Abkhazia as well as Tskhinvali region exerted by Russia and the development of military infrastructure near the occupation line since 2008 is the main challenge for the security of Georgia.