Russia extends ‘security zone’ deeper into Abkhazia ahead of Sochi Olympics

On January 21st, Georgia’s Foreign Ministry expressed ‘deep concern’ over the expansion of its ‘border zone’ with Russia, where heightened security measures are enforced, 11 kilometers deeper into the breakaway region of Abkhazia. This means a shift of the Russian-Georgian state border 11 kilometers deeper into Georgian territory. This expansion, which the Georgian Foreign Ministry condemned as an ‘illegal action’, came in advance of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi next month, which is less than 40 kilometers away from the Abkhaz section of the Georgian-Russian border. ‘The Georgian Foreign Ministry calls on the Russian Federation to stop provocative policy against Georgia and to live up to its international commitments, envisaged under the provisions of the [2008] cease-fire agreement,’ the Georgian Foreign Ministry’s statement read.

Security measures
Last August, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ordered in a decree heightened security measures in and around Sochi, which will stay in force until March 21st. A part of Abkhazian territory will be included as part of this broader security zone around Sochi ahead and during the Winter Olympics. According to the Abkhaz government’s decree, ‘a stationary checkpoint’ will be established at the village of Bagripshi on the edge of the 11 kilometer zone, which will be manned by officers from the Abkhaz security service, interior ministry and migration service. Officers at this checkpoint will be authorized to check identification cards of persons entering into the extended ‘border zone’ or heading towards the Russian border. They are also authorized to inspect vehicles. Besides, several Abkhaz law enforcement officers will be carrying out round-the-clock patrols in the villages that fall within this zone.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, reiterated Moscow’s recognition of independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. After Georgia’s Foreign Ministry expressed its deep concern over the expansion of the border zone, Lavrov said the Georgian authorities’ attempts to link efforts to normalize the Tbilisi-Moscow relation with the demand to revise the Kremlin’s position over these two regions, are ‘pointless, counterproductive, and will not get anything’. Moscow keeps troops in Abkhazia as well as in South Ossetia, which Georgia considers as a de facto occupation.

Security zone
These mentioned security measures are just an expansion of the already very extensive security zone around Sochi that has been imposed by Russian security forces. As the Olympics approach, security fears have mounted. For instance, recently there have been several bombings and clashes between security forces and militants in the North Caucasus, which is Russia’s most volatile region and the origin of many terrorist attacks in the country. Several Islamist groups from the North Caucasus have vowed to attack the games and last month carried out suicide attacks in the city of Volgograd. Earlier, in 2012, Russian and Abkhazian security officials said they had found a cache of arms that were purportedly to be used for an attack on the games. At that time Russia accused the Georgian government of organizing the alleged attack together with North Caucasus militants. However, the new Georgian government has tried to cooperate with Russia on Sochi security.

Sources: Civil.ge (1), (2), RFE/RL, Eurasia.net

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