Jul 29, 2015 | 19:31 GMT

3 mins read

South Ossetia: Separatists Push Their Boundaries

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South Ossetia: Separatists Push Their Boundaries

With Russia's help, the disputed territory of South Ossetia is encroaching more deeply into Georgia, but the expansion is unlikely to escalate into a major conflict. On July 10, Russian-backed South Ossetian forces unilaterally placed border markers close to the Georgian villages of Tsitelubani and Orchosani. The newly occupied area incorporated 1,605 meters (almost a mile) of the BP-operated Baku-Supsa pipeline. Though this symbolic show of power is important in its own right, it is part of a larger trend: The South Ossetians have slowly been pushing their boundaries southward into Georgian territory over the past several years. The drive is prompted by several factors, including Russia's insecure military position in South Ossetia, which lacks geographic depth and is threatened by the West's increased military activities in the Black Sea region. However, despite the slow advancement into Georgian territory, Russia is unlikely to stage a major military campaign any time soon.

Since the war between Georgia and Russia-backed South Ossetia ended in 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been no clearly demarcated line between Tbilisi-controlled and separatist-controlled territory. After the war, Tbilisi governed large parts of the territories that belonged to the South Ossetian autonomous republic during Soviet times, including most of the strategically important Akhalgori region. Although skirmishes along the dividing line occasionally took place, they did not devolve into something serious until 2008, when war broke out between Georgia and Russia. In August 2008, South Ossetian and Russian forces occupied the Akhalgori region and pushed past the demarcated border to occupy land controlled by Tbilisi. Since then, the South Ossetians, with Russian help, have been actively building defensive infrastructure to fend off any possible Georgian assault.

Following the 2008 war, the Russians began creeping into Georgian territory rather than forcefully advancing on it. In 2010, reports surfaced alleging that Russian forces had pushed the border 2 kilometers southward in the Akhalgori region. Authorities quickly denied the reports, but Tbilisi had to admit that the border had indeed advanced farther into Georgian territory since the 2008 war, particularly near the Perevi village in eastern South Ossetia. In March 2013, Russian and South Ossetian forces fenced in five villages, comprising some 100 hectares. Later, in May and September of the same year, the Russians moved farther south and occupied the mainly Georgian-populated villages of Ditsi and Dvani. In Dvani alone, the border moved by some 600 meters. But these moves were dwarfed this year by Russia's July 10 advance into the Georgian-populated villages of Tsitelubani and Orchosani.

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