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The Weekly Tripwire – Issue 13

Funeral procession from the Holy Trinity Cathedral, October 17. Photo: gov.ge

October 9-16

Remains of Abkhazia war victims returned – Georgia and Russia trade accusations – Georgia in the NATO PA resolution – New restrictions against Gali Georgians – Khajimba appoints new interior chief – Tskhinvali outlaws Jehovah’s Witnesses – Information-coordination center prioritized in Tskhinvali – Georgian leaders talk strategy at a security conference.

Remains of Abkhazia war victims returned: Remains of 25 people who died in the Abkhazian War of 1992-1993, discovered and identified by the Red Cross, were transferred from Abkhazia to Tbilisi-controlled territory. The victims were captured and murdered during the fall of Sokhumi in 1993, among them Sokhumi Mayor Guram Gabeskiria, who was posthumously awarded the title of a National Hero by President Giorgi Margvelashvili.

Geneva Talks – Georgia and Russia trade accusations: The 41st round of the Geneva International Discussions saw Tbilisi and Moscow forcefully express their concerns to each other. 

Georgian representatives highlighted continued ethnic oppression of Georgians in the two occupied regions. Examples brought up included the demolition of Georgians’ houses in the ethnically cleansed Eredvi village in Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, the pressure on the ethnic Georgians still remaining in Abkhazia’s Gali district to change their surnames and identity into the Abkhaz ones, and abolishment of the Georgian-language schools in Akhalgori Municipality and Gali district by the Russian-backed local authorities.

Meanwhile, Russian diplomats spoke about how concerned they were by “further deepening of the cooperation between Tbilisi and NATO,” saying they believed it was “a real threat for the regional security.” Russians particularly attacked the military exercises held by Georgia jointly with NATO in 2017. 

Western Voices – Georgia in the NATO PA resolution: In its annual session held in Bucharest, NATO Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution condemning “continuous illegal occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia by Russia, and its military build-up,” and expressing “unequivocal condemnation of Russia’s continued violations of Georgian and Ukrainian territorial integrity, severe human rights violations in the occupied territories and efforts to intimidate and destabilize its neighbors that aspire to join and seek closer ties with Euro-Atlantic institutions.”

Sokhumi Happenings – New restrictions against Gali Georgians: Gali district representatives of the Russian-backed authorities in Sokhumi are in the process of sorting out which local Georgians to allow free passage to their homes and property in the district. At the moment they are issuing “residence permits” for the Georgian residents, but evidently intend to apply stringent filters while doing so. 

In an example of this approach, Sokhumi-appointed head of the Gali district Temur Nadaraia called four thousand Gali Georgians “the former Galians,” because “they live in the adjacent territory [Tbilisi-controlled part of Georgia], but periodically cross the border to cultivate their land plots, harvest nuts and other agricultural produce,” clarifying that “our main objective is to prevent such people from getting residence permits, because this document would allow them free pass across the Georgian-Abkhazian border, while in fact they have to visit Abkhazia through visas.” 

Sokhumi Happenings – Khajimba appoints new interior chief: Russian-backed Sokhumi leader Raul Khajimba appointed new “minister of internal affairs” Garri Arshba. The priority set before Arshba is to combat the crime surge that has been tormenting the region. Arshba’s previous job was in the Russian Federation Ministry of Internal Affairs section dedicated to the North Caucasus, where he had been working since 2013.

Tskhinvali Happenings – Tskhinvali outlaws Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Supreme court of South Ossetia” decided that Jehovah’s Witnesses is an extremist organization and outlawed it in the region. The process of suppressing the religious group in Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia had been launched back in July. The move follows the Russian Supreme Court ruling, issued that same July, to prohibit Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.

Russia’s Network – Russian agencies conduct Tskhinvali financial inspections:
Tskhinvali “finance minister” Aza Khabalova said three different Russian Federation government agencies – the Federal Treasury, the Ministry for the North Caucasus, and the Accounts Chamber – had conducted financial inspections of her “ministry” in 2017.

Russia’s Network – Information-coordination center prioritized in Tskhinvali: South Ossetian “ministry of interior” is set to establish a new board that will oversee creation of the “Information-Coordination Center” – a new agency that will see Russian Ministry of Interior officers permanently stationed in Tskhinvali.

Georgian leaders talk strategy at a security conference: All three primary Georgian officials – President Giorgi Margvelashvili, Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Parliament Chair Irakli Kobakhidze took part in the annual security conference, held in Batumi. The Georgian leaders stressed the threat emanating from the Russian occupation of the Georgian territories, while speaking about Tbilisi’s intention to keep developing close security ties with its Western partners and continue on the path of the European and Euro-Atlantic integrations.

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