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Russian expansion: 'I went to bed in Georgia – and woke up in South Ossetia'

Andrew North
Category: IDP Georgia 

Dato Vanishvili had a shock when he came out of his front door one morning.

Russian troops were laying coils of razor-wire fence right outside his house. They had cut Vanishvili off from the rest of his village, Khurvaleti – and, in effect, from his own country.

“I was in Georgia when I went to bed,” said the energetic 81-year-old farmer, speaking from behind the head-height fence. “When I woke I was in South Ossetia.”

Officially, this mountain region is part of Georgia. But it broke away after a separatist war and it has been occupied by Russia since 2008, when it fought Georgia for control of South Ossetia.

Vanishvili is a victim of what appears to be a slow-motion Russian plan to absorb the region for good, while covertly seizing more Georgian territory with its self-declared border fence. Russian troops started building the barrier two years ago, which is when Vanishvili was first cut off – and he has watched helplessly as they have expanded it, complete with sand-bagged gun positions and observation towers.

Vanishvili has been cut off from his family, who live in towns on the Georgian-controlled side. “Now I can’t visit my daughters any more,” he said.

Recently, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, signed a treaty with South Ossetia giving Moscow control of its defence and opening the borders, following a similar pact with Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian region under Russian sway.

Georgian officials have condemned this as “de-facto annexation”, comparing it to Putin’s takeover of Crimea.

Regional observers now see Russia’s 2008 invasion as a test run for its even bloodier intervention in Ukraine – encouraged, many Georgians say, by the west’s half-hearted reaction back then.

“What’s happening in Ukraine is what happened to us,” said Khatuna Sonishvili, who fled South Ossetia with her family as fighting engulfed her village in 2008. “We left wearing our slippers. All I got was the cot for my baby son.”




Tags: Georgia Russia expansion

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