The Weekly Tripwire - Issue 5
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 3 Aug.'17 / 11:48

24-30 July

Tskhinvali Happenings – Last Georgian schools are abolished: The centuries-old history of the Georgian-language instruction in Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia ends now, as the Russian-backed authorities in Tskhinvali abolish the last eight Georgian-language schools that were still remaining in the region after the ethnic cleansing of the local Georgians that followed the Russo-Georgian War of 2008.

Sokhumi Happenings – Passports issued to Gali Georgians who agree to change identity:
The Russian-backed Sokhumi rulers issued “citizenship passports” for 31 individuals who applied for being identified in their papers as ethnic Abkhaz instead of ethnic Georgians. Normally Sokhumi refuses to grant “citizenship” to ethnic Georgians, going to lengths to document their identity without granting full rights. For those who are willing to change their declared ethnicity, however, the door appears to be now open. 

Sokhumi Happenings – Final go-ahead to Russian-led law enforcement center:
The “parliament” in Sokhumi voted to ratify the agreement establishing the “Joint Information-Coordination Center of Internal Affairs Agencies.” This new body will include Russian law enforcement officers based and working in Abkhazia on a permanent basis. Another one, carrying the same name, is being established in Tskhinvali as well.

Sokhumi Happenings – Ombudsman’s self-abolishment
: On July 28, Abkhaz ombudsman Dmitry Marshan, appointed to the post by the local “parliament” on November 22, 2016, said the authorities failed to provide him with any funds or an office, making it impossible for him to work. With this statement, he promptly proceeded to resign. There is no replacement, so basically the institution has ceased to exist.

The Military Aspect – A large-scale Russian exercise, several smaller drills:
16 thousand Russian troops of the 58th Army held a one-week exercise. Troops from both North Caucasus and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia participated. Russians also held other drills, including an exercise of 300 recon troops from the Russian military base in Abkhazia, who are practicing “tactics of actions behind enemy lines in isolation from the main forces.” 

Georgian Perspective - CSOs address Pence:
In a letter to the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, 24 Georgian civil society organizations expressed their appreciation of the American support to Georgia and of keeping issues of [the Russian] occupation an integral part of U.S.-Russia political agenda.” The letter’s authors stress that “as a result of 2008 military aggression Russia continues occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and violates EU brokered ceasefire agreement. Even worse, Moscow continues to pursue a creeping annexation policy.”

Russia’s Network - New KGB head in Tskhinvali:
A Russian called Mikhail Shabanov is taking over the South Ossetian security service that has kept the Soviet name – KGB. The region’s Russian-backed leader Anatoly Bibilov presented Shabanov to the service members, saying he had “worked in the state security system all his life, worked with intelligence activities, economic crimes and many other issues.” There appears to be very little public information about Shabanov, apart from Bibilov’s presentation.

Russia’s Network – Details of military integration are worked out:
Russian Defense Ministry officials visited Tskhinvali to polish the details of the local Ossetian armed units’ planned merger into the regular military forces of the Russian Federation.

Russia’s Network – Another Russian minister in Sokhumi:
Russian Minister for the North Caucasus Affairs Lev Kuznetsov visited Sokhumi, discussing with the local leader Raul Khajimba Russian investments and aid in Abkhazia.

Russia’s Network - Bibilov meets Patriarch:
During his visit to the Russian capital Anatoly Bibilov met Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill, whose Russian Orthodox Church appears to be increasing its influence in Tskhinvali Region’s religious domain, despite the province formally remaining under the Georgian Church’s jurisdiction.

Russia’s Network – Bibilov visits Two-headed Eagle:
Patriarch Kirill was not the only representative of the Russian conservative circles to meet Bibilov. The Russian-backed Tskhinvali leader also met with Leonid Reshetnikov, styled as: the chairman of the Russian historical enlightenment society “Two-headed Eagle”, the chairman of a TV channel called “Tsargrad” (the name pre-World War I Russians used for Constantinople/Istanbul when they still hoped to conquer it from the Turks), and a “foreign intelligence Lieutenant General.” Predictably, the meeting participants scolded the West for its enmity of Russia. 

Russia’s Network - Consolidation of the Russian Diaspora in Abkhazia:
Eight Russian Diaspora organizations launched an effort to consolidate, signing a cooperation agreement. One of the Russian diaspora leaders Roman Riazantsev, who comes from Arkhangelsk in northern Russia and has been living in Abkhazia only since 2011, said that the task before the ethnic Russian organizations in Abkhazia was “unification of the Slavic communities of the republic [Abkhazia], creation of a monolithic ethnic group.” 

Russia’s Network - The Cossacks’ 25 years:
The Russian Cossacks in Abkhazia celebrated 25 years of their community’s existence in the region. Their leader Andrei Chirkov interestingly noted how “the organization of Abkhazia’s Cossacks was created right before the war [in Abkhazia] in 1992.” 

On the Line - 48th IPRM meeting in Gali:
Another session of the joint Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) was held in Gali. Among the issues discussed was the continuing illegal detention of two Georgians for crossing the Abkhaz “border.”

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