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Story of Georgia 1: Palpable tension, repeated incidents

The palpable tension. In Georgia, more than two months after the August war, the situation remains tense and incidents are common. Incidents of all kinds elsewhere. Seen from Paris or Brussels, this assertion might seem exaggerated. On the ground, it is very palpable. Even if it is necessary to make a distinction between the logical psychosis of the population and the reality, there are nevertheless some facts which challenge. Georgia's elders would say it's only ever a "back to normal", a situation that has been seen many times since the first war in Abkhazia and Ossetia in the early 1990s.

But compared to the first month of the European Observer Mission (EUMM), there is an acceleration in fatal incidents. October had been "pretty quiet", by all accounts. A few incidents, "shots" and "explosions" heard. But nothing particularly serious. “Since the beginning of November, there have been “more incidents” explains an observer. And some are "serious". Certainly, each is not comparable to the other. Some are harmless to human lives. Others are clearly aimed at killing or instilling fear in the population.

Photo: Georgian checkpoint, in the background the Russian and Ossetian checkpoint near Tskhinvali © NGV

Incident Classification

The Observers use a grid to classify the incidents, according not to their seriousness per se, but to their context.


1st type of incident: exchanges of fire between police forces. This moreover looks more like ritual provocation between armed forces facing each other face to face than a real confrontation. Thus, Thursday morning in Ghalmagourhi, there was shooting at the Georgian post. According to the testimonies collected on the spot, “12-15 people disembarked from a BTR, on the Russian side, followed by RPG7 fire, far from the post, so no one was injured. The Georgians fought back. But without hitting anyone… even though they were 80 meters away, a very short distance” (implying, 80 meters when you want to hurt someone, it's within reach of any shooter). This leaves "doubt" hanging over the reality of the confrontation. This one is sometimes more worthy of the button wars. “This morning” (we are November 20) tells me the Georgian policeman at the checkpoint near Tskhinvali, “they (the Ossetians and Russians who hold the post opposite) threw stones at us”. What did you do then? “We threw stones again,” he explains hilarious. Some incidents are less funny. In Pakhulani, on November 15, a policeman was killed, at the administrative limit, with an exchange of gunfire. He had crossed the limit, consider the Abkhazians.

2nd type of incident: they aim to limit the freedom of movement of the population but also to maintain a feeling of fear. This is more the case along Abkhazia, with the destruction of a bridge, a transformer in Mushava. But also along Ossetia like this bridge which jumped in Artsevi.

3rd type of incidents: acts with a deliberate intention to kill. “Two serious incidents have taken place, one after the other, in recent days,” an observer tells me. What is new compared to our first month of presence. Improvised Explosive Devices (IADs) were "knowingly planted with intent to kill". And anyone. Civilians or police, adults or children.

Two violent acts

First act. First in Dvani (west of Tskhinvali), Monday November 10, 2 dead in the explosion of an improvised explosive device. a South Ossetian flag is planted in an open field, with the flagpole connected by a wire to a fuse and a buried explosive device. Impossible to detect anything a priori. Two Georgian police officers get caught. When pulling the pole, explosion, two deaths... After this incident, the safety rules for observers were reminded. Prohibition on picking up anything…

Second act. A booby-trapped drone explodes in Plavi, Monday November 17, 2 dead, 8 injured including a 10-year-old child. A “cobbled together device but made to kill”. Several versions have circulated. As I was able to reconstruct it, here is what could have happened. The story reveals not only the intention to kill but a rather vicious staging with the mastery of certain technologies. The Georgians first found, in the morning, a first drone, which had landed in a tree with parachutes and cameras. A real drone then. Then, in the afternoon, a second drone strangely resembling it was reported on the ground. A mine clearance team – as is customary – arrives to examine the device. The detection method is basic, but normally effective. The deminers place a rope around the device, then take cover and shoot at it. If nothing comes, then everything is OK. That's what's happening. The deminers then approach, reassured. They move the drone to an area more suitable for examination; approach, open the cover of the drone. Boom. The deminers died, eight other police officers and a 10-year-old child were injured (according to the toll provided by the Georgian authorities). According to the residents on site, the first thought of the deminers (and their last words), when they approached the drone for the last time, was to be surprised to see neither camera nor propulsion system. When the observers arrived, “everything was cleaned up”. There is only one police force left. And nothing else... The question is therefore who could have placed such explosive devices in Georgian territory, on the border of Ossetia. An Ossetian or Russian incursion is technically entirely possible. “At night we hear car noises and traffic noises,” confide some residents of the region. As the hypothesis of a Georgian provocation can also be considered.

Latest type of incidents, unclassified, explosions or gunshots, on both sides, undirected, often inside the respective territories. There are also regular explosions. “This morning – this Georgian policeman near Tskhinvali tells me – we also heard explosions on the other side (he points to Tskhinvali with his finger, just below us). But it was more like training or something else,” he says, not a bit worried. The Georgian forces are not left out of this type of provocation either… They have thus decided to train their armed forces, close to the Ossetian border. A possibility that is not formally excluded by the six-point agreements. Because demilitarization (no presence of the armed forces).

Knowing what really happened is difficult

Observers often have difficulty determining the facts, between the statements of each other (police, officials, population, etc.). “We don't have the power to investigate, to enter homes, or to question people. We are dependent on the information we are given. When we sometimes arrive, the sites have been “cleaned up”. At the same time, many of the observers have police and military experience.” This allows them to assess “the quality of the information” collected. Example: “A police officer told us that he had been grazed by a bullet. His jacket did indeed have a hole at his neck. But nothing more specific. No trace of burning or even redness for the man (whereas normally, with the heat given off by the bullet, and the hole placed in the jacket, there should have been at least some redness)… As for knowing who started and the reality of what happened is yet another story!


Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).