Georgia accuses Russia of 'land grab' near breakaway region

Georgia accuses Russia of 'land grab' near breakaway region
Protesters stand near a border sign erected by Russian and Ossetian troops along Georgia's de-facto border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia.
PHOTO: Reuters

TBILISI - Georgia decried on Tuesday Moscow's "creeping annexation" of its territory after Russian border guards moved border markers further into Tbilisi-controlled area, leaving a portion of an international oil pipeline in territory under Russian control.

The move left a small portion of the Baku-Supsa pipeline, which transports Caspian oil destined for Western markets, under Russia's effective control.

"This is yet another aggressive action by Russia against Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman David Kereselidze told AFP.

"Russia continues its creeping annexation of Georgian territory and threatens peace and security in the entire region," he said. "We call on the international community to condemn Russia's illegal actions."

Kereselidze said that Russian border guards had installed last week border markers, which read "State Border of South Ossetia," some 450 metres from Georgia's main east-west highway, leaving a 1.6-kilometre segment of the Baku-Supsa pipeline out of Tbilisi's control.

The United States' ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland, denounced the move as "provocative and humiliating".

Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze told journalists that the pipeline's section could be rerouted in the event of issues with its operation.

Russian troops have been installing barbed wire around South Ossetia since Tbilisi's defeat in the brief 2008 Russia-Georgia war over control of the Moscow-backed separatist region.

After the war, Moscow recognised South Ossetia - along with the Georgian separatist enclave of Abkhazia - as independent states and stationed thousands of troops in the regions that make up some 20 per cent of Georgian territory.

The breakaway regions, whose self-proclaimed independence has been recognised by only a handful of countries, are heavily dependent on Russia's military and financial support.

The Baku-Supsa pipeline, also known as the Western Route Export Pipeline, runs from Azerbaijan to Georgia's Black Sea terminal of Supsa and can transport up to 100,000 barrels of oil a day.

Last year, some 31 million barrels of crude were pumped through the 830-kilometre pipeline.

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