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Tbilisi warns against entering breakaway regions via Russia

By Mzia Kupunia
Monday, August 30
People entering Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia bypassing the official Georgian border, will be punished, Georgian officials said in response to reports by the Russian media about a number of Russian and Armenian citizens imprisoned in a Tbilisi jail on “illegal border crossing” charges. “This rule applies to everyone, whatever their citizenship, including the citizens of Georgia. Everyone who crosses into Abkhazia at the Psou River and into South Ossetia from the Roki tunnel violates Georgian legislation” Head of the analytical department at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, Shota Utiashvili told The Messenger.

According to Georgian legislation, ordinary tourists who enter the territory controlled by the Georgian government with the stamps of the de facto South Ossetian or Abkhazian border police, will face a fine of about USD 1200, Utiashvili said. Speaking to the Russian RIA Novosti news agency, the Interior Ministry spokesperson added however that the punishment is stricter for those “cooperating with the puppet regimes - they might face up to five years in prison. This rule applies not only to the Russians but also to citizens of Georgia and of any other country. However the imprisonment is being used as a way of punishment quite rarely,” Utiashvili added.

It was reported in the Russian media last week that the size of fine that tourists have to pay for illegal border crossing into Georgia is up to USD 20,000. “This is one way in which the Georgian government is trying to fill the state budget,” Russian print outlets suggested. However Utiashvili said that the size of the fine is determined through agreement between the prosecutor and the offender. “The Prosecutor’s office suggests a GEL 5000 fine, and the offender, for instance, offers 100. Later they agree on a certain amount of money,” the Interior Ministry spokesman noted. “If the person does not pay the fine, he might be jailed. However in 90 percent of cases, when a person enters the Georgian territory with an Abkhazian stamp in his passport, he is told that he has to pay a fine. Usually we turn them back,” he added, reiterating that the rules are “applied equally to citizens of Georgia, Russia or any other state.”

Commenting on the information reported by the Russian media about Russian and Armenian citizens jailed for illegal border crossing, the de facto Abkhazian Prime Minister, Sergey Shamba said, “Russian citizens have full rights to visit Abkhazia and not be charged with any responsibility for this when visiting Georgia later. The statement of the Georgian government will not hinder those Russians who want to visit Abkhazia,” the de facto PM said, adding that Moscow should take “counter measures, if Russian citizens will be persecuted in Georgia.”

Russian ruling party MPs also criticised the statement of the Georgian Interior Ministry. Chairman of the Committee on CIS Affairs at Russian State Duma, Konstantin Zatulin said that according to Georgian legislation the Russian Prime Minister and the President also fall under the category of the people who might be punished for illegal border crossing.

The Georgian Interior Ministry official did not specify how many people are currently being held in Georgian prisons on illegal border crossing charges; however he denied the information spread by the Russian media outlets, that the detainees are mostly citizens of Russia and Armenia. “There have been several cases of detaining people for violating the state border. There are citizens of Russia, Georgia and of some other states among the detainees,” Utiashvili said.