Georgia is a European country that is situated in the continent’s Caucasus region. A relatively small country, Georgia occupies an area of 26,900 square miles. The country’s land border is 1,127 miles in length. The country shares its long land border with its four neighboring countries, which include Azerbaijan, Russia, Armenia, and Turkey. The Black Sea borders the country to the west. Georgia’s international border was defined when the country gained independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia is Georgia’s northern neighboring country, and the two nations share a long land border. The border delimiting the two countries is 555 miles in length and is the longest border that Georgia shares with another country. A significant part of the border runs along the Caucasus Range, with some peaks being found on the border including Kazbek, Shkhara, Tebulosmta, and the Shota Rustaveli Peak. The border starts at the tripoint connecting Russia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia and extends west until it reaches the Black Sea. There is only one border crossing that is recognized by the two countries which are situated along the Georgian Military Highway. However, there are two more border crossings situated in South Ossetia and Abkhazia that serve as entry points into Russia. Georgia’s Border Police patrol its side of the border, securing it from illegal cross-border activities.
The history of the two neighboring countries goes back several centuries. The Kingdoms of Imereti and Kartli-Kakheti which made up what is modern Georgia became part of the Russian Empire by 1818. The two kingdoms would remain part of Russia until the collapse of the Russian Empire in the 1910s that resulted in the independence of the Republic of Georgia in May 1918. The establishment of the Democratic Republic of Georgia saw the first demarcation of the country’s modern border. The independent nation was short-lived as it was later invaded by Russian troops led by Joseph Stalin in early 1921. In 1924 Georgia would be defined as Georgia SSR, officially becoming part of the Soviet Union. Georgia spent more than a century as part of the Soviet Union for most of the 20th Century. During this period, Georgia did not have an international border. The current Russia-Georgia border was established in 1991 after the country gained independence from Russia soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Russo-Georgian War
The two nations engaged in an armed conflict known as the Russo-Georgian War of 2008. The war was premised on the diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia which had worsened in the 2000s. The conflict was triggered by South Autonomous Oblast, a separatist movement in Georgia which began shelling villages in Georgia in August 2008. The Georgian armed forces were quick in containing the separatists who had the backing of Russia. On August 7th, 2008, Russia launched a large-scale military invasion against Georgia in response to Georgia’s purge on the separatist movement. The ensuing war would become Europe’s first war in the 21st Century. While it was relatively short, lasting only five days, the war was bloody and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of soldiers and civilians from both sides. A ceasefire was announced on August 11th after successful peace talks organized by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was the leader of the EU.
Azerbaijan is another of Georgia’s bordering nations and is situated south of Georgia. The border between the two countries is 266 miles in length. The tripoint connecting the two countries to Armenia represents the start of the border from where it stretches east to the tripoint joining Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Azerbaijan’s provinces found along the border include Qazax, Agstafa, Zaqatala, and Balaken. The two neighboring nations have no territorial disputes despite the border not being clarified by the two countries.
The David Gareja Monastery
The only exception is the issue surrounding the David Gareja monastery which sits on the border. Being of high military strategic significance, the monastery is claimed by both Azerbaijan and Georgia. Georgia argues that the monastery is of prominent cultural significance to Georgians while some leaders in Azerbaijan claim that the Azerbaijani ancestors built the monastery. However, government officials from the two countries downplay the dispute stating that it can be solved through dialogue. Diplomatic talks between Georgia and Azerbaijan concerning the monastery have been ongoing since 1991. One controversial suggestion that has been put forward is to have the monastery as a shared tourist site.
Azerbaijan-Georgia Border Security
The border between Azerbaijan and Georgia is heavily patrolled with cross-border movement being monitored by border security. Azerbaijan has the Border Guard charged with protecting the country’s side of the border while the Border Police of Georgia protects Georgia’s side of the border from smugglings and other illegal cross-border activities. Everyone is required to be holding necessary travel documents to be allowed to cross the border at the border crossings. However, there are instances where travelers have been prevented from crossing the border despite presenting the required travel documents.
There are five major border crossings on the Georgia-Azerbaijan border where border movement is allowed. One of the border crossings is the Lagodekhi-Balaken crossing that connects the towns of Balaken and Lagodekhi. Another crossing is the Gardabani-Boyuk Kesik border crossing that connects the town of Boyuk Kesik in Azerbaijan to Gardabani a town in Georgia. The crossing is the sole rail crossing found on the Azerbaijan-Georgia border. The other crossings on the international border are the Red Bridge-Siniq Korpu, the Zaqatala-Muganli, and the Sadixli-Vakhtangisi border crossings.
The MIA Border Police of Georgia
The Georgia international border sits on one of the volatile regions in the world. Therefore, border security is of paramount importance to the country. To ensure that the border is safe from illegal border activities, the border is secured by the MIA Border Police. Established in 1992, the Border Police is mandated with patrolling the entire stretch of the border. The security agency is also tasked with patrolling Georgia’s maritime territory in the Black Sea. The police force is under Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and has its headquarters in Tbilisi. The Border Police is made up of the Coast Guard, the Special Aviation Department, and the Land Border Department.