Organized Crime and Smuggling Through Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Uncontrolled territories as crime zones 


The current situation demonstrates that the conflicts in Abkhazia and SouthOssetia are not simply in deadlock. They have gradually transformed into crimezones that nobody is able to fully control—not the Government of Georgia, theAbkhaz and South Ossetian governments, or the international community.On the one hand, Georgian authorities declare that they cannot establish BorderGuard and Customs Service checkpoints on the Inguri River and the Rokitunnel because secessionists would immediately interpret it as an attempt to establisha new border. The border remains open for smuggling into Georgia andfor the movement of criminal groups from one side of the conflict zone to another.On the other hand, de facto governments in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali are notable to control their territories and prevent activities of the different (Abkhaz andGeorgian) crime groups. Frequent assassinations and kidnappings have becomeusual practice in these regions. 


As in many other conflict situations, the criminal world always fills the vacuumin official and legal relations. Crime groups are flexible and quickly-builtcriminal networks that are often international, and which bring in representativesfrom both sides of the conflict. The examination of the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia confirms this general trend, and any observer can easily see howsuccessfully the Georgian, Abkhaz, and Ossetian crime groups and law enforcementbodies co-operate in smuggling through secessionist territories. 



In Abkhazia, crime groups operate in Gali and Kodori Gorge, and in Zugdididistrict of Samegrelo, while in South Ossetia—mostly in Tskhinvali and Goridistricts. They collaborate with each other regardless of their ethnic origins andpolitical orientation. They have different, sometimes paradoxical partnershipswith other crime groups, law enforcement bodies and governmental structures(or individual government officials) in other parts of Abkhazia and Georgia. Ifone link of this “smuggling chain” is broken, the whole chain falls apart. Goods,which flow from Russia, Turkey or any other country through the territory of Abkhazia to Georgia, or in the opposite direction, are protected through a systemof bribes, mutual sharing and “roofs” of influential government officials outsideand inside Abkhazia.6 The main actors (law enforcement bodies, crime groups,and Russian peacekeepers) in the Gali, Zugdidi, Tskhinvali, and Gori districts,along with the co-operative groups or individuals, compose a smuggling networkwhich successfully operates and expands its influence, involving more andmore poor people in contraband trade. 


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