It’s not just Ukraine. Russia occupies territory in other countries in emerging Europe

Opposition in Georgia to cultural and economic ties with Russia has served to remind a global audience that Moscow occupies not just part of Ukraine, but also Georgia and Moldova.

There was much anger in Georgia on July 27 when a Russian cruise liner, the Astoria Grande, docked at the port and seaside resort of Batumi. The vast majority of Georgia’s population, unlike its government, opposes cultural and economic exchanges with Russia while Moscow continues to occupy around 20 per cent of Georgia’s internationally-recognised territory. 

The ship, which had departed from Sochi in Russia on a circular cruise of the Black Sea which also included stops at Trabzon and Istanbul, was forced to leave Batumi by protesters just hours after docking. Some of the Astoria Grande’s passengers had provocatively declared for Georgian television news channels that they had supported Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia.  

One went so far as to suggest that Russia had “liberated” Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia on the Black Sea coast, which lies between Sochi and Batumi. 

There were further protests against the cruise liner and its passengers when it once again docked in Batumi on July 31, with demonstrators hurling bottles and eggs at buses taking the ship’s passengers on a tour of the city. 

For many people outside of Georgia, the protests were a reminder that Russia has not only invaded Ukraine and occupied large parts of its territory: it has in recent memory also occupied two regions of Georgia as well as a slither of land in eastern Moldova. But where are these territories? And how (and why) did Russia occupy them in the first place? 


A region of northwestern Georgia, Abkhazia has maintained de facto independence since the end of a civil war in 1993 in which Russia supplied material and logistical support to Abkhazian separatists.  

Its government is financially dependent on Russia, which continues to have a military presence in the region and is one of a handful of states that recognises the territory’s independence, first declared in 1993. 

Before the 1992-3 war, Georgians made up nearly half of Abkhazia’s population, while less than one-fifth of the population was Abkhaz. As the war progressed, confronted with hundreds of thousands of ethnic Georgians who were unwilling to leave their homes, the Abkhaz separatists implemented a policy of ethnic cleansing to expel the ethnic Georgian population. Around 250,000 Georgians were forcibly removed from their homes: the vast majority have not returned. 

Several thousand Russian troops are permanently stationed in the territory, and the Russian state remains influential in Abkhazia’s security apparatus; the territory’s State Security Service (SGB) includes a representative of the Russian government in its leadership. 

According to Freedom House, corruption is believed to be extensive and is tolerated by the government, despite promises to combat it. In recent years, Russian officials have voiced concern about the large-scale embezzlement of funds provided by Moscow, but efforts to investigate and punish such malfeasance have been largely ineffective. 

More than 70 per cent of Abkhazia’s residents hold Russian passports. 

South Ossetia 

South Ossetia, in northern Georgia, engaged in an armed struggle for secession from 1989 to 1992. As in Abhkazia, the separatists were backed by Russia both politically and militarily. 

The conflict remained largely frozen, with South Ossetia de facto independent from Tbilisi, until 2004, when Georgia’s then-president Mikheil Saakashvili vowed to reincorporate all of the country’s separatist territories. In the coastal region of Adjara, which since the early 1990s had been the personal fiefdom of the staunchly pro-Russian Aslan Abashidze, this was achieved peacefully: Abashidze fled into exile (in Moscow) and Adjara—which includes Batumi—now enjoys a great deal of autonomy and is one of the Georgia’s most prosperous regions. 

Later in 2004 fighting broke out between Georgian forces and Ossetian separatists around the town of Tskhinvali, but Saakashvili did not force the issue again until 2008, when increased Russian military activity in the region led to new skirmishes.  

In August 2008, Saakashvili ordered a full-scale military offensive which initially took control of significant parts of South Ossetia. Russian then declared war on Georgia, claiming some of its “peacekeepers” in the region had been killed. A brief, full-scale ware ensued, in which hundreds were killed and Georgia was heavily defeated: its forces withdrew from South Ossetia (including from areas they had held prior to 2008), and for a brief period Russia occupied the Georgian towns including Gori and Zugdidi.  

It was after a ceasefire ended the war on August 26 that Russia recognised the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 

Many ethnic Georgians were forced to flee the region following the 2008 war. The territory today remains under Russian occupation and almost entirely dependent on Moscow, which exerts a decisive influence over its politics and governance.  

Local media and civil society are largely controlled or monitored by the authorities, and the judiciary is subject to political influence and manipulation. 

It was reported last year that South Ossetia has sent troops to fight for Russia in Ukraine.


The conflict between the government of the newly-independent Republic of Moldova and the “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic”, known colloquially as Transnistria, formed by the Russian minority living in a slither of land on the left bank of the Dniester river began in the autumn of 1991. 

Unlike the rest of Moldova, Transnistria was never part of Romania (it was incorporated into the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic by the Soviet Union in the 1940s in an attempt to “Russify” the republic). 

The separatists were supported by elements of the Russian (previously Soviet) 14th Army, which had long recruited its forces from the region. Fighting intensified in March 1992 and continued throughout the spring and early summer of 1992 until a ceasefire was declared in July 1992. It has largely held since then. 

Since achieving de facto independence, internal politics in Transnistria has been dominated by a pro-Russian orientation reflecting Russian support for secession (although Russia does not recognise the territory’s independence).  

Minority Rights, which monitors the rights of indigenous people around the world, says that this has been reflected in measures to reduce the public role played by the Romanian language (which Transnistria’s authorities call Moldavian) in the region.  

This trend has also included discrimination against ethnic Romanians, including expropriation of land, intimidation of Romanian language teachers, and promotion of the Cyrillic rather than Latin script for the Romanian language 

Transnistria’s government and economy are heavily dependent on subsidies from Russia, which maintains a military presence and peacekeeping mission in the territory. Political competition is limited, and the dominant party is aligned with powerful local business interests. Impartiality and pluralism of opinion in media is very limited, and authorities closely control civil society activity. 

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