UK & World News
Russia Accused As Ossetia 'Fenced Off'
As the crisis in Ukraine continues, Russia has been accused of attempting to exert pressure elsewhere in its former sphere of influence.
Russian border guards are constructing a vast "security fence" across disputed territory in the former Soviet state of Georgia, establishing a de facto border around the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Georgia says the move is a creeping annexation of its territory and a violation of its sovereignty.
Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war over the region in 2008.
Russia is one of the few countries to recognise South Ossetia as an independent state and supports it both economically and militarily - most other countries and the government in Tbilisi consider it to be part of Georgia.
Construction of the fence has accelerated over the last twelve months, as Georgia moved towards signing a free trade deal with the European Union.
The fence divides villages, and in some cases houses, separating families from their livelihoods and neighbours.
We met 66-year-old Amerin Gugutishvili in the village of Gugutiankari, where he has lived all his life.
He showed us his beloved home, which was burned out in the 2008 war.
"Every time I come here I lose five years of my life," he said, wiping tears from his eyes with his cap.
But after the war, came the fence.
One day he found Russian troops fencing off the orchard which had been his main source of income for the last three decades.
They told him the land was in South Ossetia now, and that he would be arrested if he tried to cross.
"They were with automatic weapons," he told us.
"What could I say? I don't have an automatic rifle.
"I am just an ordinary person, they are with rifles."
So now he has no choice but to watch the fruit rot on the trees.
It's too dangerous to rebuild the house so close to the fence, you can be detained for going too close, so they're living in an old school with three other families.
It is immaculately tidy and Amiran's wife, Tina, has tried to make it as nice as she can, but she is ashamed that they are living like this.
"We worked a lot and now we are trapped," he explained. "They left us without the house, they burned it."
"Without the house and without the orchard," Tina continued. "They fenced off our orchard."
"In winter it's very cold, there's no wood."
She showed us a picture of her five-year-old grandchild, Andriy.
"He's a lovely boy," she said, "My happy light, my star, everything, the only happiness, the rest is war."
In another village, on the far side of the fence, we found an 80-year-old man.
David Vanishvili was born in what he thought was Georgia in 1934, he doesn't understand how he's ended up in South Ossetia, behind layers of razor wire.
"I'm like a prisoner here," he told us through the fence, "Can't go here, can't go there."
"They said it's South Ossetia now."
He told us his pension is paid in the Georgian currency, lari, but the shops over there only take Russian rubles.
"I can't buy bread, salt, they don't accept Georgian money - how can I live like that?"
The EU has a monitoring mission here, deployed as part of the ceasefire agreement in 2008.
They patrol and record the ongoing construction of the fence, and the impact it's having on the lives of people here, but their powers are strictly limited.
The monitors are unarmed and have no access to the breakaway region so cannot travel to the far side of the fence.
Both the US and Nato have condemned the construction of the fence, but Russia says South Ossetia has the "unassailable right" to take such measures to "ensure the security of its borders and its citizens."
South Ossetia delegated control of its border to Russia in 2009, citing the absence of its own border force.
Georgia says all this has little to do with the sovereignty or otherwise of South Ossetia, and everything to do with Russia projecting its power, and maintaining a military presence on its border.