We’ve been seeing videos of desperate fighting age Russian men mobbing Russia’s border with Georgia, and I must say, I don’t remember that border quite that way.
Some sixteen years ago I visited that border as an inadvertent part of a trip through the Caucasus, and stayed in the village of Kazbegi. We stayed at a guest house called the Stepansminda.
Just to be there in the first place, traveling up the spectacular Georgia Military Highway from Tbilisi toward the majestic Mt. Kazbeg (16,581 feet), wasn’t straightforward. So I went back to look up what I wrote at the time:
Besides us, the Stepansminda apparently had no overnight guests except Chris Adam, a man from Raleigh, North Carolina. Chris was dark and slight, well conditioned, and wore the look of a man who had been here too long. He had a personal driver and a personal translator at work. He was here to build the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-engineered border post with Russia, a few miles up the road along the river.
We drove up to see him. Inside his office, a metal shed, we saw fantastic blueprints, which foresaw a fanciful, modern outpost of civilization right here on this spot, unlike anything vaguely in actual evidence here. Chris’s driver sat inside, a hairy Georgian who was always on his cell phone. He sat over a laptop and I asked, astonished, if they had the internet out here and he smiled, no, it was movies.
One month later the border, the only proper border between Russia and Georgia, was closed. After a week of back and forth provocations in Russian-occupied South Ossetia, the Russians closed it with two hours notice on the pretext that their side needed “repair work.”
In confirming that, Chris gamely e-mailed that “now I do not need to worry about vehicle and pedestrian traffic.”
Here is the original 2006 article with links to other things I wrote at the time about Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.