Russia’s Economic Annexation of Georgia

giorgi_arveladze.jpgOne of the best things about being the editor of this blog is that all kinds of people email me interesting stuff to post that often gets missed by the media. Case in point, I’ve exchanged a few emails with a reader from Tbilisi, who has notified me of some interesting events happening there this week, concerning not Russia’s military activities in the country, but rather the businesses and economic interests which piggybacked across the border with the tanks to begin conducting business within Georgian sovereign territory, yet not officially subject to its legal jurisdiction or regulatory oversight. We report this here because it may be of interest to many of our international law readers who are interested in jurisdictional and regulatory questions in the context of invasion and occupation. Today at a press conference, Giorgi Arveladze, Chairman of the Georgian National Communications Commission (photographed), announced that his agency has issued a fine of more than $350,000 (500,000 Georgian Lari) to the Russian mobile phone operator MegaFon, which stands accused of illegally operating on the Georgian radiofrequency spectrum without a license. According to the press release from the Commission, MegaFon had previously been operating without license in several areas of South Ossetia, but expanded this coverage following the invasion. The release also comments that “The Commission also draws attention at the circumstances that, considering the “Megafon”’s economic intervention during the open and direct Russian occupation since August 7, 2008, the company might be involved in the Russian political and military plans. We believe that the illegal and unjustified participation of the private company in the political events is unacceptable and reprehensive.” See after the jump for maps and comments from Arveladze.

To the left, an aerial scan of the GNCC’s claim of MegaFon’s coverage before August 7, 2008. To the right, the coverage post-August 7th.Megafon%20before%20August%207ht.jpgMegafon%20after%20August%207ht.jpgThe reader also sent these comments made by Commissioner Arveladze during the press conference, who has declared that MegaFon, with the help of the Russian military action, has executed an economic annexation of the Georgian radiofrequency spectrum:

As you are informed, the Russian company “Megaphone” carries out its activity on the territory of Georgia without holding any license or authorization. This became the basis for sanctioning the company for the second time. This time, the amount of the fine was determined as 500 000 GEL.At the time of sanctioning the above-mentioned company for the first time, “Megaphone” covered the territory of the former South Ossetia partially, in particular, the city Tskhinvali and the Java Region. Furthermore, their coverage area enlarged during the Russian intervention, in august and the company covered the whole conflict zone, including the regions of Gori and Qareli.These facts clearly indicate that “Megaphone” realized an economic annexation of frequency spectrum on the Georgian territory and actively provided communications services to the Russian troops, which means direct participation in the occupation process of the Georgian territory.

This appears to be a developing story that we will no doubt read more about in the press in the future. There are numerous interesting questions to be addressed in terms of business, trade, and regulatory oversight now that there seems to be a lack of clarity in international law with regard to the sovereign territory of Georgia. If anyone has any precedent to share regarding business operations in other separatist areas, please feel free to send it along to further the discussion.