South Ossetia
Soldiers in South Ossetia are shown attending an oath of allegiance ceremony in Tskhinvali, capital of the breakaway region of Georgia, July 5, 2015. Reuters

The Georgian government criticized Russia on Monday after Russian soldiers reportedly placed border markers around a critical oil pipeline on Georgia’s sovereign territory. The incident reportedly occurred in South Ossetia, one of two regions that broke away from Georgia after its 2008 conflict with Russia, but which the international community still considers part of Georgia.

Russian soldiers positioned new markers approximately 1.5 kilometers, or about one mile, past South Ossetia’s accepted border, the Moscow Times reported. Russia’s military presence in the region now encompasses part of a BP pipeline that runs from oil-rich Azerbaijan through Georgia to the Black Sea.

“The Georgian Foreign Ministry expresses its extreme concern over the illegal placement of banners by the Russian occupying forces marking the so-called ‘border,’” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said in statement. Zurab Abishidze, Georgia’s ambassador to Russia, decried the act as a “deliberate provocation.”

Russia recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent after a brief conflict in 2008 that left 170 Georgian soldiers and 67 Russian soldiers dead, CNN reported. Russia has since maintained a military presence in both territories, despite criticism from Georgia and most of the international community. Russia and Abkhazia announced plans to strengthen their military and economic ties last January.

Georgia has recently pursued closer relations with NATO as a check against Russian military activity in Eastern Europe. Western leaders have accused the Kremlin of direct involvement in the Eastern Ukraine conflict and expressed concerns about Russia’s increased aggression toward Finland, Sweden and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Georgia, along with Ukraine, Sweden and Finland, are considered candidates for eventual membership in NATO.

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A U.S. Navy vessel traveled to Georgia last month to participate in joint training exercises with the Georgian coast guard, the U.S. Embassy in Georgia confirmed. The drill “reaffirms the United States’ commitment to strengthening ties with NATO allies and partners like Georgia, while working toward goals of promoting security and stability in the Black Sea region,” it said in a statement at the time, according to Agence France-Presse.

Despite repeated diplomatic clashes, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili reiterated last month that Georgia remained committed to an improved relationship with the Kremlin. Georgia will “regulate its relationship with Russia through constructive and pragmatic dialogue,” he said.