There are currently four breakaway states in the world: Transnistria, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia. Of course, we visit all four but always by road, leading to the question: How to fly to Transnistria, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia?
The short and sweet answer is, you pretty much can’t. Whilst almost all breakaway states have airports or airfields, you can’t land on them unless you work for an NGO or are part of a military division or parachute regiment in a time of war.
Nonetheless! Let’s look into the crazy world of the airports of breakaway states, from the war-torn and abandoned to the swanky and bizarre!
Tiraspol Airport in Transnistria:
To enter Transnistria via air requires you to fly to Chisinau airport inside Moldova then transfer by road or train into the rebel republic and registering with the local KGB/MGB. But it may come as a surprise to some that Transnistria does have an airport, but it is rather desolate and sees next to no departures.
The airport lies just 4 kilometres from the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol. Formerly a Soviet air force base up until 1991, during the outbreak of the Transnistrian civil war it ceased its former role and began to operate as a landing base for reinforcements, equipment and supplies from military aircraft of the Russian Federation who were backing Transnistrian separatists in the area.
Today, it is described as ‘’in good technical condition’’ and locals use it for riding bicycles. Nearby is a special forces training base. However, the Trans-Dniester government proposed opening the airport to civil aviation to open the region to the world and begin a new age of Transnistria tourism. This venture, however, would require the approval of Moldovan and Ukrainian authorities in order to use their airspace, which seems unlikely to be given.
Sukhumi Airport in Abkhazia
Abkhazia boasts a classic Soviet-era airport, or what’s left of it. Once a jewel in the crown of the USSR, the tropical paradise of Abkhazia was a flight hub back in its day and 20 kilometres from the Abkhazian capital of Sukhumi the Babushara airport was built to transport holidaymakers to the stunning coastline resorts who were all looking to take advantage of the beautiful Abkhazian climate. Whilst it’s hard to say the official number of people who live in a place like post-war Abkhazia, but many of its towns and beaches today are deserted.
During the 1990s a blood-soaked conflict between the Georgian army and Abkhazian separatists set Abkhazia ablaze, pockmarked with ethnic cleansing the war killed thousands. The airport was heavily damaged and land mined during the fighting. In 1993, the airport gained infamy when missiles were fired at five Georgian airliners transporting refugees, downing all aircraft and killing 150 people. Today, the original airport lies eerily abandoned and still sporting the hammer and sickle whilst next to it is a new, hardly manned terminal. The airport is now used for a small number of NGO flights, Russian military flights and a small number of flights to the tiny mountain village of Pskhu.
Currently, the easiest way to enter Abkhazia is to fly to Batumi airport and enter via the Inguri crossing from Georgia which is classed as the most unsafe or via the border with Russia which requires a double-entry visa. You can only legally enter and exit via one border and an Abkhazian visa is required, Soviet Wastelands can obtain permission and Abkhazian visas if needed.
Stepanakert Airport in Nagorno Karabakh
Stepanakert airport is a dream for lovers of bizarre Brutalist architecture. All flights ended during the outbreak of the Nagorno Karabakh war in the early 1990s which involved Armenian separatists fighting Azerbaijani forces for control of the disputed territory, Azerbaijan lost the territory and remain in a tense, sometimes violent standoff with the Nagorno Karabakh Republic to this day. In 2011 a brand new, rather posh airport terminal was built and whilst it is closed for security reasons, Soviet Wastelands have managed to gain special access for our clients to wander inside its completely empty halls and it even has that new airport smell!
Being a very mountainous region, the aim for the authorities of Nagorno Karabakh was to initiate a flight from the Armenian capital, but this was in 2011. Due to the breakaway regions claims of independence being seen as wholly illegitimate and illegal by Azerbaijan, they have promised to blow any aircraft out of the sky that enters Nagorno-Karabakh without Azerbaijani permission. The authorities in Nagorno Karabakh claim they’re not scared of this however and claim the airport is closed for ‘technical reasons’.
Currently, the easiest way to enter Nagorno Karabakh is to drive from the Armenian capital of Yerevan. The entire border with Azerbaijan is closed.
South Ossetia Airport
Being the smallest of all breakaway states, South Ossetia, which tore away from Georgia during the brutal 5 day long Russia Georgia war in 2008, unfortunately, doesn’t have an airport. The nearest airport is in the capital of the Russian republic of North Ossetia: Vladikavkaz: which still sports an impressive hammer and sickle on the roof!
Currently, the easiest way to enter South Ossetia is the travel to Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia via train or plane from Moscow and then drive in through the famous Roki Tunnel which is the longest tunnel in the world. You must be on a permitted travellers list and permission is granted by the separatist government of South Ossetia which isn’t easy, however, the team at Soviet Wastelands can get this for you.