The breakaway region’s self-proclaimed president said South Ossetia would hold a referendum to join Russia in July.
The leader of Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia has set July 17 as the date for a referendum on joining Russia.
“Anatoly Bibilov signed a decree on holding a referendum in the Republic of South Ossetia,” his office said in a statement, citing his people’s “historic aspiration” to join Russia.
South Ossetia was at the center of the Russian-Georgian war over territory in 2008, along with another breakaway region, Abkhazia.
After the war, Russia and a handful of other countries recognized South Ossetia as an independent state, but most of the world still considers it part of Georgia.
“We did it!” South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov wrote on Telegram on Friday, announcing that he had signed a decree setting the referendum for July 17.
“In legalese, we have fulfilled another important legal requirement. And in normal parlance, we have taken a life-changing step – we are going home, we are going to Russia. The time has come to unite once and for all… South Ossetia and Russia will be together. This is the beginning of a great new story.
Bibilov lost his re-election bid earlier this month. Russia has expressed hope that the new leader, Alan Gagloev, will preserve the “continuity” of relations with Moscow.
The announcement came on the 79th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with thousands dead and more than six million people fleeing the pro-Western country.
Ukraine’s breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have also expressed interest in joining Russia. The large-scale offensive against Ukraine has sparked an outpouring of solidarity in Georgia.
Georgia has previously denounced South Ossetia’s plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia as “unacceptable”.
In August 2008, Russia launched an assault on Georgia which was fighting pro-Russian fighters in South Ossetia, after they bombed Georgian villages.
The fighting ended five days later with a European Union-brokered ceasefire, but left more than 700 dead and displaced tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians.
The referendum roughly follows the Crimean model. After Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, a referendum was held on joining Russia and 97% reportedly voted in favour.
The referendum took place while Crimea was under the control of Russian troops and the result was not recognized by most countries. Russia then annexed Crimea.