The “president” of the secessionist province of South Ossetia from Georgia announced tonight that he will hold a referendum on July 17 on the question of the union of the region with Russia, Reuters reports, citing the Russian Tass.
Moscow recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after the lightning war with Georgia in August 2008. It provided financial support to both regions, offered Russian citizenship to its residents, and stationed thousands of troops there.
According to Tass, President Anatoly Bibilov made this announcement through a decree. The small, mountainous province has a population of about 60,000 and borders North Ossetia, which is part of Russia.
“We are returning home,” he commented in a Telegram post. “It’s time to unite. South Ossetia and Russia will be together. “It’s the beginning of a new, great story.”
Anatoly Bibilov failed to be re-elected “president” earlier this month, and Moscow expressed hope that his successor, Alan Gagliyev, would be able to ensure “continuity” in the region’s relations with Russia. The election commission has set May 24 as the day to hand over power.
On March 30, outgoing President Bibilov announced that South Ossetia was planning to join Russia in the near future. Georgia then condemned the referendum proposal as unacceptable.
As in the Russian-speaking Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, Moscow has used the recognition of regional independence and the granting of citizenship to its inhabitants to maintain its armed presence in areas of the former Soviet Union that it considers part of its sphere of influence.
In Ukraine, Russia invaded on February 24, three days after recognizing the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.