The self-proclaimed president of the separatist region says South Ossetia will hold a referendum in July to become part of Russia.
The leader of Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia set July 17 as the date for a referendum on joining Russia.
“Anatoly Bibilov has signed a decree on holding a referendum in the Republic of South Ossetia,” his office said in a statement, citing his people’s “historic desire” to join Russia.
South Ossetia was at the center of the Russian-Georgian war zone in 2008, along with another separatist 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 made 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 legal language, we have met another important legal requirement. And in plain language, we’ve made a life-changing step – we’re going home, we’re going to Russia. It’s time 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 bid for re-election earlier this month. Russia has expressed hope that the new leader, Alan Gagloev, will maintain “continuity” in relations with Moscow.
The announcement came on the 79th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has killed thousands and fled the pro-Western country.
The Ukrainian separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have also expressed interest in joining Russia. The large-scale offensive against Ukraine triggered a wave 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 attack on Georgia, which was fighting pro-Russian fighters in South Ossetia after they shelled Georgian villages.
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 Crimea’s pattern. After Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, a referendum was held on joining Russia, with 97 percent reportedly voting in favour.
The referendum took place when Crimea was under the control of Russian troops and the result was not recognized by most countries. Russia then annexed Crimea.