The self-proclaimed president of the separatist region says South Ossetia will hold a referendum to join Russia in July.
The leader of South Ossetia, Georgia’s breakaway region, has set July 17 as the date for a referendum on Russia’s accession.
“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 ambition” to join Russia.
South Ossetia was at the center of the Russo-Georgian war 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 did it!” South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov wrote on Telegram on Friday, announcing that he has signed a decree setting the referendum for July 17.
“In legalese, we met another important legal requirement. And in plain language, we’ve taken a life-changing step – we’re going home, we’re 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 big new story.”
Bibilov lost his reelection bid earlier this month. Russia has expressed hope that its new leader, Alan Gagloev, will maintain “continuity” in ties with Moscow.
The announcement came on the 79th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which left thousands dead and more than six million fleeing the pro-Western country.
Ukraine’s separatist regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, have also expressed interest in joining Russia. The large-scale offensive against Ukraine has sparked a wave of solidarity in Georgia.
Georgia has previously labeled 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 shelling Georgian villages.
The fighting ended with a ceasefire brokered by the European Union five days later, but claimed more than 700 lives and displaced tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians.
The referendum roughly follows the Crimea pattern. After Russia took Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula in 2014, a referendum was held on joining Russia, with 97 percent reported to have voted in favor.
The referendum was held while Crimea was under control of Russian forces and the result was not recognized by most countries. Russia then annexed Crimea.