The leader of Georgia’s breakaway republic of South Ossetia has said he’s ready to take steps to join Russia, and a referendum is expected to be held within the next few months.
South Ossetia is a de facto independent state and has been recognized by Russia and several other countries since the brief 2008 war. Russia intervened in 2008 to help South Ossetia fight off the forces of then-Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, but most countries still recognize South Ossetia as part of Georgia.
“I believe that unification with Russia is our strategic goal, our path, the aspiration of the people,” said South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov, according to Al Jazeera. “We will take the relevant legislative steps shortly. The republic of South Ossetia will be part of its historical homeland – Russia.”
A spokeswoman for Bibilov said the region was planning to hold a referendum on the matter in light of the “window of opportunity that opened in the current situation,” referring to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Viktor Vodolatsk, a member of Russia’s State Duma, said a referendum will likely be held in May or June. Russia’s Tass news agency reported that South Ossetia is holding consultations with Moscow on the referendum.
Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani reacted to the news on Thursday and said that “it is unacceptable to speak of any referendums while the territory is occupied by Russia.” Zalkaliani said the referendum “will have no legal force.”
The US also made it clear that it wouldn’t recognize the referendum. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the US “will not recognize the results of any effort by Russia or its proxies to divide sovereign Georgian territory.”