Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia ditches referendum on joining Russia

The breakaway republic of South Ossetia, seen from Georgian-controlled territory near Tbilisi, Georgia, on March 13, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

TBILISI (AFP) - The leader of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia on Monday (May 30) scrapped plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia which his predecessor had scheduled for July 17.

In a decree issued Monday, the Moscow-controlled enclave's president Alan Gagloev invoked "uncertainty of the legal consequences of the issue submitted to a referendum".

The decree also stressed "the inadmissibility of a unilateral decision of a referendum on issues affecting the legitimate rights and interests of the Russian Federation".

Mr Gagloev ordered "to hold, without delay, consultations with the Russian side on the entire range of issues related to the further integration of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation".

On May 13, Mr Gagloev's predecessor, Mr Anatoly Bibilov, signed a decree on holding the referendum, citing the region's "historic aspiration" to join Russia, his office said at the time.

South Ossetia was at the centre of the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 after which the Kremlin recognised the territory - along with another separatist region, Abkhazia - as an independent state and stationed military bases there.

Mr Bibilov lost his bid for re-election earlier this month. Russia has expressed hope that Mr Gagloev will preserve "continuity" in ties with Moscow.

Monday's announcement came on the 96th day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, where Moscow-controlled separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk regions have also expressed interest in joining Russia.

The full-scale war on Ukraine has sparked an outpouring of solidarity in Georgia.

Tbilisi has previously denounced as "unacceptable" plans by South Ossetia to hold a referendum on joining Russia.

In August 2008, Russian forces launched an all-out invasion of Georgia, which was battling pro-Russian militia in South Ossetia, after they shelled Georgian villages.

The fighting ended five days later with a European Union-mediated ceasefire but claimed more than 700 lives and displaced tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians.

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