Tbilisi (AFP) – The leader of Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia on Monday abandoned plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia that his predecessor had planned for July 17.
South Ossetia was at the center of the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, after which the Kremlin recognized the territory as an independent state and stationed military bases there.
In a decree published on Monday, the president of the enclave controlled by Moscow, Alan Gagloev, invoked “uncertainty about the legal consequences of the question submitted to referendum”.
The decree also underlined “the inadmissibility of a unilateral decision of a referendum on issues affecting the legitimate rights and interests of the Russian Federation“.
Gagloev ordered “to hold consultations with the Russian side without delay on all issues related to the further integration of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation”.
On May 13, Gagloev’s predecessor, Anatoly Bibilov, signed a decree on holding the referendum, citing the region’s “historic aspiration” to join Russia, his office said at the time.
Bibilov lost his re-election bid earlier this month. Russia expressed the hope that Gagloev will preserve the “continuity” of relations with Moscow.
Tbilisi has previously denounced South Ossetia’s plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia as “unacceptable”.
Monday’s announcement came on the 96th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where Moscow-backed separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have also expressed interest in joining Russia.
The full-scale war against Ukraine has sparked an outpouring of solidarity in Georgia.
In August 2008, Russian forces launched an all-out invasion of Georgia, which was fighting pro-Russian militias in South Ossetia, after shelling Georgian villages.
The 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.
In the aftermath of the war, the Kremlin recognized the independence of South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, which have since remained under Russian military control.
The dispute marked the height of tensions with the Kremlin over Tbilisi’s decidedly pro-Western bid to join the European Union and NATO.
In March, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Karim Khan, requested arrest warrants for three current and former South Ossetian officials in connection with war crimes committed against ethnic Georgians.
The alleged crimes included acts of torture, inhuman treatment, unlawful detention, outrages upon personal dignity, hostage taking and unlawful transfer of persons.
Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia was responsible for human rights abuses in the aftermath of the war.
© 2022 AFP