The leader of Georgia’s detached region of South Ossetia on Friday set July 17 as the date for a referendum on joining Russia.
“Anatoly Bibilov signed a decree on a referendum in the Republic of South Ossetia,” his office said in a statement, citing the “historic aspiration” of his people to join Russia.
South Ossetia was at the center of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War after which the Kremlin recognized the region – along with another separatist region, Abkhazia – as an independent state and deployed military bases there.
The announcement came on the 79th day of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine that killed thousands and more than six million people fled the pro-Western country.
The separatist regions of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk have also expressed interest in joining Russia.
A massive attack on Ukraine has sparked a wave of solidarity in Georgia.
Georgia has previously condemned as “unacceptable” plans by South Ossetia to hold a referendum on joining Russia.
In August 2008, Russia launched an attack against Georgia, which was battling pro-Russian militias in South Ossetia, when they shelled Georgian villages.
Fighting ended with an EU-mediated ceasefire five days later, but more than 700 people lost their lives and thousands of ethnic Georgians were displaced.
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