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Tskhinvali Leader Talks Ossetian Unity

Moscow-backed leader of Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov asserted with Russian state-owned Russia-24 TV channel yesterday, that the unity of  the “divided” Ossetian people was more important than the independence of the occupied region.

Describing South and North Ossetians as “one people with common traditions, customs, language,” Bibilov argued that the region’s integration into Russia was not his “whim,” but rather “the will of our nation since the 20s of the last century.” 

The statement comes ahead of the ‘presidential vote’ in Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, in which Bibilov seeks reelection in April.

Bibilov stressed that Tskhinvali is taking actions under his “Five Steps to Russia” program, first to “come closer” to Moscow that should later culminate in the region’s annexation by Kremlin. In this context he mentioned salary hikes for civil servants and military and reforms around customs service as examples of further rapprochement with Russia within his program.

In the interview, the S. Ossetian leader claimed that the region did not leave the Russian empire voluntarily in 1917 and that in the 1990s, overwhelming majority of S. Ossetians voted first to remain in the USSR in 1991 and then to become part of the Russian Federation in 1992.

Noteworthy, that the 1992 S. Ossetian referendum ended with odd results, with voters casting ballot for both independence and integration with Russia. Ethnic Georgians of the region boycotted the vote, while Tbilisi and international community never recognized the referendum.

The area now known as S. Ossetia was not an administrative district in any form as the Russian Empire collapsed after the February Revolution in 1917.

In May 1920, Soviet Russia recognized the independence of Georgia, including Abkhazia and what is now Tskhinvali Region/S. Ossetia as its territories. Only after the Soviet annexation of Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1921, the S. Ossetian Autonomous Oblast was created in 1922 within the Georgian SSR.

Speaking about Georgia, Bibilov stressed that Tskhinvali wanted “friendly neighborly relations with Georgia,” but with “reciprocity that takes place between equals,” where “there is the Republic of South Ossetia, [and] there is Georgia.”

The Tskhinvali leader also said that relations with Tbilisi remained “complicated” largely due to the Government of Georgia not signing a deal on the non-use of force, which he described as “a guarantee for good neighborly relations.”

While Bibilov has been pushing for the annexation of the region by Moscow, Georgians keep largely seeing Russia’s North Ossetia as the indigenous homeland of Ossetians, where their self-determination could be exercised.

According to South Ossetian estimates, that some pundits regard as exaggerated, there are around 48 thousand Ossetians living in the Tskhinvali region. The vast majority of Ossetians – 460 thousand – live in N. Ossetia-Alania.

As things stand, some 30 thousand ethnic Georgians remain uprooted from Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia following the armed conflict in 1991-92 and Russo-Georgian War of August 2008.

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NB: The article was updated regarding the passage of the referendums. The final update was made on 21:10.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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