“We did it,” joyous leader of Georgia’s Russian-held province wrote in his Telegram channel late yesterday.
“We have taken a momentous step – we are going home, we are going to Russia.”
Bibilov, a deeply unpopular local leader, pledged to seek Russia’s annexation of the region just days before the first round of sham presidential vote of April 10.
But the recent loss by a landslide in the runoffs did not deter him from unilaterally setting the date on referendum, without prior consultations with incoming leader Alan Gagloev.
It is not fully clear whether the Kremlin will proceed with the annexation or use it for further leverage on Tbilisi, where many fear further Russian troubles amid Moscow’s bloody invasion of Ukraine.
Incoming Leader Reacts
Gagloev, set to assume office on May 24, asserted that “as the son of my motherland and the president of South Ossetia elected by the nation, I fully support the idea of reunification of divided Ossetian nation within the united Russia.”
“But the question is whether it is the moment in history when we should issue a decree on calling a referendum and forcing it to happen,” Gagloev told Tskhinvali’s RES news agency.
The incoming leader expressed doubts whether Bibilov coordinated the decision with Moscow in line with bilateral treaties, the absence of which, he said, would risk Russia’s unwillingness to absorb the region.
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- Gagloev Shows Cautious Stance on Annexation
- Russian Officials Launch Annexation Campaign in Tskhinvali
“I hope so, otherwise the fate of the 1992 referendum* may be repeated… In 2014, referendums on reunification [with Russia] were held in the Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics without Russian approval. Eight years have passed, and they have not yet achieved their goal.”
Further lambasting Bibilov over the lack of prior relevant consultations with him, Gagloev said he will take further steps regarding the referendum “in compliance with international legal norms, consultations and implementation of agreements with the Russian Federation.”
Earlier in March, Georgia reacted that “it is unacceptable to discuss any referendums while Georgia’s territory is occupied by Russia.”
The region was the main theater of Russo-Georgian War of August 2008, which ended with the EU-brokered ceasefire agreement of August 12, 2008.
Moscow, exercising effective control and occupation of the regions, recognized the independence of both Tskhinvali Region and Abkhazia on August 26, 2008.
As things stand, some 30 thousand ethnic Georgians remain uprooted from the region following the armed conflict in 1991-92 and the 2008 War.