Georgia’s breakaway region to vote in July
The leader of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia on Friday set July 17 as a date for a referendum on joining Russia.
"Anatoly Bibilov signed a decree on holding a referendum in the Republic of South Ossetia," his office said in a statement, citing his people's "historic aspiration" to join Russia.
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.
Bibilov lost his bid for re-election earlier this month. Russia has expressed hope the incoming leader, Alan Gagloev, will preserve "continuity" in ties with Moscow.
The announcement came amid Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, where separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk have also expressed interest in joining Russia.
In August 2008, Russia launched an assault against Georgia which was battling pro-Russian militia in South Ossetia. 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.