South Ossetian leader Leonid Tibilov said his breakaway region will hold a referendum to join the Russian Federation, after a meeting with Vladislav Surkov, the Russian presidential aide on relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“Pursuant to today’s political realities, we should make our historic choice, join our brotherly Russia and guarantee security and prosperity for our republic for centuries,” Tibilov said. He did not specify when the referendum would take place, but added that "all the steps in terms of implementation of referendum results will be only be made in agreement with the Russian side".
In response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Itar-Tass news agency that no mention of a referendum had been made during Tibilov's meeting with Surkov. "If I understand correctly, no such statement was made specifically during the meeting," he said, adding that "South Ossetia is an independent state, which has been recognised by the Russian Federation and with whom we have diplomatic relations." He refused to elaborate on the Kremlin's position regarding the possible referendum.
South Ossetia is a Georgian breakaway region that declared its independence in September 1990, but which is internationally recognised as being part of Georgia. It is de facto almost completely dependent on Russia, with which it signed a "treaty of alliance and integration" in March, thus further cementing its dependence on the Kremlin.
The administration of former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili tried to resolve the conflict with South Ossetia, but only managed to escalate tensions. Russian troopes still patrol the region's border with Georgia, as they have done since the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.
Leonid Slutsky, a Russian MP, told The Independent that "in principle, we understand Mr Tibilov’s motivation, but I wouldn’t make any guesses before the referendum takes place...Next we must put our heads together to discuss whether this is necessary. We have to understand that the response from the international community will be absolutely explosive."