In this age of separatist referendums, breakaway South Ossetia’s apparent plans to run a show of hands on joining Russia should not hit as a shock. It appears to be quite the thing these days.
The new dominant party in the region’s miniature, 34-seat de-facto parliament ran in a de-facto June-8 parliamentary vote on a ticket of surrendering to Moscow South Ossetia’s declared sovereignty. Now the party, United Ossetia, says it will live up to its name and make sure South Ossetia merges with its Russian cousin, North Ossetia. “We will be staying true to our slogans,” declared Anatoly Bibilov, South Ossetia’s de-facto parliamentary speaker, ITAR-TASS reported. “The question [of acceding to Russia] will be put to a referendum.”
After finishing tidying up committees and whatnot after the de-facto vote, legislators will get right to it, Bibilov added. No date has been announced.
South Ossetia’s Russian cravings are nothing new. At times, Moscow seemed more serious about its protégé’s de-facto independence than South Ossetia itself, which had been putting out feelers to the Kremlin for quite some time. These requests did not jive with the Kremlin’s line that Russia in 2008 had protected two freedom-loving territories – South Ossetia and separatist sibling Abkhazia – from attacks by Tbilisi.
Whether or not Moscow and Tskhinvali are now on the same page on the matter of integration is not clear. The Kremlin is keeping its lips zipped about the referendum.
Yet, after the headaches caused by the annexation of Crimea and its ongoing proxy war with Kyiv over eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin may not want to invite further international bashing over a small region which is already a political outpost for Moscow. “This call [for joining Russia] was always there and probably will be, but it is far away from becoming a reality, if it ever does,” commented Alexei Malashenko, a scholar with the Moscow Carnegie Center, to RFE/RL.
Tbilisi does not seem to be worrying about such an outcome, either. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili commented to the BBC earlier this month that, “according to my knowledge,” Moscow is not interested in absorbing South Ossetia.