Georgia's rebel region to vote on joining Russia in 2017: official
Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia will hold a referendum on joining Russia next year, its president and parliament speaker said in a statement Thursday.
The Moscow-backed region, recognised as independent by Russia since a brief war with Georgia in 2008, will hold the vote after presidential elections, the statement on the website of the regional presidency said.
President Leonid Tibilov and speaker Anatoly Bibilov said they are formally endorsing the idea of "holding the referendum on the issue of South Ossetia's entering the Russian federation in 2017," it said.
Tibilov was elected in April 2012 for a five-year term. The precise date for the presidential election has not been set.
The region announced last October that it was initiating a "procedure to hold a referendum".
Tibilov said he would be coordinating with Moscow on the issue.
The announcement comes two years after Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 through a controversial referendum.
The annexation caused the West to unleash economic sanctions and sent jitters through other countries bordering Russia.
Moscow has pursued a policy of increasingly tighter integration in recent years with South Ossetia, which Tbilisi regards as occupied, along with another breakaway region Abkhazia.
Last March President Vladimir Putin signed a wide-ranging alliance with the region, which was heavily criticised by the West.
Other than Russia, South Ossetia's independence is recognised by three UN member states: Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru.
Georgia has also accused Moscow of "creeping annexation" of its territory, accusing Russian border guards of moving South Ossetia's border markers further into Tbilisi-controlled territory.
© 2016 AFP