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What is happening in South Ossetia and what does it have to do with the Ukraine-Russia war?
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Russia’s war in Ukraine has shaken Europe, rekindled the NATO military alliance and helped rekindle post-Soviet-era conflicts, including in places like disputed territory Nagorno-Karabakh. at the center of tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

It has also stoked pro-Russian sentiment in South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia whose independence Moscow recognized in 2008. South Ossetian President Anatoly Bibilov announced on Friday that the breakaway state would hold a referendum on the joining Russia on July 17.

Here’s what you need to know about South Ossetia, its ambitions to become part of Russia, and the connection between conflict and war in Ukraine.

South Ossetia is a small Russian-backed breakaway region within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia. Moscow recognized South Ossetia as an independent state, along with Abkhazia, also in Georgia, following the brief Georgia-Russian war of 2008. Since then, it has provided the region with financial support, stationed troops on its territory and offered Russian citizenship and other benefits to its approximately 55,000 inhabitants.

Georgia lost de facto control of these regions. But few countries, apart from a few Russian allies – such as Venezuela, Nicaragua and Syria – and three small island states in the Pacific Ocean have recognized South Ossetia as an independent state.

Over the years, South Ossetia and Moscow have grown closer, signing multiple cooperation treaties.

“Since 2008, when the war broke out, Russia has become pretty much the only power controlling and supporting South Ossetia, and the region has been cut off from Tbilisi, from mainland Georgia,” said researcher Maia Otarashvili. and Deputy Director of Research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

What did South Ossetia say about joining Russia?

Bibilov said on Thursday that South Ossetia would take legal steps to join the Russian Federation “in the near future”, according to remarks published by the United Russia party’s press service and reported by Russian news agency Tass. .

“I believe that unification with Russia is our strategic goal. It is our path and an aspiration of our people. We must move forward along this path,” he said. the near future.The Republic of South Ossetia will become part of its historical homeland, Russia.

South Ossetia previously said it wanted to join Russia, before being shut down by Moscow.

“I think there are several reasons for this,” Otarashvili said. “First, Moscow is already de facto in charge of South Ossetia and oversees all aspects of it. And secondly, an annexation… a big formal annexation, would be yet another move that Moscow would make that would be frowned upon by the West.

This time, the Kremlin also downplayed the suggestion of South Ossetia. “We have not taken any legal or other action,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday, according to Reuters. “This is about the choice of the South Ossetian people, which we respect.”

On Friday, Bibilov posted a note on his website saying the referendum would take place on July 17.

Georgian Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister David Zalkaliani said on Thursday that “speculation about a possible referendum” in South Ossetia on the possibility of joining the Russian Federation “is unacceptable”, according to Tass.

Ukraine offers neutrality in talks with Russia. What does that mean?

What does this have to do with Ukraine?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought back painful memories for Georgians who lived through the 2008 war. Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine on February 24, the Georgian government has been careful not to provoke Russia.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said on February 25 that the country would not join its Western allies in imposing economic sanctions against Russia. Georgia also reportedly prevented volunteer fighters from traveling to Ukraine.

When Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili traveled to Brussels and Paris in early March to express her support for Ukraine, the ruling party said her trip was banned and that it planned to sue her.

“Everyday Georgians are extremely supportive of Ukraine. And many of them are even fighting in Ukraine right now as volunteers, so the government and the people are extremely divergent on Ukraine,” Otarashvili said.

Georgia’s current government came to power in 2012 and is known for its “extreme appeasement strategy with Russia”, Otarashvili added. “There has been a lot of openness between Russia and Georgia, and the current government has worked very hard not to provoke Russia.”

On the other hand, the South Ossetian leader aligned himself more with Russia, saying on Telegram on March 26 that the region was sending troops to fight on the Russian side to “help protect Russia”, the report reported. France Media Agency.

Bibilov supported Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

“The Russian world today defends the interests of its supporters, those who oppose Nazism, who respect universal humanitarian values ​​and fundamental rights and standards shared by the entire international community,” he said. he said Thursday, Tass reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin first sought to justify the invasion by saying his troops planned to “denazify” the country, a claim that experts say is part of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign around the war.

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