Breakaway South Ossetia will hold an independence referendum on November 12 – the same day that presidential elections are scheduled in the unrecognized republic.
Tbilisi has already warned that the referendum may lead to destabilization and “to a disruption of the peace process.”
South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity has signed a decree about the referendum, the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee reported.
The following question will be put forward at the referendum: “Do you agree with the preservation of the South Ossetian Republic’s current status of independent state and [for South Ossetia] to be internationally recognized?”
In a similar referendum in 1992, which was not internationally recognized, 98% of residents of the unrecognized republic voted for independence.
The announcement of a repeat referendum was not a surprise after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s July 6 statement, when he reiterated that a universal principle should become the basis for solving conflicts and hinted that referendums should be held in breakaway regions.
Putin said that Russia made a courageous step when it decided to hold a referendum in Chechnya. “My principle is that whatever the dramatic situation is we should eventually ask for the people’s opinion,” the Russian leader said.
“The same should be done in Abkhazia and in other places,” he added.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Georgia should not hesitate over a South Ossetian referendum on, as he put it, “self-determination.”
“The issue of self-determination is part of international law, which is carried out through an expression of will [of the people]… Russia was not afraid to push for this referendum in Chechnya and it was held,” Lavrov said on June 2.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry warned in an August 29 statement that breakaway South Ossetia’s plans to hold the referendum aims “to deliberately heighten tension and destabilize the situation in the region,” which “will lead to a disruption of the peace process.”
In a separate statement issued on September 8 the Georgian Foreign Ministry said that the referendum will “carry no legal or legitimate force.”
“It is therefore all the more alarming that Russia, as a mediator in the negotiation process, instead of objectively assessing the existing situation is continuing to insistently argue that conducting referendums is an internal affair of South Ossetia,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
Unlike South Ossetia, it seems that Georgia’s other breakaway region of Abkhazia has no intentions of holding a similar referendum.
Speaking at a news conference in Moscow on September 1 Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh said that currently there is no need to hold a repeat independence referendum in Abkhazia. A referendum, which was not internationally recognized, was held in Abkhazia in 1999.
“This is not the kind of thing that is possible to hold every month,” Bagapsh said.