The proposed referendum on renaming Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia, drew a wide criticism in Tbilisi: Georgian officials issued statements on the referendum, calling it “illegal” and “unacceptable” and accusing the Russian Federation of wanting to annex the region.
De facto South Ossetian Leader Leonid Tibilov signed a decree on February 6 setting the referendum on renaming the breakaway region to “the Republic of South Ossetia – the State of Alania.” The referendum will be held together with the region’s presidential polls on April 9, 2017.
In its February 7 statement, the Georgian Foreign Ministry “condemned” the decision of “the Russian occupation regime” to “name one of the oldest regions of Georgia … similarly to the Republic of North Ossetia – Alania [one of Russia’s regions in North Caucasus],” as an attempt to “to lay a ground for illegal annexation of the occupied region.”
“As early as 2008, after the military intervention in the Georgian territory, the Russian Federation recognized the so-called independence of Tskhinvali region in violation of the fundamental norms of international law, whereupon it pursues the factual annexation of the occupied territory. By naming Georgia’s occupied region after the subject of the Russian Federation Moscow starts to use the remaining instruments against the Georgian statehood,” the MFA statement said.
Georgian Foreign Ministry added that the referendum on a territory, which has been subjected to ethnic cleansing and where the occupying power exerts “full control,” “irrespective of the outcomes,” will be “illegal and cannot have any legal effect.”
“This is yet another act of aggression by the Russian Federation fully neglecting the fundamental principles of territorial integrity and inviolability of internationally recognized borders of a sovereign state and is aimed at undermining the established international order,” the statement reads.
Georgian MFA appealed to the international community “to demonstrate consistent and firm stance towards the illegal actions of the Russian Federation, take the appropriate measures to avoid the escalation of situation in the Tskhinvali region and to prevent another fact of illegal annexation in Europe.”
It also called upon the Russian Federation “to cease the provocative policy towards Georgia, respect the fundamental principles of the international law and to withdraw its military forces from the territory of Georgia in accordance to the commitments under the 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement.”
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who issued a statement on February 8, said that the “decision to set the referendum on renaming Tskhinvali region similarly to the subject of the Russian Federation, exposes once again the real intentions of the occupation force, to incorporate the integral parts of Georgia.”
“It is unfortunate, that the Russian Federation responds to Georgia’s peaceful policy and its efforts for reconciliation and trust-building between populations divided by the occupation line, with tightening the isolation of Georgia’s occupied regions and with steps of annexation,” Kvirikashvili stated.
Georgian Prime Minister added that the referendum will be “illegal” and “unacceptable” in the region, “where tens of thousands of locals were expelled from and where the occupation force exercises effective control.”
Kvirikashvili called on the international community “to stand up through joint efforts against Russia’s provocation, counter the violation of territorial integrity of sovereign countries and the establishment of the practice of illegal annexation.”
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili issued a statement on the matter on February 7, saying that “any attempt to rename Georgia’s occupied region without the consent of Georgia’s central authorities, represents an attempt to infringe on Georgia’s sovereignty and integrity, as well as a next step taken towards further annexation of Georgia’s occupied territories.”
“Plebiscite, elections or any other action that entails the expression of free will of the population cannot be held on the territory, which is occupied by a foreign state, which expelled the majority of the indigenous population, which committed ethnic cleansing and where the Russian Federation represents the only force that carries out effective control,” Margvelashvili explained.
He also called on the Russian Federation “to take real steps towards de-occupation of Georgia’s occupied territories and fulfilling its international obligations” and on the international community to stand up against “the violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and integrity and any attempts to legitimize the outcomes of so-called elections and plebiscite.”