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‘President’ of Occupied Tskhinvali Region Speaks of Unification with Russia

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Friday, April 1, 2022
Georgian Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani says the government will not allow what happened in 2008 to be repeated and ‘be involved in provocations’. He said after meeting with his Danish counterpart that the country would not use force to restore its territorial integrity.

“Under the occupation, no referendum will have any legal force, especially since hundreds of thousands of our citizens have been expelled from their homes and, as a result of ethnic cleansing, are not allowed to return home. Here, too, we have the strong support of the international community and our friends… We are committed to this commitment and say we will not use force to restore territorial integrity. This is our legal obligation, which is very clearly supported by the international community,” Zalkaliani said.

Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, who is visiting Georgia, considers the talks on the referendum in Tskhinvali ‘unacceptable’.

“The Strasbourg court has made not only a political but also a legal assessment of the occupation of Georgian territories,” Kofod said.

March 30 it became known that a referendum on joining the Russian Federation will be held in the occupied Tskhinvali region in the near future. Recall that in August 2008, the armed forces of Russia and the de facto republic burned and destroyed Georgian villages in the Liakhvi gorge, leaving up to 30,000 Georgian citizens displaced. Since then, the de facto government has repeatedly asked the Kremlin to join, although Russia has so far refrained from annexing the occupied territories.

The ‘president’ of the de facto republic of South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov, said that legal steps will be taken in the near future to allow the occupied Tskhivali region to become part of Russia. According to him, unification with Russia is a strategic goal of the so-called republic and they need to return to the so-called historical homeland. Bibilov recalled that in 2014, when Crimea became ‘part of Russia’, ‘South Ossetia’ had the opportunity to unite with Russia, but missed it. “We will not allow it to happen again,” Bibilov said.

Currently, Bibilov is conducting a pre-election campaign, which is no different from the campaign of 5 years ago. Even then, Russia-backed Bibilov's main message was the unification of ‘South and North Ossetia’ into one republic within the Russian Federation, but his promises were not fulfilled and now he is coming out with the same messages. The so-called presidential elections are scheduled for April 10.

Unlike occupied Abkhazia, the occupied Tskhinvali region has a small number of civil activists who do not support unification with Russia. Their idea is to create an independent Republic of Ossetia.

In August 2008, after the Russian army invaded Georgia and occupied the region, the Kremlin recognized the so-called de facto state independence of South Ossetia on August 26. After the recognition, the 4th occupation military base was deployed in the occupied region, where, in addition to the troops brought from Russia, the personnel of the local army were also deployed. Now part of this base, including young people from Tskhinvali, are fighting against Ukraine on the Russian side. Ekho kavkaza spread that information on March 16, and 10 days later it was announced that an additional contingent would be sent.

According to the South Ossetian Telegram, some of those servicemen returned from military operations in Ukraine. The case concerns, most likely, the residents of Samachablo regions, but the circumstances of the military's return are still unknown.

Former de facto republican opposition leader Eduard Kokoity wrote on the Telegram that ‘no one has the right to reprimand these guys or accuse them of cowardice. We need to find out the reason for what happened and find out how their participation was organized’. Earlier, Kokoity said that the troops sent to Ukraine for war should have ‘elementary conditions’.

Meanwhile, it's been two days since residents of village Ergneti bordering occupied Tskhinvali have been hearing sounds of gunfire and explosions. According to locals, they are firing large caliber weapons in the occupied territory.

“The training in Tskhinvali has become very active these 2 days. Is the sound of the use of massive bombing weapons. This is a very bad sign and reminds me of the beginning of the August 8 war. We must be very careful not to be provoked by the Russians,” Ergneti resident, Vepkhvia Kasradze said.

On March 29, the so-called Defense Ministry of the de facto republic reported that the training of the motorized infantry battalion was starting at the training ground in the occupied village of Dzartsemi. A battalion of the so-called de facto South Ossetian Ministry of Defense went to the training ground to improve its firearms and engineering skills.