The messenger logo

Tskhinvali Referendum Not Held, But it Means Little to Nothing

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, June 6, 2022
The referendum on joining the Tskhinvali region occupied by Russia, which was to be held on July 17, will no longer be held. There have been found various reasons for the abolition: from lack of money to "legal" arguments. However, the main headline here is that the Kremlin engaged in war with Ukraine and no longer wanted to have a new problem in relations with Georgia.

The topic of the referendum in the occupied Tskhinvali region appeared during the "presidential elections". The former president of Tskhinvali, Anatoly Bibilov, has proposed the idea of holding a referendum on "joining Russia" as the main theme of his so-called election campaign. After the election defeat, a referendum was still scheduled for May 24.

Now they are discussing the versions of where the idea of the referendum came from - it was Bibilov's initiative if this idea was lobbied by any group of the Moscow government.

The idea of holding a referendum was not expressed in Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at the time that Moscow had neither taken nor planned any steps to hold a referendum. He later said that Bibilov's question in the referendum was "legally incorrect" and needed to be "processed".

The "negative" signal coming from Moscow was accountable to Tskhinvali's new puppet ruler, Alan Gagloev - who, of course, swore that "unification with Russia" was his dream, but held a referendum without an "agreement with Moscow." Gagloev named "lack of money" as the reason for the cancellation of the referendum. According to him, holding a referendum would cost 32.5 million Russian rubles (about 500 thousand dollars). Then "legal" arguments were used - it was announced that the referendum question was wrong and at the same time disagreed with Moscow.

The reason why Moscow did not want to hold a referendum in the occupied region was stated by Konstantin Zatulin, the first deputy head of the Russian Duma Committee on CIS issues. According to him, the referendum in Tskhinvali in Georgia would provoke a "flow of emotions", while Moscow is conducting a "special military operation" in Ukraine, and in such a case "we do not deserve to be bearded for Georgia."

The cancellation of the referendum does not mean that Moscow refuses to annex the occupied Tskhinvali region. No, it's just not worth doing now, as "additional problems" may arise. Official Tbilisi, of course, welcomed the cancellation of the referendum, which would have created additional problems for the Georgian Dream as well, as the referendum would be a clear indication of the ineffectiveness of Russia's "irritability policy." However, with the cancellation of the referendum in Tskhinvali, nothing changed in Moscow's policy, it soon became apparent. Tskhinvali actually mocked Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who said on May 26 that Georgia "did not intend to use force" against the occupied territories where Georgian citizens live.

"South Ossetia" i.e. Foreign Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that "there are no Georgian citizens in South Ossetia," while in Tskhinvali they said they would "continue to strengthen the border with Georgia." It was at this time that Putin called for a simplified grant of "dual citizenship" between "South Ossetia" and Russia.

The ongoing war in Ukraine does not hinder Moscow's activity in the direction of Abkhazia, so another occupied region of Georgia is even more closely connected with Russia. Despite the Tskhinvali puppet government, their Sukhumi counterparts seem to be wary of "Abkhazian independence."

Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, Moscow is moving away from Abkhazia and accelerating its policy of "absorption" of the occupied region. Moscow intends to abolish the border checkpoint with Abkhazia, which in fact means the demolition of the border, as in the case of Russia-Belarus. Russian propagandist Margarita Simonyan states that "Abkhazia is mentally inseparable from Russia."

Moscow demands a solution to the issue of "real estate registration" in Abkhazia for foreign citizens (i.e. Russian citizens). Moscow demands an end to discrimination against the "Russian-speaking population" in Abkhazia and the abolition of the entry in the election law that obliges a parliamentary candidate to "know the Abkhazian language." Abkhazian puppet authorities prefer to discuss "threats from Georgia."

The war in Ukraine and the "acceptable to Moscow" nature of the Georgian government do not in any way stop Russia's annexationist policy towards the occupied regions of Georgia. Russia remains aggressive towards Georgia as well, and if Georgia loses support from the West, it will only encourage Moscow's aggressive plans.