TBILISI, GEORGIA - The leader of the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia announced Friday that a referendum on joining Russia would be held in July.
Russia has exercised effective control over the region since fighting a brief war with Georgia in 2008. Russia and a handful of other countries recognize South Ossetia as an independent state, but most of the world still considers it to be part of Georgia.
"We did it!" South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov wrote on Telegram Friday, announcing that he had signed a decree setting the referendum for July 17.
"In legalese, we fulfilled yet another important legal requirement," he said. "And in normal language, we took a life-changing step -- we are going home, we are going to Russia."
About a month into Russia's war with Ukraine, Bibilov said South Ossetia would take the legal steps necessary to join Russia.
The referendum roughly follows the pattern of Crimea. After Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, a referendum was held on joining Russia and 97% were said to have voted in favor. The referendum was held while Crimea was under the control of Russian troops and the result was not recognized by most countries. Russia then annexed Crimea.