The leader of South Ossetia has called this Friday a referendum on July 17 for that separatist region of Georgia to rule on its integration with Russia.

“Anatoli Bibilov signed a decree on holding a referendum in the Republic of South Ossetia,” the leader’s cabinet said, mentioning the “historical aspiration” of the inhabitants of that Caucasian region to join Russia. “We are going home,” Bibilov said in a message on Telegram.

“It is time to unite once and for all. South Ossetia and Russia will be together. It is the beginning of a new and great history,” added the outgoing leader, who was defeated at the polls earlier this month.

Russia has, however, expressed its expectation of “continuity” under the administration of the next leader of that separatist zone, Alan Gagloev.

South Ossetia and Georgia clashed in 2008 in an armed conflict after Russia recognized their independence, as did that of Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian region.

Bibilov has called the referendum on the 79th day of the offensive launched by Russia against Ukraine, which has left thousands dead and has forced more than six million Ukrainians to flee the country.

Ukraine’s breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk have also signaled their intention to join Russia.

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