Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia has signalled that it will formally seek to merge with Russia.
By David Blair, Diplomatic Editor
Mr Kokoity, holder of a Russian passport, is leader of the region's separatists, who use roubles, hold Russian passports and dream of rejoining Russia Photo: REUTERS
This move would amount to Russia’s annexation of an area of another state and the redrawing of the map of a corner of Europe.
South Ossetia, with a largely Russian population of only 70,000, has no viable future as an independent state and observers believe that its only realistic option is to join its giant neighbour.
President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia discussed this option with his South Ossetian counterpart, Eduard Kokoity, earlier this week during a meeting in Moscow.
Znaur Gassiyev, the Speaker of South Ossetia’s parliament, said the enclave would formally join Russia "in several years" or possible earlier. This had been "firmly stated by both leaders” during their meeting in Moscow.
Tarzan Kokoiti, the deputy Speaker, predicted: “We will live in one united Russian state.”
While the Kremlin has recognised South Ossetia as an “independent” country, Russia effectively controls the tiny enclave, which has no viable economy and depends largely on smuggling.
If the area merges with Russia, this would be a formal acknowledgement of reality.
At the close of this month’s war with Georgia, Russian troops were in full control of South Ossetia and the other breakaway region, Abkhazia.