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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Anatoly Bibilov, the leader of Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia, during their meeting at the Kremlin on March 6, 2019.PAVEL GOLOVKIN/AFP/Getty Images

The president of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia said on Wednesday that the territory would take steps in the near future to become part of Russia.

Moscow recognized the territory and the coastal region of Abkhazia as independent after fighting a war with Georgia in 2008. It has provided them with extensive financial support, offered Russian citizenship to their populations and stationed thousands of troops there.

“I believe that unification with Russia is our strategic goal, our path, the aspiration of the people,” Anatoly Bibilov, was quoted as saying by the press service of the United Russia party.

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“We will take the relevant legal steps in the near future. The republic of South Ossetia will be part of its historical homeland – Russia.”

As in the Russian-speaking Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, Moscow has used recognition of the breakaway regions, and the awarding of citizenships, to maintain an armed presence in an area of the former Soviet Union that it sees as part of its natural sphere of influence.

In Ukraine, Russia’s long-standing support for armed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk gave it a platform to launch a large-scale military incursion on Feb. 24, one of whose stated aims is to “liberate” the entire, wider Donbas region from Ukrainian control.

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