"Anatoly Bibilov signed a decree on holding a referendum in the Republic of South Ossetia," an official government statement said, citing the citizenry's "historic aspiration" to join Russia.
The referendum is set to take place on July 17, the government said.."
"We are coming home," Bibilov wrote on messaging app Telegram. "The time has come to unite once and for all. "South Ossetia and Russia will be together. This is the start of a big new story," he added.
The small and largely mountainous region, with a population of roughly 60,000, shares a border with North Ossetia, which is part of Russia.
In August 2008, Russia's militaryintervened in Georgia's conflict with a pro-Russian militia in South Ossetia.
An EU-mediated ceasefire ended the conflict, but more than 700 people died and tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians were displaced.
Russia sees South Ossetia as 'independent'
Georgia has warned in the past that any plans by South Ossetia to hold such vote to join Russia would be deemed "unacceptable."
It all comes in the midst of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow has argued is a military operation to protect and annex a the separatist, ethnic Russian, regions of eastern Ukraine, Donbas and Luhansk.
Moscow has already recognized South Ossetia and the coastal region of Abkhazia as independent after fighting the war with Georgia in 2008, while providing them with financial support.
jcg/wmr (Reuters, AFP)