Georgia on Thursday denounced as "unacceptable" plans announced by pro-Moscow separatists in the breakaway South Ossetia region to hold a referendum on joining Russia.
South Ossetia was in the center of the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 after which the Kremlin recognized the territory -- along with another separatist region, Abkhazia -- as an independent state and stationed military bases there.
On Wednesday, South Ossetian separatist leader Anatoly Bibilov said the statelet would hold a referendum on joining Russia shortly after the April 10 "presidential election" there.
Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani said Thursday "it is unacceptable to speak of any referendums while the territory is occupied by Russia."
"Such a referendum will have no legal force," he told journalists. "The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the Georgian region is occupied by Russia."
Also on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow hasn't taken any "legal" steps on the matter.
"But at the same time, we are talking about people of South Osseita expressing their opinion and we treat it with respect," Peskov told reporters.
Bibilov's spokeswoman Dina Gassiyeva told Thursday Russia's RIA Novosti news agency that the decision to hold the referendum was "linked with the window of opportunity that opened in the current situation", referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Last week, Bibilov said that South Ossetia had sent troops to fight alongside the invading Russian troops in Ukraine, where thousands of people were killed and more than 10 million displaced.
In August 2008, Russia launched an assault against Georgia which was battling pro-Russian militia in South Ossetia, after they shelled Georgian villages.
The fighting ended after five days with a European Union-mediated ceasefire but claimed more than 700 lives and displaced tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians.