Russia has signed an alliance and integration deal with Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia amid tensions with the West over the crisis in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his South Ossetian counterpart, Leonid Tibilov, inked the agreement in the Russian capital city of Moscow on Wednesday.
Putin described the accord as a “landmark” treaty, adding, “Another step is being taken today to strengthen our partnership.”
"A joint defense and security zone will be created between our two countries, our customs agencies will be integrated and border crossings for our citizens will become open," he said.
Under the treaty, South Ossetia's military and economy will be incorporated into Russia's. The document also makes it easier for South Ossetians to obtain Russian citizenship.
Moscow also signed a similar treaty with Abkhazia last December. The document was ratified by the Russian parliament in January this year.
Wednesday’s signing ceremony coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Crimean Peninsula’s integration into the Russian Federation.
Crimea declared independence from Ukraine and formally applied to become part of Russia following a referendum on March 16, 2014, in which almost 97 percent of the participants voted for rejoining Russia, with a turnout of over 83 percent. A few days later, Putin signed into law documents that officially made the Black Sea peninsula part of the Russian Federation despite condemnation from the West and the new Ukrainian government.
The move sparked angry reactions from the United States and the European Union, both imposing sanctions against a number of Russian officials and authorities in Crimea.
The Moscow-West relations have been extremely tense in recent months. The West accuses Moscow of supporting pro-Russia forces in east Ukraine, saying the Russian intervention poses a security threat to Ukraine and all other neighboring states. Russia has strongly denied the allegations.