Friday, March 22, 2013

She Recognizes Me, She Recognizes Me Not: Fickle Vanuatu Dumps Abkhazia for Georgia

Ah, fickle youth!  Older nations like the United States and the major nations of Europe are more staid and loyal in their relationships, but young states still in their national adolescence often split up and pair up as their hormones dictate.  Such was the case this week when Vanuatu (age 32) started a relationship with Georgia (age 21) after unceremoniously dumping its former flame, Abkhazia (age 4—a bit young for romance, but, well, kids—what are you gonna do?).

Conflicting reports from different branches of the Republic of Vanuatu’s government last year left it unclear for a while whether the South Pacific island nation (formerly the New Hebrides) would be one of the handful of independent states to grant diplomatic recognition to the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia.  Those two Moscow-aligned countries in the South Caucasus region unilaterally seceded from the newly independent Republic of Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and then were established more formally as independent states when Georgia tried unsuccessfully to reclaim them in a 2008 war with Russia.

Currently, Abkhazia and South Ossetia receive diplomatic recognition only from the Russian Federation (which sponsors them—“puppet state” not being too strong a word for the relationship); from two leftist-governed Latin American nations—Venezuela and Nicaragua—which do so only to piss off the United States; and by the minuscule Pacific island nations of the Republic of Nauru (the third-smallest country in the world), Tuvalu (the fourth-smallest), and, at one point, Vanuatu.  Tuvalu and Nauru are also among the only 23 countries in the world to recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan), and they do so for the same reason, pretty much: to qualify for lucrative development deals with Russia and Taiwan, respectively.  Taiwan explicitly courts western Pacific nations to extend its marine strategic reach, and it is probably these small states’ willingness to forego the economic benefits of ties with the People’s Republic of China for a cosy relationship with Taiwan that brought them to the attention of the Kremlin in the first place as potential “marks.”

Last year the media and the diplomatic world were jerked back and forth by conflicting reports from Vanuatu’s foreign ministry and the prime minister’s office as to whether it recognized Abkhazia in particular.  For a while it looked as though it were firmly in the recognition camp, but now, on March 18th, Vanuatu’s foreign ministry said that it recognizes only the Republic of Georgia, not Abkhazia.

Abkhazia’s coat of arms
There is similar confusion as to whether the Republic of Kiribati—which consists of 32 Micronesian atolls spread across a million square miles of Pacific—recognizes the two South Caucasus mini-states as well.  Kiribati, a former colony of the United Kingdom, is also a diplomatic partner of Taiwan’s.

Official seal of the Republic of South Ossetia
Russia’s sponsorship of Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence (to say nothing of Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh) represents a kind of double standard, since it is also stonewalling the Republic of Kosovo’s NATO-sponsored quest for United Nations membership on the grounds that it does not want to encourage separatism within its own sometimes-fissiparous federation.  Vanuatu, during its honeymoon with Abkhazia, seems to have had no similar qualms, despite the fact that its own transition to independence in the late 1970s was complicated by the “Coconut War,” during which three separate portions of the archipelago tried to split away: Tanna (a.k.a. Tafea) in the south, N’Makiaute, and Espiritu Santo in the north (which sought independence as the Republic of Vemerana in an insurrection incited by a Lithuanian-American libertarian millionaire).

Don’t worry.  We’ll protect you from NATO.

[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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