The South Pacific island of Nauru, the world’s smallest republic, sided with Russia in Moscow’s row with Tbilisi over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Now it looks like Georgia has a proxy of its own in the South Pacific.
Georgia on September 10 cleared a shipment of medicine worth “about $12,000” to Tuvalu, an island state north of Fiji, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Kanapadze announced on September 13. Two days earlier, the 12,000-person island, a British Commonwealth member, voted in favor of a non-binding United Nations General Assembly resolution that calls for the return of displaced ethnic Georgians to the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Deputy Foreign Minister Kanapadze maintained that the foreign aid and the UN vote were not part of a quid-pro-quo deal. “The aid to Tuvalu was agreed way before the UN General Assembly and there is no connection between these two issues,” Kanapadze commented on September 13.
A country not ordinarily featured in discussions about the South Caucasus, Tuvalu is a 26-square-kilometer chain of atoll islands with an economy largely dependent on fishing and subsistence farming. A large portion of its revenue of $20.54 million (2006) comes from the US government via a 1988 treaty on fisheries, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook. Royalties on its domain name “.tv” and a trust fund established by Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom provide additional revenue.
Kanapadze termed the aid to Tuvalu “humanitarian assistance to a country in need” that Georgia extended as a member of the international community. “We have also sent aid to other countries, such as Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan,” he added.
Tbilisi dispatched about 10 tons of humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan following this April’s upheaval in Bishkek, and has reportedly dispatched $100,000 worth of humanitarian aid to Pakistan, a strategic ally for the US-led campaign in Afghanistan, after flooding there this summer.
How does Tuvalu, and South Pacific nations in general, factor into Tbilisi’s aid focus? One Tbilisi-based analyst sees a connection to the diplomatic struggle between Russia and Georgia concerning the fates of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive]. Aside from Nauru, Venezuela and Nicaragua have backed the Russian position and have recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
“You need to build whatever alliances you can, as every vote matters at the General Assembly,” commented international affairs analyst Giorgi Mchedlishvili. “Such quid-pro-quo games have long been played by many countries, but Georgia may have a hard time competing with the overwhelming resources of Russia.”
Tuvalu’s neighbor, Nauru, is one South Pacific country that expects to benefit from Russia’s resources. After agreeing in 2009 to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence from Georgia, Nauru allegedly signed on for $50 million in aid from Moscow, according to a report in the Russian daily Kommersant. Nauru’s Foreign Minister Dr. Kieren Keke has also taken the time to travel to South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali to meet with separatist leader Eduard Kokoity. Nauru voted against the UN resolution on returning ethnic Georgians to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as did Russia.
There are definite limits to Georgia’s ability to play the international aid game. Georgia itself ranks as a multi-billion-dollar aid recipient; the government expects that international aid pledges of $4.5 billion, made after Georgia’s 2008 war with Russia, to be complete by the end of 2010. [For background see the EurasiaNet's archive].
Georgia isn’t the only country to provide assistance for Tuvalu. Cuba, a longtime ally of Moscow, has agreed to train medical students from Tuvalu at its Latin American School of Medicine. And Tuvalu isn’t the only South Pacific country to attract Tbilisi’s notice. In just the past year, Georgia has set up diplomatic ties with the Maldives, Fiji and Samoa, among others. Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently announced that one of its top priorities is establishing diplomatic relations with over 50 UN member states.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.