Vanuatu, a diplomatically schizophrenic island in the South Pacific, just had another of its many mood swings vis-à-vis the South Caucasus' territorial disputes. The island nation, which has been twitching between recognizing and not recognizing breakaway Abkhazia’s independence from Georgia, now says it is picking Tbilisi over Sokhumi, Radio New Zealand International reports.
The 12,000-square-kilometer archipelago with the self-conscious national motto of “Yumi, yumi, yumi” ("We, we, we") has asked Georgia to forget about the misunderstandings of the past and come into its diplomatic embrace.
Vanuatu threw itself into the middle of the international controversy over Abkhazia’s status in 2011 after the breakaway region's de-facto government reported that the country had become the sixth to recognize Abkhazia's Russia-backed independence from Georgia. Journalists and diplomats went chasing Vanuatu officials for confirmation, but they just could not get a definitive response.
Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot was first to confirm that his nation had recognized Abkhazia's recognition, then Vanuatu’s UN envoy Donald Kalpokas said it had not. Carlot responded by saying it had. Abkhazia's de-facto foreign ministry, for its part, waving a signed document establishing diplomatic relations "on the level of ambassadors," said it had the proof.
But now it seems that, nearly two years on, the island has, once again, decided. The official line is that it had only been "thinking" about recognizing Abkhazia as independent.
“There’s been a confusion,” Johnny Koanapo, Vanuatu’s director-general for foreign affairs, conceded, RNZI reported. It was never Vanuatu’s intention to anger the good people of Georgia and its western allies. Now the island wants to be friends with Tbilisi, not that breakaway place, he said.
Vanuatu’s sudden interest in the faraway, complicated world of Caucasian territorial battles has been largely seen a result of Russia’s aid-for-Abkhazia-recognition policy. Venezuela and Nicaragua are the only queen-size countries to follow Russia’s suit, and recognize Abkhazia and fellow breakaway South Ossetia's independence after Georgia's 2008 war with Russia. The South Pacific statelets of Nauru and Tuvalu complete the roster.
Likewise, Vanuatu’s second thoughts about Abkhazia’s status are seen as a result of Georgia putting pressure on Vanuatu via its influential friends in the West.
But can the island be trusted now? After all, Vanuatu’s foreign policy seems to depend most on which of the many voices in its head prevails.