Size clearly does not matter for breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia in their quest for international acceptance of their de-facto independence from Georgia. Tuvalu, the world’s second-smallest island nation, reportedly has become the latest convert to join the Abkhazia and South Ossetia fan club by recognizing the two disputed territories as separate states, the de facto Abkhaz and South Ossetian governments announced today.
Tuvalu government officials could not be reached for confirmation of the reports, which have been disseminated primarily by Russian media.
In case you forgot, the world’s smallest island country, Nauru, which shares an ocean and (apparently) views on Abkhazia and South Ossetia with Tuvalu, recognized the two breakaway Caucasus regions back in 2009. Geographically speaking, the islands combined are many mega-times smaller than the controversial combo of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but as UN members, they bring votes into the equation.
Speaking of the UN, if the reports are confirmed, officials in Tbilisi may well feel like they were just slapped in the face. Last year, Georgia, not a regular international aid donor, gave Tuvalu $12,000-worth of medicine after Tuvalu backed a UN resolution that called for the return of displaced ethnic Georgians to Abkhazia.
Some observers within Georgia, though, were quick to ascribe Tuvalu’s apparent change of mind to Russia, the main and deep-pocketed champion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s recognition as independent states.
With the holiday season over, the Tamada is back with news from exotic destinations. Nicaragua and South Ossetia are now busy trying to prove that a 12,000-kilometer distance and many other differences need not stand in the way of a perhaps random, but still beautiful friendship.
Separatist South Ossetia's de facto ambassador to Nicaragua and Venezuela, Narim Kozayev, dropped by to see Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega on September 6, just over a month after the tiny Caucasus enclave established its embassy to Nicaragua "with a residence" in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. Yes, you read that right. Put it down to budget discipline or a desire by Tskhinvali to keep a close tab on things, but, apparently, Kozayev will not have far to travel to take up his mission to Nicaragua.
But if the address of the embassy's residence struck Ortega as odd, he didn't let on. Accepting the de facto ambassador’s credentials, Ortega said that Nicaragua and South Ossetia had clicked right off and found that rare political chemistry that may help two misfits gain acceptance in the international community.
“We are small peoples, but we have a deep sense of identity,” Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news service quoted Ortega as saying. “We are in a battle for self-determination, sovereignty and independence. This battle is our common denominator.”
But the bigger common denominator Ortega chose to omit is Russia, which is believed to have motivated longtime ally Nicaragua (plus Venezuela and Nauru) to recognize South Ossetia’s independence from Georgia.
So far, South Ossetia maintains de facto embassies in Moscow and the fellow post-Soviet breakaway regions of Abkhazia and Transnistria.
Imagine an identification document with no citizenship -- no country and no religion, too, as the late John Lennon would say. Georgia on July 1 voted to issue such “status-neutral” papers for the residents of the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
This is not because Tbilisi had a sudden fit of cosmopolitanism and does not believe in national borders anymore. Quite the opposite. The government hopes that the IDs and their attached benefits will help nudge residents of the two separatist regions back into the Georgian fold.
Holders of the IDs “will be entitled to the same civil rights and social benefits” available to all Georgian citizens, as well as the ability to travel abroad, according to the Georgian government's Action Plan for Engagement. Most residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia now can only travel abroad with Russian passports.
Officially, Tbilisi maintains that the de facto governments of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are passive offshoots of Moscow. The ID proposal is seen as an attempt to bypass those power structures and reach out to the territories' residents themselves.
Mission impossible? Nearly 20 years have passed since both territories effectively parted ways with Tbilisi, and, with recognition from four countries (Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru) now under their belts, said power structures see little reason for anyone to carry around a Georgia-issued ID card with them.
Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that, with a new government in place, the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu this week revoked its recognition of separatist Abkhazia. If confirmed, this would make for the fourth twist in a hopelessly twisted tale.
After a long exchange with legislators (supposedly touching on "lawmaking practices and perspectives for the country's development," according to parliamentary spokesperson Inna Gabarayeva), the Kokoity fans finally left, but some news outlets described the incident as an attempt at a power grab. Several parliamentarians resigned in protest.
Kokoity distanced himself from the group and called on prosecutors to investigate the incident. Calling on South Ossetians not to overdramatize the situation, he asked his supporters to stop twisting his arm about running for a third term.
“Such manifestations of popular love for the president and support for his course create tensions among various groups in our society and lead to destabilization of the situation,” Kokoity said in a statement. “There will be no third term.”
The South Pacific island of Vanuatu has spoken: its recognition of breakaway Abkhazia as a sovereign state is official and final.
A video statement released by Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot shed light on the island nation's seemingly bipolar take on Abkhazia. Although Vanuatu’s UN envoy earlier had passionately denied the news, the minister said that his country did recognize Abkhazia.
Carlot said that he had failed to shoot an update to the envoy in New York because he was in Seoul at the time. The envoy, Donald Kalpokas, told The New York Times that he does not want to “touch” Carlot “because he is the minister.”
Carlot said that the recognition came as part of Vanuatu’s battle for “eradicating colonialism from the face of the earth of this planet.” A graduate of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Diplomatic Academy, he asserted that he “has a little bit of understanding of the geopolitical situation in that region.”
Vanuatu is the fifth country after Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru to recognize the independence of Abkhazia, which rest of the world regards as part of Georgia. The breakaway region's official news agency, Apsnypress, reports that a local textile shop has sewn a flag for Vanuatu to commemorate the news.
First, you make international headlines -- thanks largely to Russian media assistance -- with reports about recognizing breakaway Abkhazia as an independent country. Then, your envoy at the UN declares that you did not recognize anything, much less Abkhazia, and calls the news “defamation” and “disrespect.”
But Abkhazia's de facto Foreign Minister Maxim Gunjia, the original source of the recognition story, sticks to his claim that the recognition did happen, and says that he holds written proof of the deed. Perhaps the UN envoy is just not in the swing of things, he adds.
There has got to be a way to make your word final on this. Since phone, email and pigeon inquiries from Tbilisi do not reach your South Pacific shores easily, perhaps posting a statement on your official website can help? Or your Facebook fan page, which now has 196 “likes,” including one from Georgia.
Do it at least for New Zealand (one of your major aid donors), where media have started asking if the Kiwis are at risk of being dragged into this perceived South Pacific rivalry between the US and Russia over Georgia.
Truth to tell, back in 2004, when Bagapsh first ran for breakaway Abkhazia's presidency, the then energy company director had not been Putin's pick. In fact, Tbilisi sighed with relief when Bagapsh, who did not smile upon closer ties with Georgia, defeated the Russia-favored Raul Khajimba in the election.
But with the region’s de facto presidency now up for grabs and growing wariness with Russia among the Abkhaz, Putin came to put his ducks in a row. The point he made to the Abkhaz boils down to a single message: whoever you elect next, there is not much you can achieve without Russian protection and Russian money.
It looks as if Abkhazia’s de-facto government is consulting exotic tour guides when looking for possible allies around the world. The South Pacific island of Vanuatu reportedly has become yet another palm-tree-filled destination that calls Abkhazia a country, following the suit of Nauru, Nicaragua, Venezuela and, in the mostly-palm-tree-free category, Russia.
Abkhazia’s de-facto Foreign Minister Maxim Gunjia praised its newfound ally in the South Pacific for displaying courage in the face of headwind from the West, which maintains that Abkhazia is still part of Georgia. “Despite likely pressure, they [the Vanuatuans] did not get scared, but recognized [Abkhazia],” Gundjiasaid, Kavkazsky Uzel reported.
But, if so, the Vanuatuans appear to prefer to keep news of their bravery to themselves. The government has not yet posted any official announcement about recognition of Abkhazia on its portal, and could not be reached for commentary. Reporting has come largely from Russian news sites.
The reaction from Tbilisi, however, came thick and fast. "First, I will look up this country on a map and then I will comment on the matter of its recognition of Abkhazia," said Pavle Kublashvili, a senior parliamentarian from Georgia's ruling United National Movement party, GHN news agency reported.
As Foreign Policy's The Cable blog reported yesterday, violence recently broke out on the disputed border between Georgia and the breakaway republic of S. Ossetia, with a group of 15 people being shot at by either S. Ossetian or Russian troops. Two people were killed and four injured in the incident, according to the report, which stated the group was in the area "collecting food."
But just what was this "food" they were collecting? According to Kebabistan's Georgian sources, the food in question is jonjoli, a wild green that is a staple of the Georgian kitchen. Says EurasiaNet's Giorgi Lomsadze, via email: "Jonjoli is a bush (Staphylea colchica). The pickled sprouts of this bush are a popular appetizer/side dish. It is normally mixed with olive oil and sometimes with other . . . pickled veggie[s], such as cucumber, pepper, or tomatoes. It's mostly associated with western Georgia, has a strange taste but everyone loves it for some reason. There are no popular beliefs connected to jonjoli, but it is a must on a Georgian supra, or traditional feast table. Some are apparently dying to get it."