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Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

Vanuatu withdraws its recognition of Abkhazia? – making some sense of a messy story

It now appears that Vanuatu has decided to withdraw its recognition of Abkhazia, after less than a month (June 17th, May 23rd). Normally, diplomatic recognition is a rather simple affair, but Vanuatu’s communication has been so unclear and there have been so many conflicting updates to this story, that Lincoln Mitchell over at the Faster Times even questions whether Vanuatu had ever really recognised Abkhazia.

I think that it is possible to make some sense of this affair, and that Mitchell is coming down a bit hard on Abkhazia’s diplomats. There is no doubt that Vanuatu initially recognised Abkhazia and that diplomatic relations were established. Not only do we have the relevant document published by Kommersant to show for that, it actually says so on Vanuatu’s government website. Abkhazia’s diplomats can hardly be blamed for the initial confusion and the eventual withdrawal of recognition. Rather, these are due to internal Vanuatu politics, and quite likely US pressure. Vanuatu’s ambassador over at the UN is a former Prime Minister and a rival of Prime Minister Kilman (who established diplomatic relations). The recognition has been withdrawn now not because Kilman changed his mind, but because there has been a change in government. This decision was taken by interim Prime Minister Natapei, who already threatened to do so while he was still in opposition.

While I agree with Mitchell that this looks very bad for Abkhazia, I would say we haven’t seen the last of this. The recent change of government came not after a vote of no confidence, but after the Chief Justice ruled that proper procedure had been violated when Kilman was originally elected in December 2010. Natapei is only interim Prime Minister, there is to be a new election (by Parliament) next Thursday. Since in principle, Kilman does actually enjoy the support of a small majority in Parliament, he could simply be re-elected and Abkhazia’s recognition could be re-affirmed. (That is, if no parliamentarians defect, which does happen a lot in Vanuatu.)

What is most damaging about this for Abkhazia is that it shows (as Mitchell argues) that recognitions can be withdrawn. Certainly in the case of Nicaragua and Venezuela also, recognition seems very much dependent on Ortega and Chavez staying in power. In that perspective, Abkhazia is well-advised to seek recognition from countries whose foreign policy is more stable and that are more immune to US bullying (Brazil would be gold for Abkhazia, Peru is perhaps more realistic, given the recent election of Ollanta Humala, who actually tried to get Abkhazia and South Ossetia recognised while still in opposition).

There is another reason why it would be very bitter for Abkhazia if Vanuatu’s recognition proves to be non-permanent. This was the first instance of a country recognising Abkhazia’s independence but not South Ossetia’s, and it also seemed to be the first achievement of Abkhazia’s diplomacy independent of overt Russian support. If Abkhazia wants to achieve wider recognition, it needs to convince the world that it is more than just a Russian foreign policy project. And as its merits for statehood are much better than South Ossetia’s, it wouldn’t hurt if the two cases were disassociated a bit more.

One final observation. The press statement released by interim Prime Minister Natapei, in which he makes public his decision to ‘cancel’ Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia, is a shoddy piece of work. Natapei was in quite a hurry to get this out into the world, the morning after the court decision and seeing that legally, he his currently interim Prime Minister by virtue of the fact that he had lost a vote of no-confidence in December 2009. The press statement not only contains a number of grammatical errors and stylistic oddities (Date at Port Vila on 17th of June 2011?), it also pulls forward the disintegration of the Soviet Union to 1980 and the incorporation of Abkhazia into Georgia to 1930 (should be 1991 and 1931 respectively).

Filed under: Abkhazia, Peru, The Great Recognition Game, United States of America, Vanuatu, , , ,

3 Responses

  1. Horacio Oliveira says:

    The incorporation of Abkhazia into Georgia in 1931? That’s not so simple. The history of Abkhazia being part of Georgia does not begin in 1931. It begins from ancient times – the kingdom of Colchis.

    • Herodotus says:

      To “Horacio” from Georgia:
      “It begins from ancient times – the kingdom of Colchis” – which nobody proved to have existed at all! Correct me, if you have any Colchian document of those times, by virtue of which “Colchian Abkhazia” was a part of “Colchian Georgia”. Better not mix historical mythology with contemporary politics.

  2. […] less than a month later, Sato Kilman was briefly unseated as Prime Minister by Edward Natapei, who very hastily published an error-ridden note in which he `cancelled and withdrew’ recognition. However, not […]

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