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

Vanuatu leaders still disagree over Abkhazia recognition

Less than three months ago, Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Sato Kilman met with his Abkhazian counterpart Viacheslav Chirikba in Moscow and confirmed that although Vanuatu had established diplomatic relations with Georgia, it had never stopped recognising Abkhazia, and that he hoped relations with Abkhazia would soon be ‘finalised’ as well. While somewhat surprising, this statement was not directly contradictory, because there did not in fact seem to exist any explicit previous statement by Vanuatu terminating its recognition of Abkhazia.

That is, until now, because last week Kilman was dismissed as Foreign Minister by Prime Minister Joe Natuman and in a press conference on Tuesday, Natuman listed Kilman’s meeting with Chirikba among the reasons for his dismissal, claiming that the government’s position had always been that Abkhazia is part of Georgia. (Of Natuman’s complaints, the most serious was that Kilman reportedly failed to properly represent Vanuatu’s support for West Papuan self-determination, in particular declaring that Vanuatu planned to open an embassy in Indonesia, a statement already publicly refuted by Natuman at the time.)

However, according to Natuman, the immediate reason for dismissing Kilman was his support for opposition plans to topple him. And in another twist befitting Vanuatu’s political tradition, today the opposition managed to pass a vote of no confidence against Natuman and to elect Kilman as the new Prime Minister.

Filed under: Abkhazia, The Great Recognition Game, Vanuatu, ,

Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Lugansk, Donetsk: the demerits of mutual recognition

On 13 May, President of the Donetsk People’s Republic Alexander Zakharchenko announced that it formally recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On 28 January South Ossetia had already received recognition from Lugansk. This follows last year’s decision by South Ossetia to recognise Lugansk (18 June) and Donetsk (27 June). The People’s Council of Lugansk was to consider recognition of Abkhazia on 13 March, but that has so far not materialised.

Somewhat paradoxically, the formal statements of recognition by Lugansk and Donetsk are not very complimentary, because when a new state is formed (the position Lugansk and Donetsk consider themselves to be in) it does not as a matter of principle recognise the independence of established states. So if they had wanted to do Abkhazia and South Ossetia a favour, Lugansk and Donetsk should have simply treated their independence as self-evident.

There is a remarkable asymmetry between Abkhazia and South Ossetia in this matter. While South Ossetia has pushed ahead, agreeing to establish full diplomatic relations, opening representative offices in Lugansk and Donetsk on 16 April and receiving representative offices of Lugansk and Donetsk on 28 April, Abkhazia has so far resisted recognising either Lugansk or Donetsk.

Abkhazia’s reticence, waiting for the situation to stabilise and following Russia’s lead (which does not appear close to recognition), seems more prudent than South Ossetia’s eagerness. It is quite unfortunate for Abkhazia and South Ossetia that the narrative of Russia creating and controlling separatist movements and actively starting and prolonging wars and sustained violence, concocted as an explanation — mostly false and wholly unhelpful — for Georgia’s conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is true in respect to Ukraine, Lugansk and Donetsk. Unsurprisingly, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are now often compared to the Ukrainian conflict. They may be best advised not to further strengthen this association, and limit their contacts with Lugansk and Donetsk to humanitarian and cultural support.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Donbass, South Ossetia, The Great Recognition Game

Vanuatu Foreign Minister: recognition of Abkhazia has “not changed”

In a 31 March interview with RIA Novosti, Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Sato Kilman confirmed that Vanuatu does in fact still recognise Abkhazia.

Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia’s independence has received a lot of pushback throughout the years. When the news first broke in 2011, Vanuatu’s representative to the United Nations Donald Kalpokas emphatically denied it was true when asked by the New York Times. And 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 before long Kilman was re-instated as Prime Minister and Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia reconfirmed.

In 2013, Kilman was ousted as Prime Minister by a government led by Moana Carcasses Kalosil and having Natapei as Minister for Foreign Affairs. This government agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Georgia, and Donald Kalpokas (whose authority was unclear since he had been formally retired as representative to the United Nations) signed an agreement in which Abkhazia was explicitly stated to be part of Georgia. Georgia’s government also claimed that Carcasses had actually withdrawn Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia, but there were no statements from ni-Vanuatu officials to back this up.

However, Carcasses’s government fell in May 2014 and Joe Natuman, who had been Foreign Minister under Natapei, has been Prime Minister since. Sato Kilman is Foreign Minister in this government and on 30 March, during a visit to Moscow to discuss relief following Hurricane Pam, he met with his Abkhazian counterpart Viacheslav Chirikba. The day after, he stated in an interview RIA Novosti that “nothing had changed” in respect to Vanuatu’s 2011 recognition of Abkhazia, and that Carcasses’s government had merely decided to pursue diplomatic relations with Georgia, noting that he didn’t consider these to be incompatible with relations with Abkhazia, which he hoped would soon be finalised.

It is clear that Vanuatu’s frequent government changes play an important role in its ambivalent attitude towards Abkhazia. And it may be the case that its contradictory statements have been influenced by the desire to remain on friendly terms with Russia on the one hand and with Western powers on the other. But part of the confusion is certainly also due to unclarity over what constitutes recognition and diplomatic relations. Despite the May 2011 document explicitly stating that Abkhazia and Vanuatu resolved to “establish diplomatic relations at the level of Ambassadors from the signing of this statement”, and despite Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot’s October 2011 explanation that “Vanuatu signed diplomatic relations with the Republic of Abkhazia”, it seems that Vanuatu considers diplomatic relations to not have been finalised. And so a number of ni-Vanuatu statements that have been interpreted as a denial of its recognition of Abkhazia in fact pertained only to having full diplomatic relations.

[Previous stories in this series]

Filed under: Abkhazia, The Great Recognition Game, Vanuatu, , , , ,

Tuvalu re-establishes diplomatic ties with Georgia following EU pressure

On 31 March Georgia and Tuvalu re-established diplomatic relations. Georgia had previously broken off diplomatic relations on 16 February 2012, after Tuvalu had recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The signed document reportedly includes a statement that Tuvalu considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be part of Georgia. This is a political victory for Georgia — even if it is dubious whether recognition can legally be withdrawn and even though Abkhazia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Irakli Khintba reported that as of 31 March, Tuvalu had not formally broken off diplomatic relations with Abkhazia. It would not be so significant had Abkhazia and South Ossetia managed to obtain further recognitions in the meantime, but they haven’t, so it is.

But this decision is also significant for another reason. In an interview with Radio New Zealand International, Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Taukelina Finikaso explained the recent about-face by stating that he hoped that financial assistance from the European Union would now increase, after having slumped following Tuvalu’s original recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This demonstrates the hypocrisy behind complaints that recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was ‘bought’ by Russia through financial assistance. One should not have doubted that western countries are not above such tactics, but it is nonetheless instructive to receive explicit confirmation.

Filed under: Abkhazia, European Union, Georgia, South Ossetia, The Great Recognition Game, Tuvalu

Behind the scenes, struggle over recognition of Abkhazia by Pacific countries continues

There has not been much news recently regarding Abkhazia’s attempts to achieve more widespread diplomatic recognition, or attempts by Georgia to undo these efforts. But two tidbits of information in recent days indicate that, behind the scenes, this struggle is still very much ongoing.

On 19 November, Vanuatu’s Daily Post reported that the opposition had made public an email alleged to have been sent to Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil and Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Edward Natapei, urging them to reconsider breaking off relations with Abkhazia and suggesting that the decision to establish relations with Georgia instead had been made in return for ‘lobbying assistance’ (apparently in the form of funds to be transferred through Georgia’s embassy in London) to achieve a change in government in Vanuatu (at the time Natapei was one of the leaders of the opposition).

Today, Georgia’s Minister for Reintegration announced before Parliament that efforts were ongoing to convince one of the countries that recognise Abkhazia’s independence to ‘undo’ this decision, apparently hinting at Tuvalu, which recently saw a change in government.

Time will tell what will come of this.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Georgia, The Great Recognition Game, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, , , ,

Georgia and Vanuatu establish diplomatic relations

On 12 July, Georgia’s Foreign Ministry announced that diplomatic relations had been established with Vanuatu. The news comes as no surprise as the intention to do so was already expressed by Vanuatu’s former Minister for Foreign Affairs Alfred Carlot in March, and by Vanuatu’s new government in April. Furthermore, with respect to Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia, the establishment of diplomatic relations with Georgia is in itself much less relevant than Vanuatu’s general political support for Georgia as of late.

What is interesting is that the agreement signed in New York explicitly affirms that Vanuatu recognises Georgia’s territory as comprising Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But this does not yet amount to a formal suspension of Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia. The agreement was signed by ni-Vanuatu Ambassador to the U.N. Donald Kalpokas, who has a history of going against his government on the issue, triggering an attempt by Alfred Carlot to recall him (it is in fact doubtful whether he is actually still Ambassador to the U.N. at the moment).

And while President Saakashvili claimed in May that Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil of Vanuatu had confirmed to him having withdrawn recognition, a video of the meeting does not back this up, and ni-Vanuatu sources only affirm that Vanuatu has decided not to maintain diplomatic relations with Abkhazia, a subtle difference. (From the perspective of international law, it would be quite irresponsible of Vanuatu to withdraw recognition without this being merited by changed circumstances on the ground.)

Nevertheless, this is clearly a PR-victory for Georgia. Vanuatu’s change of mind would be unimpressive if Abkhazia had since secured recognition from a series of other countries, but at the moment, it only serves to underline that it has not. (Even though Abkhazia’s task to overcome Georgian and U.S. lobbying and expectations of monetary reward — justified or not — is a truly formidable one.)

Ni-Vanuatu politicians don’t come off looking very well from this. Radio New Zealand International quoted former Vanuatu Foreign Minister Jo Natuman as speculating that Alfred Carlot started pursuing friendly relations with Georgia after failing to secure money from Russia for recognising Abkhazia. This receives some confirmation by a recent statement by Australia Ministry for Foreign Affairs official Lachlan Strahan, who admitted that Russia hadn’t actually paid money to pacific states for recognising Abkhazia. And there were reports — evidently believed by former Prime Minister Sato Kilman — that one party had asked Georgia for money in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Georgia, The Great Recognition Game, Vanuatu, , , ,

New developments in Vanuatu

After a relatively uneventful period, three recent events in Vanuatu are relevant for relations with Abkhazia.

First, on 18 March Radio New Zealand International reported that Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot had over the weekend declared in a Radio Vanuatu interview that Vanuatu wanted to establish diplomatic relations with Georgia. And Director-General of the Ministry Johnny Koanapo denied to Radio New Zealand International that Vanuatu had ever established relations with Abkhazia, stating that the document signed at the time had only been a statement of intention.

Then, only a week later, the government of Prime Minister Sato Kilman was overturned in a no-confidence motion. In the new government, led by Moana Carcasses, Carlot was replaced as Foreign Minister by opposition leader Edward Natapei, an opponent of the recognition of Abkhazia.

And lastly, one of the very first acts of the new government was Natapei’s dismissal of Ti Tham Goiset as (designated) Ambassador to Russia and the Eastern Countries, including, presumably, at some future point, Abkhazia.

Koanopa’s statement seems patently false, as the document signed at the time was made public, and it unambiguously establishes diplomatic relations with immediate effect, and Foreign Minister Carlot is on record as reaffirming Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia and the establishment of diplomatic relations, with the government’s official website carrying a message to the same effect.

Goiset has claimed that her dismissal is illegal since such a decision can only be taken by the President, but this in turn was contested by the Ministry.

It is worth noting that Koanopa did not deny that Vanuatu has recognised Abkhazia’s independence, and that Natapei has not addressed this either. Moreover, Abkhazian Prime Minister Leonid Lakerbaia has congratulated Carcasses with his appointment, and likewise, Foreign Minister Viacheslav Chirikba Natapei with his. Perhaps ni-Vanuatu officials have accepted that the recognition of Abkhazia cannot really be undone (unlike diplomatic relations, which can be broken off).

It should also be pointed out that ni-Vanuatu officials have a record of issuing contradictory statements. Thus, for example, the scandal that has plagued Vanuatu in recent months is that of the super-yacht Phocea. Towards the end of February, Phocea was issued provisional registration by the Maritime Technical Advisory Committee so it could leave Vanuatu. A week later, the Minister of Finance declared the committee ‘unqualified’, because “the Maritime Authority which appointed the Committee has been defunct since 2007”.

Filed under: Abkhazia, The Great Recognition Game, Vanuatu, , , , ,

Book review: Contested States in World Politics by Deon Geldenhuys

Contested States in World Politics
Deon Geldenhuys
Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke
April 2009
305 pages
ISBN: 978-0-230-57552-3

A commonly heard argument against recognition of Kosovo or Abkhazia is that it would create an immense precedent, given that there are hundreds of separatist movements in the world. If Kosovo or Abkhazia, then why not also Kurdistan or Euskal Herria? This reasoning is partially correct, in that the decision to recognise a state should be based upon a due evaluation of the arguments pro and contra, and that surely a similar set of arguments in a different part of the world should lead to the same outcome. But mostly, this argument is unnecessarily alarmist, since it ignores the fact that as separatist causes go, Kosovo and Abkhazia are rather special.

Kosovars and Abkhazians control a delineated chunk of land with a permanent population (a state) whose independence may be recognised or not, whereas Basques nor Kurds have a sovereign polity that could be recognised. If some states are considering recognition of Kosovo or Abkhazia partially because this presents a mere coming to terms with reality, then this in itself is simply not a precedent for the Basques or the Kurds, or for that matter for the vast majority of the world’s separatist movements.

Contested States in World Politics by Deon Geldenhuys is about those ten cases which are somewhat similar to Kosovo and Abkhazia. Geldenhuys’s choice to designate these states contested over the more common de facto and unrecognised is a nice find. Many of the states in question enjoy some recognition, and contested captures much better than de facto that it is the legality (de jure) rather than the empirical existence (de facto) of their independence that is at stake.

Geldenhuys’s book is divided into two parts. The first is conceptual, the second summarises the background of each of the ten contested states.

Geldenhuys’s set of ten states still shows a lot of pluriformity. The core set of prototypical secessions is formed by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Somaliland, Kosovo, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) and Nagorno Karabakh. Of these, the last four came about between 1989 and 1993 through the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While they recognise each other’s independence, only Abkhazia and South Ossetia enjoy some recognition by uncontested states. Kosovo is a late product of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, after it declared independence in 2008 it is now recognised by more than 80 states. Northern Cyprus seceded from Cyprus in 1983 following the 1974 invasion by Turkey, which is the only state to recognise its independence. Finally, Somaliland seceded in 1991 from its union with Somalia originally established in 1960 following their decolonisation. It remains completely unrecognised despite some diplomatic contact with neighbouring countries.

The remaining three cases are less straight-forward. The State of Palestine is the oddest one out among the ten contested states, as it is the only one that does not enjoy any de facto independence — it is almost as hypothetical as Kurdistan. It does not control any land or people — all it has is a nominal government, which doubles as the government of the autonomous Palestinian National Authority in Israel. Still, it has managed to obtain recognition by more than 120 states, which justifies its inclusion as a contested state. In addition, even Israel and the United States, in some sense its most ardent opponents, grudgingly recognise that a Palestinian State should come about at some point in the future. It thus serves as a much more relevant precedent for separatist Basques or Kurds than Kosovo and Abkhazia.

Next, the Republic of China, more commonly known as Taiwan, is also very special in that it has undergone a reverse development. It has been independent since 1912, its independence was previously uncontroversial and it used to control vastly more land and people than it does now. However, after its civil war with the communist counter-government, it was driven back to the island of Taiwan, and the great majority of states chose to recognise the communist state as the state of all China. The Republic of China is in the curious position that of all contested states, it provokes the least controversy, and is commonly identified as an independent country by non-state publications, despite being formally recognised as such by a mere 23 states.

Finally, the lot of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic somewhat resembles that of the Republic of China in that its fortunes have declined over the years, and that of Palestine, in that it has much more diplomatic support than empirical presence on the ground. It declared its independence in 1976, following the departure of the Spanish colonial administration, but its control of the Western Sahara is severely limited due to the Moroccan invasion in 1975 and the ensuing civil war. It now only governs the thin sliver of desert called the Free Zone, home to few people, and its government sits in Algerian exile. Nevertheless it is still recognised by more than 50 countries and is a member of the African Union.

The summaries in the book of these 10 cases are sufficiently detailed for an introduction to the particularities of each, and they are overall quite well-informed. Being summaries, the information is also readily available on the internet and in other literature, but it’s nice to have it all in one place. All ten owe their independence to unique historical crises, like the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and this ought to put at ease fears that their recognition would cause other secessionist regions to frivolously break away as well.

In particular, the section on Somaliland manages well to convey the absurdity of the fact that the international community refuses to recognise its independence, even though it is a well-governed state even by continent-wide standards, let alone the train wreck that is Somalia, for which it should be held up as a shining example. Instead, the international position amounts to demanding that Somaliland cease its rebellion and loyally return under the fold of a government that literally didn’t exist for much of the nineties and which since then has been unable to control even the entirety of its capital (Mogadishu).

The first, conceptual part of the book comprises three chapters. Of these, the third investigates some arrangements that can constitute an alternative to secession. As such, it is not very relevant in a book devoted to states that exist by virtue of the fact that they refuse to have their secession be undone. Some, like Northern Cyprus and perhaps the PMR may eventually give in, but the particular arrangements proposed for them are much better described in the dedicated sections of the book’s second part.

The first chapter discusses the definition of an independent state and recognition in international law and what makes a contested state contested. The second traces throughout history the status of the principle of self-determination in international law and the legality of secession. These two chapters are the intellectual core of the book, but the succession of often conflicting statements from international treaties and scholars in international law leaves one with the impression that at best, international law is merely descriptive in nature, and at worst, that it doesn’t really mean very much.

For example, the book describes one common view in international law (the declaratory theory of statehood) which holds that an independent state is formed by a government which considers itself independent, governing a certain permanently inhabited territory and its population. This definition is perfectly sensible, it is an apt empirical definition of what a state is. But then we don’t really need international law to tell us this — de jure independence turns out to be the same as de facto independence. Even worse, one might naively expect states to recognise other states as legally (de jure) independent based on a straight-forward evaluation of these criteria. But then none of the states under review would be contested. The fact of the matter is that states don’t seem to care about the international legal definition of a state. And why should they? After all, by their nature states are sovereign and can (within bounds) pretty damn well do as they please. It serves states’ interests much better to base state recognition on political considerations. But that pretty much obliterates the notion that there is universally valid international law. Instead, at best there are as many international legal realities as there are sovereign states (at worst, as many as there are people).

Geldenhuys notes that there is a competing view in international law on what constitutes an independent state, the constitutive theory. This holds that a state becomes independent by virtue of being recognised. Now, this makes de jure independence usefully different from de facto independence. But it reinforces the view that international law is completely in the eye of the beholder, since recognition is something states decide individually. And secondly, if legal independence is a consequence of recognition, it becomes inherently impossible for recognition to take into account the legal definition of independence. If international law fails to be prescriptive, can we still call it law, or does it simply reduce to international politics?

Of course, the author is not responsible for the general failings of the discipline. But in the end, he insufficiently manages to make sense of the conflicting opinions and practices in regards to statehood for the reader to be left much the wiser. The second half of the book presents a nice overview of the ten contested states, but this may only justify its rather steep price for a handful of people particularly interested in the topic.

Filed under: Abkhazia, Book reviews, Kosovo, Nagorno Karabakh, Northern Cyprus, Palestine, Pridnestrovie, Sahrawi Republic, Somaliland, South Ossetia, Taiwan, The Great Recognition Game, , , , ,

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, , , ,

Unclarity surrounding Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia due to political crisis in Vanuatu?

Shortly after President Sergei Bagapsh’s death on May the 29th, Foreign Minister Maksim Gvinjia announced that Abkhazia and Vanuatu had established diplomatic relations on the 23rd and that by extension, Abkhazia had been recognised as an independent state by Vanuatu. The news was slowly taken up by various media while confirmation by Vanuatu’s government was not forthcoming. The only source which suggested that it had actually received a confirmation was the New York Times, but that could just have been a paraphrase of the Abkhazian Foreign Ministry’s statement. Of course, it doesn’t help that Vanuatu’s presence on the internet seems to be practically non-existent, even though it has about the same population size as Abkhazia (243,304 per the 2009 census).

Then on June the 3rd Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that Vanuatu’s ambassador to the UN had denied the news. Confusingly, on the same day, Radio Fiji came forward with more details about the alledged establishment of diplomatic relations. It reported that the agreement had been signed in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, between Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Sato Kilman and Abkhazia’s Prime Minister Sergei Shamba.

All the while, the official website of Vanuatu’s government doesn’t carry any news more recent than May the 15th. Its most recent news item however provides one possible explanation for Vanuatu’s incoherent position. Apparently, on April the 24th a motion of no-confidence against Sato Kilman had been adopted by 26 of Parliament’s 52 members. This decision was then unsuccessfully challenged before court on the 30th, but on May the 13th the Court of Appeal found that the motion was unconstitutional since it had not been supported by an absolute majority and that Kilman’s government was to govern as before.

However, Kilman does not enjoy the support of half of Parliament’s members, and during his absence a new government had already been formed headed by Serge Vohor. All this should be sufficient reason for some disarray among Vanuatu’s government institutions. It also puts its recognition of Abkhazia’s independence (if it really happened) on a rather uncertain footing. Especially so since Vanuatu has previously gone back and forth on recognising Taiwan and the Sahrawi Republic and its stance in these matters seems to depend very much on the person who is currently Prime Minister.

The news report from Radio Fiji raises one other question. Did Sergei Shamba really fly all the way to the Pacific last week? If so, he has managed to keep it awfully quiet.

Filed under: Abkhazia, The Great Recognition Game, Vanuatu, , , , ,

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