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

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 Georgia’s government also claimed that Carcasses had actually withdrawn Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia, but there were no statements from ni-Vanuatu officials to back this up.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, , , , ,

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, , , ,

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