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 Georgia’s government also claimed that Carcasses had actually withdrawn Vanuatu’s recognition of Abkhazia, but there were no statements from ni-Vanuatu officials to back this up.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

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, , , ,

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, , , , ,

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, , , ,

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