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18 Dec 09

Nauru, Kosovo - MasterCard Diplomacy?

The Pacific island state of Nauru has recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of which declared independence from Georgia last year. Can this have Balkan ramifications?
By Tim Judah

Nauru is 21 square kilometres and has an impoverished population of some 11,000. In the last week Kieren Keke, its foreign minister has been in Moscow, Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia and Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia.

According to Radio Free Europe and the Russian newspaper Kommersant Mr Keke secured $50m for “urgent socioeconomic projects in Nauru,” while he was in Moscow.

In South Ossetia Mr Keke said his country aimed to “help the young Caucasus republic to overcome its difficulties” by recognising it. “We will also ask our neighbouring Pacific countries to help you in the same way.”

Nauru is only the fourth country to have recognised the Georgian breakaways, along with Russia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. However, with its recognition it is now the only state in the world to have recognised both them and Kosovo.

It remains to be seen whether the money allegedly connected to this week’s recognitions has also bought the derecognition of Kosovo.

Requests by Balkan Insight to the Nauruan, Russian and Serbian authorities for clarification on this question went unanswered. However a spokesman for the Kosovo Foreign Ministry said: “This does not affect us. We do not expect to be derecognised by Nauru.”

In September last year Nauru joined three Pacific neighbours, the US and Albania in being the only countries to vote against Serbia’s proposal to the UN General Assembly that the International Court of Justice give an advisory opinion on Kosovo’s independence.

Such a strong alignment with the US on that question makes Nauru’s decision to recognise the Georgian breakaways very surprising.

In 2002 China is reported to have offered Nauru $130m to switch its recognition from Taiwan but in 2005 Taiwan offered Nauru a better deal and so recognition was switched back. Since then Taiwan has helped finance its airline and its government website.

For Serbia the Georgian question is extremely difficult because its natural sympathies lie with Georgia, as South Ossetia and Abkhazia have seceded from this former Soviet republic, just as Kosovo has seceded from Serbia. However Russia fought a war with Georgia in August 2008 and then recognised the two breakaways. At the same time, it supports Serbia’s territorial integrity and argued for Serbia at hearings on Kosovo’s independence at the ICJ earlier this month.

Serbia, says one senior official, cannot make common cause with Georgia though because this would cross a Russian “red line” as far their relations are concerned.

Likewise fierce opposition from the US and other important countries prevents Kosovo from recognising the two Georgian breakaways. However, last year Abkhazia, did offer mutual recognition to Kosovo.

According to Maxim Gunjia, Abkhazia’s deputy foreign minister, “unfortunately they rejected our proposal.” Today, it is no longer an option.

According to one diplomat source in Kosovo no one there, either in government or in the diplomatic community has made a connection between Nauru’s decision on the Caucasus breakaways and its potential ramifications for Kosovo. “For principles,” he said, “there is the UN, for everything else there is MasterCard.”

Although Nauru is microscopic, in the battle of recognitions, numbers do matter. This week Kosovo was recognised by Malawi. Abkhazia and South Ossetia hope to make inroads next year in Latin America, a region in which Kosovo has only made modest progress, with only five countries recognising so far.
Derecognition is a relatively uncommon phenomenon, but far from unknown. Macedonia switched recognition from China to Taiwan and back again between 1999 and 2001 and in 2004 Albania derecognised Western Sahara which is occupied by Morocco. Nauru recognised Western Sahara in 1981 and then derecognised in 2000, on the same day as two other Pacific neighbours.

Today 64 countries recognise Kosovo and 49 counties recognise Western Sahara. However in the Saharan case 22 countries have reversed their previous recognitions, 13 have frozen relations, one recognising state, Yugoslavia, no longer exists and Serbia, as the successor state has good relations with Morocco and does not recognise Western Sahara.

Last year allegations were made that the Maldives had recognised Kosovo after a $2m bribe had been paid. However in May the Maldives police announced that they could find no evidence that this was true. Since then however the allegation has become part of a law suit involving the foreign minister and opposition leaders.


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