Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another Nation Jumps on the Abkhazia Bandwagon

The would-be nations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia received a Christmas present of sorts - more international recognition of their independence. Since the August 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia over the two Georgian regions, official recognition has been hard to come by for the two fledgling states; so far only Venezuela and Nicaragua have agreed with Russia that the two regions are actually independent nations.

But now another country has joined the list, the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru. Never heard of it? You're not alone, I'd be willing to guess few people in either Abkhazia or South Ossetia knew of its existence either before the Nauruans opened diplomatic relations with them. Nauru is the smallest island state in the world, in fact with a population of just 12,000, it's so small that it's the only nation in the world without a capital city. So why would a tiny speck of a nation in the Pacific bother to get involved with post-Soviet politics half a world away? Likely for money.

Nauru's recognition comes as Russia grants the island state a loan of $50 million, money Nauru desperately needs. Nauru's economy had been largely built around an enormous phosphate mine at the center of the island - the result of centuries of accumulated droppings from migrating birds. But the guano mine played out in the 1980's, plunging the nation into a financial crisis. Nauru enjoyed a brief reprise as a money-laundering center, but international regulations put a stop to that as well; the country cannot even rely on tourism since according to Wikipedia: "there is little to see or do here, the climate is very unpleasant, and there are few facilities for tourists." The CIA estimates the economy is in such dire straits that Nauru lacks the funds to even have a functioning government.

Russia's loan is likely enough to keep Nauru solvent for the better part of the next two years. Of course the bigger question is why does Russia care about establishing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations anyway?

The conventional wisdom is that supporting the independence claims of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is a way for Russia to rebuild its sphere of influence in the world. While it's hard to disagree with this notion, even the great minds in the Kremlin have to realize that no one will ever confuse Russia and a collection of statelets like Abkhazia, South Ossetia and perhaps Transdniestria for the Soviet Union. The deep personal dislike between Russia's Vladimir Putin and Georgia's Mikhail Saakashvili also likely has something to do with Russia's strategy - nothing would make Saakashvili look worse than to officially lose to sizable chunks of his country's territory; Putin, meanwhile, would revel in the embarrassment of his Caucasus adversary.

But one factor - a major factor that is being overlooked - in Russia's drive to get international recognition for the two regions are the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Like Sochi, with whom it shares a Black Sea coastline, Abkhazia was once part of the "Soviet Rivera" - the favored vacation retreat for the Soviet elite. The Sochi region shares a border with Abkhazia (the places are so close, Georgia even tried unsuccessfully to get the Olympic committee to move the 2014 Winter Games in the wake of the 2008 conflict citing "security concerns"). Russia is hoping the Winter Games will spark a resurgence of the Sochi region as a world-class resort destination, and Abkhazia factors into their plans, both as a source of cheap labor and material in the run-up to the 2014 Games and in their post-Olympics development plans as well. Of course this makes a lot more sense from the Russian point of view if Abkhazia is a compliant satellite state rather than a region of their regional competitor, Georgia.

With the Winter Olympics being seen as a coming out party for the "new" post-Soviet Russia and Abkhazia factoring into their Sochi plans, don't be surprised if the Russian government doesn't dole out more foreign aid to some pretty unusual corners of the globe.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

First of all please see the ''Kingdom of Abkhazia'' in year 800 http://www.euratlas.com/travel_time/europe_south_east_0800.html

See also: Declaration of the Revolutionary Committee of the SSR of Georgia on Independence of the SSR of Abkhazia - 21 May 1921

In 1921, Abkhazia and Georgia became Sovietized. On 31 March 1921, an independent Soviet Republic of Abkhazia was proclaimed. On 21 May 1921, the Georgian Bolshevik government officially recognized the independence of Abkhazia. But the same year, under pressure from Stalin (Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili) and other influential Georgian Bolsheviks, Abkhazia was forced to conclude a union (i.e., confederative) treaty with Georgia. Abkhazia still remained a full union republic until 1931, when its status was downgraded, under Stalin's orders, from that of Union Republic to that of an Autonomous Republic within Georgia. This act of incorporation of Abkhazia into Georgia was conducted without the approval and against the will of the Abkhazian people and caused mass protests in Abkhazia. Thus the creation of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic within Georgia was not the result of the granting by the Bolsheviks of autonomous status to one of the republic's minorities, as it is often alleged, but was rather the forced convergence of two neighbouring states by the incorporation of one of them, Abkhazia, into the other, Georgia.

Vladislav Ardzinba, first president of Abkhazia, stated: “In 1931 Abkhazia was transformed into an autonomous republic within the Georgian SSR. Seemingly it was the only republic whose political status changed under pressure from Stalin not upwards but downwards”. (Pravda, newspaper, 14 July 1989).

Demographic change in Abkhazia

The International Legal Status of the Republic of Abkhazia In the Light of International Law.