Originally by Bruce Hill for Pacific Beat
A small breakaway republic in the Caucasus whose independence is not recognised by the international community is using Nauru to represent its interests at the United Nations, according to President of South Ossetia Anatoly Bibilov.
Nauru is the only Pacific country which recognises South Ossetia and Abkhazia — two areas seized by Russia from Georgia in a brief war in 2008.
Moscow has reportedly given Nauru economic assistance since they decided to recognise the breakaway Georgian republics.
For smaller nations in the Pacific with few resources, it can be tempting to use their sovereignty for sometimes unusual purposes.
Why would Nauru do this?
By recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Nauru is keeping itself at odds with most of the rest of the world — in particular, making itself ineligible to receive aid from the United States.
Observers like Dr Malakai Koloamatangi — Pacific Director of New Zealand’s Massey University — maintained that Nauru does it for the money.
“They do it for the money, the funding, and the financial assistance that they can get for the recognition,” he said.
“It allows them to perhaps have a voice on the international stage, but it’s mainly for economic reasons.”
So, has Russia essentially purchased Nauruan recognition of the two parts of Georgia it seized?
Mr Dabwido would not go that far, but he did say the Russians helped Nauru when the broader international community would not.
“This is a bit difficult to answer, because Nauru at that time put out a donor round table and we sat there for two days,” he told the ABC.
“Russia was very happy to say, ‘We are with your development sustainable strategy and we will contribute to it’ — that’s when Nauru formed a relationship with Russia.”
What are the risks for Nauru?
Last year, the US signed an appropriation bill that would cut off funding for any international organisations directing funds towards states that recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
There was concern that this would cut off funding to Nauru through the Asian development bank, but just last week there was a new agreement signed between Nauru and the Asian Development bank over a high-speed internet connection for Nauru.
Melbourne-based writer on the Pacific and international affairs Grant Wyeth said she believed Nauru may be benefitting from some international sympathy because of its size and vulnerability.
“To actually cut Nauru off in this way would be … seen as a bit too harsh,” Mr Wyeth told the ABC.
“I think there has to be recognition in the international community that this is just the way a state like Nauru has to play the game, unfortunately.
“Especially if, were the detention centre to go, this would devastate Nauru’s resources.”
But Dr Koloamatangi added this by no means was the first time a Pacific nation had used its sovereign status unusually. Tonga for example, at the height of the Cold War, threatened to allow the former Soviet Union to construct a base in the northern Tongan island of Vava’u.
“There have been these cyber or virtual entities — for example, there was a guy who laid claim to Antarctica, and Rotuma in Fiji subscribed to his virtual republic, you know in exchange for, obviously, money,” he said.
But Mr Dabwido was adamant his country was supporting South Ossetia and Abkhazia for broader reasons than just financial ones, and remained defiant about the criticism.
“To be frank I’m very proud of the way Nauru stands. We don’t bow down to Russia, we don’t bow down to the US, and don’t bow down to Australia,’ he said.