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Partially Recognized Territories: All About the Money?

Abkhazia Parliament Building, courtesy of john/flickr

Many countries are not fully recognized by international organizations and other countries. Kosovo, Somaliland and Taiwan are good examples of states that are not recognized internationally. But these states have either de facto autonomy and can sustain themselves or are recognized by a comfortable number of “powerful” countries that allow them to survive on the international stage.

Some other countries, however, are recognized but are also heavily dependent on one country to survive. This is the case with Northern Cyprus, only recognized by Turkey, but also Abkhazia, supported by Russia and only recognized by a handful of states.

Abkhazia is located in the territory of Georgia and, together with South-Ossetia, declared their independence in the 1990s. The territory became the center of international attention during the South-Ossetian war in the summer of 2008. Currently only recognized by Nauru, Nicaragua, Venezuela and, of course, Russia, Abkhazia is also recognized by non-recognized territories such as South-Ossetia and Transnistria. Furthermore, Abkhazia is also part of a group called the UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.)

If we look deeper into the motivations for recognition of Abkhazia, however, we can see beyond the standard political arguments (about the right to self-determination, for example) and into a world where money matters more than political ideals.

Nauru, a tiny island state in the Pacific with no strategic interests in the Caucasus, received $50 million in the month it recognized Abkhazia. Nicaragua also recognized Abkhazia in the  summer of 2008. In September 2008, Russia offered to strengthen ties with the Latin American country and to provide aid. Bilateral cooperation with Moscow was further strengthened when the EU and the US froze aid in response to electoral fraud in late 2008. The timing of the recognition of Abkhazia seemed perfect for Nicaragua.

In the case of Venezuela, the story is not very different either: exactly the same month that Chavez recognized Abkhazia and South-Ossetia, Caracas received a $2 billion loan from Moscow. A coincidence, I wonder?

A few interesting things to point out:

Firstly, Russia is surprisingly ready to hand out money in exchange for even tactic support and partial recognition of territories it considers strategically important (and even from countries that themselves are not particularly influential.) Secondly, the price of recognition by friends and allies is high, so if you wish to purchase recognition on the increasingly competitive international arena, don’t get greedy.

Check out the ISN’s resources on Abkhazia for more information on the contested territory.