‘Guano Diplomacy’ in the Caucasus

In the disputed Black Sea region of Abkhazia to report on presidential elections for Al Jazeera last weekend, we narrowly missed bumping into an unlikely diplomatic delegation from the world’s smallest island nation – the obscure Pacific state of Nauru.

Impoverished Nauru, all 21 square kilometers of it, used to make its money from selling phosphates derived from sea bird droppings. When fossilised guano ran low, it established itself as a tax haven and dabbled in money-laundering. More recently, it has earned money by acting as a detention centre for refugee ‘boat people’ making the perilous journey across the Pacific to seek asylum in Australia.

Struggling to stave off total destitution, Nauru has also developed its own special form of ‘guano diplomacy’. In 2002, it derecognised Taiwan in return for a $150 million ‘aid’ package from China. This week, it recognised both Abkhazia and South Ossetia after reportedly securing some $50 million of Russian ‘aid’.

Many people in Abkhazia were excited by the Nauru declaration, seeing it as another step towards international legitimacy after struggling to break away from Georgia for the past couple of decades. They’d never heard of the place, of course, but Nauruans have probably never heard of Abkhazia either. Most countries in the world, however, still see Abkhazia as part of Georgia, and the Georgian authorities said that Nauru was just selling itself for money.

In its Moscow-sponsored search for international recognition, Abkhazia has now lined up four ‘friends’ – Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru. It is also hoping to win over Belarus and Ecuador, and presumably various other small, impoverished states which are in need of Russian ‘aid’ and don’t care if they offend the US and the EU as long as they get some cash – as well as countries whose ideological agenda is anti-American. It’s not clear whether Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong Il have yet been approached, although the Abkhaz are believed to be lobbying Iran.