Russia's "Checkbook Diplomacy" in the South Pacific (Page 2 of 3)

A handful of PIF countries recognize Taiwan and while Beijing and Taipei have agreed to end a bidding war over their own recognition issues, it should be remembered their history of attempting to outbid each other in checkbook diplomacy set the precedent for current diplomatic plays.

Russia holds great influence over the two Georgian enclaves and their continued independence extends Moscow’s political and military might in the region. Writing a check to encourage a poor Pacific nation to recognize these faraway places is therefore seen by the Kremlin as a wise investment.

For tiny Nauru, establishing diplomatic relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia earned them a U.S. $50 million assistance package in 2009 with additional help for a local airline, port construction and healthcare. In return, effectively, a nation of about 9,300 people granted sovereign recognition to the separatist provinces.  Very few, if any, countries give aid altruistically.

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The money also flowed to Tuvalu from 2011, including shipments of fresh water, when the world’s third least populated nation also formally recognized Russia’s troubled neighbors. In fact, Tuvalu Prime Minister Willy Telavi only established diplomatic links with Russia at the U.N., only two days after agreeing to a recognition pact with the separatist territories.

Whether that recognition still stands has been subjected to a separate heated debate.

Also last year, Russia’s foreign minister visited Pacific Island leaders for the first time since the end of the Cold War.

Diplomats and long-term observers believe this type of influence buying will only escalate as Putin’s third term as President gets underway in earnest.

He previously served two terms from 2000 to 2008 when the Russian constitution, which mandates fixed presidential terms, forced him to stand aside and take on the lesser role of Prime Minister while Dmitry Medvedev filled his shoes.

In his absence – some say he never really left – Russia endured a significant economic slowdown following the Global Financial Crisis. Oil and gas prices peaked and are now contributing much less to the Kremlin’s coffers.

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