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

In short, Putin has inherited back a nation far less sure of itself, fiscally and diplomatically, than the one he handed over more than four years ago when the world economy was just beginning its breath taking descent.

Moscow’s interference in the foreign policy of other countries could be seen as a response to Washington, which is determined to construct a missile defense system along Russia’s border in Eastern Europe and has also announced it is rebalancing its force towards the Asia-Pacific.

And Russia’s Pacific push comes after the U.S. reportedly thwarted its bid to win over more countries in Latin America in addition to Nicaragua and Venezuela. Venezuela reportedly received U.S. $2.0 billion worth of investments and improved military ties after recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

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But it doesn’t always go Moscow’s way. At the recent PIF summit in the Cook Islands, Russia – a country that holds no status within the grouping – tried to get itself invited to the annual meet of leaders.

Sources at the PIF summit said Moscow had been in touch at the last minute through their foreign ministry and had demanded the invitation.

They said the Russians would have been welcomed but they would have been lumped under the “attending” category alongside Taiwan and Cuba while the likes of the United States, the United Kingdom and even China enjoyed full status as “dialogue partners”.

“They didn’t like that and they didn’t come,” one PIF source told The Diplomat.

Although genuine aid dollars are welcome, unsustainable Russian-sponsored packages can impact on governance and stability. South Pacific countries know they are pawns in a larger game and have shown a willingness to switch support behind the highest bidder in order to extract maximum dollars.

Vanuatu did this throughout 2011, with the country’s leadership changing five times and the government either flipping for or against recognition with each change.

And increasingly these small Russian satellites are acting on their own by offering their own gifts. Georgia gave Fiji 200 computers in an attempt to counter Russian generosity. That said Abkhazia says it expects more declarations of support from the Pacific.

Among smaller members of the Pacific, checkbook diplomacy corrupts good governance and democracy where it has barely had a chance to gain traction by auctioning off sovereign U.N. votes — and a nation’s foreign policy — to the highest bidder.

The arrival of Russia in recent years with few interests beyond securing a vote for an obscure cause of little relevance to South Pacific countries is also divisive and thwarts the PIF’s ability to act as a unified voice for its own interests on major issues such as climate change or trans-national crime.

But if South Pacific countries continue to sell their moral high ground on issues of little relevance they might find trouble with their traditional allies – like the U.S., Europe and in some respects China —  and that the initial clout they shared at a regional level would be somewhat diminished.

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