- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Big news today in the world of geographical absurdities. Abkhazia — which wants to be a country — has been officially recognized by the Pacific island of Nauru — which is barely a country. Nauru now joins the motley group of Nicaragua, Venezuela, and of course Russia in recognizing the breakaway Georgian region. Recognition didn’t come cheap, though:
Nauru, an eight-square-mile rock in the South Pacific with about 11,000 inhabitants, was no pushover, according to the influential Russian daily newspaper Kommersant. In talks with Russian officials, Nauru requested $50 million for “urgent social and economic projects,” the newspaper reported, citing unnamed Russian diplomats.
$3,500 $4,500 per Nauruan. This was just the latest of the ill-fated island’s get-rich-quick schemes:
Nauru, the world’s smallest republic, has been desperate for income since its most important resource, phosphates formed by centuries of bird droppings, is nearly exhausted. The island has tried housing refugees for Australia and investing millions in a West End musical. (It bombed.)
Recently, it has begun to dabble in foreign-policy hardball. In 2002, Nauru severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan, coincident with a reported pledge of $130 million from China. Three years later, it switched again, prompting a Chinese official to grumble that the islanders were “only interested in material gains.”
For a time, Nauru was also a major money laundering center used by the Russian mafia.
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