On January 10, President Nicolas Maduro commenced another term as leader of Venezuela, a controversial development as several governments across the Western Hemisphere and beyond refuse to recognize the May 20, 2018 elections. Hence, Maduro’s inauguration ceremony included the presence of delegations from Venezuela’s few remaining allies in the world. Two individuals whose appearance in Caracas is worth noting are Anatoly Bibilov and Raul Khajimba, de facto presidents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, respectively—two breakaway regions in Georgia.
Even though South Ossetia and Abkhazia proclaimed their independence after the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, only five governments recognize them as independent states: the Russian Federation, the Republic of Nicaragua, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Republic of Nauru and the Syrian Arab Republic. Syria became only the fifth state to do so in May 2018, “in a gesture of thanks to its largest patron of late, Russia. Georgia responded by severing diplomatic relations with Syria,” Eurasia.net explains. A May 2018 article published by TASS, a Russian news agency, also mentions that Tuvalu and Vanuatu recognized the independence of the two regions in 2011, but these declarations were subsequently withdrawn.
Interestingly, the Venezuelan government has not provided much information about the visits of the two leaders to the South American country. A January 10 photo posted on President Maduro’s Twitter account shows the South Ossetian and Abkhazian leaders next to the few other heads of states that were present during the inauguration ceremony. Moreover, a brief press release by the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dated January 11, mentions a meeting between Mr. Bibilov and Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodríguez, but it simply states that the two sides “evaluated cooperation agreements.” The same was reported in a separate press release about a meeting between Vice-President Rodríguez and Mr. Dzhumkovich.
Unsurprisingly, the Latin American media covered these visits with curiosity. For example, Colombia’s El Tiempo’s headline was “South Ossetia, the non-recognized country that supports Venezuela.”
It is difficult to believe that Venezuela would have recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia if Russia was not a link between them. The decision by the Venezuelan government to do so in 2009 was influenced by then-President Hugo Chávez’ intention to strengthen relations with Moscow—anecdotally, the announcement that Caracas was going to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia occurred when Mr. Chavez visited the Russian capital. Nevertheless, since that declaration, there has been little, if any, contact between these governments other than a 2010 visit by then-Presidents Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, of Abkhazia and South Ossetia respectively, to Caracas and Managua. Trade between Venezuela and the two separatist regions appears to be non-existent.
It is unlikely that other governments from the Western Hemisphere will recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia. There might have been a slight chance of that occurring a decade ago, when President Chavez was still around and there were several Chávez-friendly leaders in the region, such as Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Lula da Silva in Brazil or Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina. However, in 2019 the region, including the three aforementioned nations, is populated by generally Washington-friendly leaders, which makes the recognition of pro-Moscow separatist regions unthinkable.
Recognition is an important part of a country’s diplomatic toolkit. One obvious example is the Republic of China/Taiwan, which has lost a plethora of allies in recent years, including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama, as the governments decide to establish relations with the People’s Republic of China in order to benefit from access to the Chinese market and financial aid from the Asian giant.
In the case of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, neither Nicaragua nor Venezuela benefit directly from having relations with the tiny breakaway regions (South Ossetia’s population is around 50 thousand), but rather the objective is to cement relations with Moscow. Interestingly, in spite of recognition by Caracas, Managua, and most recently by Damascus (which has received substantial Russian support during its ongoing war), other close Russian allies like Belarus have not recognized the separatist states.
The support from South Ossetia and Abkhazia for the Maduro regime is symbolic at best, and this is essentially the most Venezuela can hope for from the international community in general. The limited number of heads of state and delegations that traveled to Caracas for the January ceremony highlights Venezuela’s dire situation in the diplomatic world nowadays.
About the author: Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.