Tiny Tuvalu's insult to Russia

As diplomatic incidents go, one that has just played out in the South Pacific is straight out of the script of The Mouse that Roared.

Tuvalu – population just over 10,000 – has delivered an expensive insult to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his 144 million people.

Much of it is as obscure as Tuvalu, but it has excited diplomatic observers around the world.

It goes back to the 2008 Russo-Georgian War also known as the "South Ossetia War", the "Five-Day War" or the "August War".

Georgia and Russia went to war over the small separatist Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with about 600 people killed.

Russia won. The breakaway states declared themselves independent, but nobody except Tuvalu, Nauru, Nicaragua, Vanuatu and Venezuela would recognise them.

Small Pacific states have a reputation for their diplomacy for hire.

A Russian news source at the time said Nauru got US$50 million (NZ$58m) for its recognition and there were unconfirmed reports that Vanuatu also got a similar sum. Tuvalu recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2011.

Tuvalu was then suffering a drought.

Abkhazia sent bottled water with its ambassador, Juris Gulbis, saying there were no strings attached, that it was a response "to a genuine emergency, our principles prevent us from exploiting human hardship for political gain".

Times change, it has rained and Tuvalu has now withdrawn its recognition.

Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze and her Tuvaluan counterpart, Taukelina Finikaso, signed an agreement on Monday to establish diplomatic relations.

Finikaso said Tuvalu supported Georgia's territorial integrity in its internationally recognised borders, which take in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Vanuatu has spent its money and run; it has also signed up with Georgia.

There is no word on money changing hands this time.

The liberal US magazine New Republic noted that Russia had been diplomatically wounded over Crimea lately.

"Few of these recent snubs, however, have been quite as embarrassing as that from Pacific microstate Tuvalu," it says.

"The island nation may only have a population of 10,782, but its decision could spell the end of a years-long diplomatic strategy that has cost Russia millions."

Footnote: The Mouse that Roared was a 1959 movie starring Peter Sellers. It told of the tiny European duchy of Grand Fenwick facing ruin when an American manufacturer comes up with an imitation of its sole export, its fabled Pinot Grand Fenwick. Prime Minister Count Mountjoy (Sellers) decides to invade the United States – expecting defeat and then to rely upon American foreign aid. But they invade Manhattan when the city is closed for a nuclear drill – and Grand Fenwick wins.

Fairfax Media