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Tiny Nauru In $50 Million Russia Gambit

TSKHINVALI, Georgia -- The tiny Pacific island-state of Nauru has expressed a willingness to recognize the independence of two breakaway regions of Georgia with Moscow considering some $50 million in aid, RFE/RL's Georgian and Russian services report.

Russia recognized the sovereignty declarations of officials in Abkhazia and South Ossetia following a brief war with Georgia in August 2008, but few countries have followed suit.

But Kiren Keke, Nauru's minister of foreign affairs, trade, and finance, visited the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, today, where he said that his country is ready to begin discussions on recognizing the region as an independent country.

On December 13 Keke was in Moscow, where he held talks with Kremlin authorities on Russia's allocation of $50 million for "urgent socioeconomic projects in Nauru," according to RFE/RL's Russian Service.

In mid-November, Russia actively participated in an international conference for donors to Nauru, which has some 14,000 inhabitants and is thought to be the smallest republic in the world.

Breakaway leaders in Abkhazia and South Ossetia announced their territories' independence from Georgia soon after the five-day military conflict between Georgian and Russian forces.

The pro-Moscow governments of Nicaragua and Venezuela recognized the rebel regions' independence this year.

Andrei Zagorsky, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Affairs, told RFE/RL that the practice of "buying the loyalty of other countries" is not new.

He said that if Russia's goal is to increase the number of countries that recognize South Ossetian and Abkhaz independence, then Moscow's strategy is justified.

But he added that it is unlikely that the actual international legal status of the two Georgian regions will change if it is recognized by only a few more countries.

Zagorsky said that if Russian leaders think Moscow's recognition of the regions' independence is enough, then the idea of giving money to countries in exchange for recognizing independence is wasteful, especially during the global economic downturn.

Nauru had previously changed its official recognition between Taiwan and China for financial considerations in 2002 and 2005.