There are four unrecognized / de-facto states in the Black Sea region Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are usually perceived as objects rather than subjects of the international relations. However analysis of the current activities demonstrates that this tendency is transforming, when unrecognized republics are striving to wider possibilities for cooperation with third parties. As ability to conduct an independent foreign policy is seen as one of the obvious attributes of the sovereign state, these efforts should become of particular interest, including their ability, mechanisms and tools used.
Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria still have not received any recognition despite the requests made to the international community. At the same time, as a result of the Russian-Georgian conflict of August 2008, Abkhazia and South Ossetia within four years have been recognized by five countries – Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru and Tuvalu. Comparing with the list of countries which have recognized independence of Kosovo - 95, this demonstrates that state recognition is not among their foreign policy priorities.
Mechanisms of the foreign policy
All four de-facto states have their own Ministries of Foreign Affairs. If some functions in the security sphere are delegated to the third parties, so none of them formally has delegated foreign policy functions to any state or international organization. The representation of their interests at the peace talks by Russia is out of this analysis.
The structures of the Ministries vary, thus representing priorities of their foreign policy. In Abkhazia there are nine departments. Including Department of the Russian Federation, Republic of South Ossetia, CIS Countries, Transnistria and Georgia; Department of Turkey and the Middle East; Department of Latin America, Asia, Africa and Asia-Pacific Region; Department of Europe, USA and Canada; etc. At the same time Nagorno-Karabakh MFA represented only by departments of Multilateral and Bilateral Relations.
Transnistrian MFA has a different structure dividing on General Department of the Foreign Policy (comprises of CIS Department; Negotiations Department; Department of Far-Abroad States and International Organizations; Department of the Foreign Economic Activity) and other technical departments.
Analysis of the South Ossetian and Nagorno-Karabakh MFA structures demonstrate the low-intensity of their foreign policy contacts in contrast to Transnistria and Abkhazia.
The second mechanism for foreign policy conduction is diplomatic representations abroad. Here we can see significant difference between those two who have received at least partial recognition and those who haven’t, as to open such a mission states need to have established diplomatic relations (Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations).
So the formal recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia led to the opening of the official Embassies of Abkhazia in Russia, South Ossetia and Venezuela. South Ossetia has it Embassies in Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Abkhazia. In these counties their diplomatic staff enjoys all immunes and privileges as well as able to conduct all necessary diplomatic functions equal to those enjoyed by others.
More interesting looks the list of the honorary consuls of Abkhazia, who presented in Nizhniy Novgorod (Russia), Beijing (China), San Marino and the United Kingdom. At the same time information on the UK representative is absent on the English version of the website in Honorary Consuls section and moved to the Plenipotentiary Representatives, because the status of the Honorary consul is defined in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, thus an honorary consul cannot appear without a permission of the receiving state.
Unrecognized republics introduced a special position for their diplomatic representatives in countries, which have not recognized them - Plenipotentiary Representative. It is more as an announced title rather than one demonstrating a special level of relations between the states, as present in the states where either diaspora exist or active citizen lives.
Abkhazia has its Plenipotentiary Representatives in Bulgaria, Germany, Turkey, Syria, Transnistria, Greece, Italy, San Marino and Asia-Pacific Region. In case of Nagorno-Karabakh strong connection with Armenia is witnessed, as most of the Representations exist in the countries with a strong Armenian diaspora.
Transnistria being one of the most active in foreign relations at the same time is the less presented by the official representations – having only two – in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Till recently Official Representations have existed in Russia and Ukraine, however they were closed in the framework of the general cost reduction in January 2012.
Bilateral and Multilateral Relations
Bilateral relations of the de-facto states are usually concentrated in three directions: relations with each other, cooperation with Russia, contacts with neighbour states. Relations with parent-states characterized more by the necessity to continue peace negotiations than by the desire to conduct normal political and economic dialogue. Relations with other states usually characterized by sporadic diplomatic visits by representatives accredited in the respected parent-state within the peace initiatives, less often as a familiarization visits. Most active visits are observed to Abkhazia and Transnistria. The reciprocal visits are usually held unofficially, even as presented with a great PR inside of the de-facto states.
Relations between unrecognized states are the most active and strive for classical interaction between the states. The most dynamic contacts are occurred between Abkhazia and Transnistria, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Nagorno-Karabakh is the most passive among them preferring to coordinate relations with Armenia.
Coming back to Abkhazia one can see that serious agreements between Sukhumi and Moscow were signed only after the formal recognition of its independence. In September 2008 Agreement on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between Abkhazia and Russia was signed. At the same time any similar document exists in the relations of Russia and Transnistria, which are limited to protocols and communiques after the working meetings.
Multilateral Relations of the unrecognized states are usually presented in two dimensions: peace negotiations and participation in the specific international organizations.
The first organization created by these de-facto states in 1992 was Commonwealth of the Unrecognized States. Organization’s activity was renewed in 2000 by establishing Foreign Ministers Council. However we can refer to this organization more as a forum rather than real institution.
In 2006 the Presidents of Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia signed Join Declaration on Creation of the Community “For Democracy and Peoples Rights”, which was more reaction to the creation of GUAM by their parent-states rather than real aspiration of the full-fledged cooperation, which almost frozen in 2007. This organization lost participation of Nagorno-Karabakh which for the last several years had no real interests in joint efforts.
Visa policy is also one of the elements of the foreign policy, as it is not only demonstrates the level of relations between the states but also its openness.
Abkhazia has introduced visas, after proclaiming independence in 2008. The applicant should send the required documents via email, to receive permission. At the same time, citizens of the CIS states and those who recognized their independence do not need visa to enter the country. In case of South Ossetia it has decided not to introduce any visas for foreigners; however they need to inform the MFA three days in advance and to obtain a formal permission. You also do not need visas to enter Transnistria. Foreigners need a visa to entry Nagorno-Karabakh, which they can receive only at the Representation of the NKR in Armenia.
Thus we can make a conclusion that the problem of recognition is not the only priority of the foreign policy of the de-facto states in the Black Sea region, even that it has a significant influence on their ability to conduct their foreign activities. These states strive to find alternative variants for communication with the international community but also to secure the traditional ways of the diplomatic interactions.