Vanuatu scraps recognition of Georgia breakaway region

The tiny Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has withdrawn its recognition of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Monday in the latest twist in an often bizarre diplomatic dispute.

"The Prime Minister of Vanuatu has just confirmed to me his decision that they have changed their mind on Abkhazia's recognition, that they recognise Georgia's territorial integrity," Saakashvili said in a statement posted on Youtube.

In 2011 the Pacific island archipelago became only the fifth country apart from Russia officially to recognise the independence of the Russian-backed territory of Abkhazia, which fought a bloody war to break away from Georgia in the 1990s.

Saakashvili called the policy reversal by the nation located some 14,000 kilometres (8,700 miles) from Georgia a "very serious defeat on the diplomatic front" for arch-foe Russia.

"It is important because it is a first precedent when -- despite Russia's blackmail, subornation and use of all diplomatic means -- one of those countries which agreed with Russia has changed its mind," he said.

Vanuatu's premier Moana Carcasses Kalosil later confirmed the move in a joint video statement with Saakashvili from the sidelines of a conference in Thailand.

Perched on the Black Sea, Abkhazia is recognised only by Russia and a handful of countries linked to Moscow, including Venezuela, Nicaragua and the miniature island states of Nauru and Tuvalu.

Moscow was the first to recognise Abkhazia as an independent state after fighting a brief war with Georgia in 2008.

The Kremlin then permanently stationed thousands of troops there in a move described by Georgia as occupation.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi could be set to improve after Saakashvili's United National Movement party was defeated in polls last October by billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's opposition coalition.

Ivanishvili has made normalising ties with Russia his foreign policy priority after the two sides severed diplomatic ties following the brief 2008 war over separatist South Ossetia.

He has however vowed to maintain the pro-Western course of Saakashvili -- who is obliged to step down in October at the end of his second term -- and to bid to join NATO and the European Union in ambitions strongly opposed by Moscow.