Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 83

The United States and European Union are maintaining full secrecy over the April 19 Moscow meeting on Moldova. The Russian and Ukrainian Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the EU’s Special Representative on Moldova, the U.S. State Department, and the OSCE’s American-led Moldova Mission participated in the Moscow meeting.

Even as the upcoming G-8 summit in St. Petersburg seems likely to discuss the post-Soviet “frozen” conflicts, the Moscow meeting indicates a tendency to backslide toward a discredited approach to conflict-resolution in Moldova on Russia-defined terms.

The Moscow meeting sought to re-launch the now-interrupted “negotiating process” on the Transnistria conflict on some fresh basis. This basis, it turns out, is a cosmetically revamped version of the January 2004 document prepared by Russia and the OSCE (with Ukraine as a symbolic adjunct) as “mediators” in the conflict. That document became the basis of negotiations toward “federalization” of Moldova with Transnistria under Russian-Ukrainian-OSCE political and military “guarantees.” Moldova walked out of that trap in July 2004 to adopt a pro-Western course.

According to those who have seen it, the secret remake approved unanimously on April 19 in Moscow includes some semantic and procedural revisions. The concept of federalization is replaced by that of regionalization — except in one spot where federalization remains, apparently by oversight of those who cut-and-pasted from the 2004 document into the new version. A putative law, or laws, on Transnistria and the rest of Moldova would be adopted by the Moldovan parliament and the Transnistrian Supreme Soviet.

Political and democratic equivalence is implied between Chisinau and Tiraspol throughout the document. An ostensibly “comprehensive” settlement proposal, the document fails to mention withdrawal of Russian troops or change of the Russian “peacekeeping” operation. It also seems to say nothing promoting democracy in Transnistria, although that goal had become integral to all discussions on conflict-resolution since early 2005 at Chisinau’s initiative.

U.S. diplomat William Hill, chief of the OSCE’s Moldova Mission, prepared this document for the Moscow meeting in coordination with State Department officials. Hill, who is leaving Moldova and the OSCE in July after serving a record six years in that post, publicly led the campaign for “federalizing” Moldova under mainly Russian “guarantees” and an OSCE flag of convenience. Moldova’s repudiation of that concept was the first step that made possible the country’s strategic reorientation to the West.

Hill had gone on to promote “federalization” long after Moldova’s society had rejected it. In a September 2005 interview he described the “mediators'” January 2004 document as “the most balanced and comprehensive of all those plans [that were discussed];” and cited the U.S. federal system as an example for Moldova to follow — albeit by an agreement with Tiraspol and Moscow (Saptamina [Chisinau], September 23, 2005). Indeed, the 2004 document empowered Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE (itself internally bound by Russia’s veto power) as political and military guarantors of the settlement and authorized joint writing of the “federal state’s” constitution by Chisinau and the Moscow-installed authorities in Tiraspol.

The April 19 Moscow meeting decided to re-start the negotiations toward a political settlement in mid-May in the 5+2 format (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, Chisinau, Tiraspol, the United States, and the European Union). The negotiations have broken down time and again, most recently on February 27-28, due to Russian-encouraged stonewalling by Tiraspol.

At the meeting, Russia’s special envoy, Valery Nesterushkin, submitted a proposal prepared in advance with Tiraspol regarding procedures to ensure that Transnistria can conduct its own external trade. The proposal would, in effect, have cancelled the border and customs regime introduced by Moldova and Ukraine on their common border on March 3 with EU encouragement and in the presence of the EU’s Border Assistance Mission. Moscow wants the “interested parties” — i.e., itself and Tiraspol — to participate in making decisions regarding this border. All the other participants deem the issue to be a bilateral one for Moldova and Ukraine to handle, with EU advice at their request. Indeed, Russia cannot participate in decisions regarding a border between two other, sovereign, countries; and Transnistria, not being a state, has no borders.

Nevertheless, the Moscow meeting apparently decided to refer the issue to “expert-level groups” of Chisinau and Tiraspol for discussion. Moreover, according to Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Andriy Veselovskiy (who handles Moldova/Transnistria issues), the meeting decided to task OSCE experts to compare and synthesize the positions of all “interested parties” regarding the border and customs issue, and on that basis to “analyze, improve, and correct” Moldova’s legislation regarding Transnistria’s economic activities (Interfax-Ukraine, April 25). If this account is correct, it suggests an attempt to elbow the OSCE into a role alongside the EU and, via the OSCE, to insert Russia into decision-making on a border that is not Russia’s.

Apparently unappeased by this concession, Moscow and Tiraspol seek a fuller satisfaction. Transnistria leader Igor Smirnov is warning that Tiraspol would not return to the negotiations unless the new customs and border regime is rescinded and unless Chisinau and Tiraspol are treated as co-equal sides on this issue as well (Itar-Tass, April 24, 25).

On April 21 Tiraspol troops crossed the Nistru River by boat and seized the Varnita anchorage on the right bank, near the city of Bendery. Moldovan authorities had controlled Varnita ever since the 1992 ceasefire and did not bother to guard it. On April 25 Russia troops took over the site, and the “peacekeeping” commander, Colonel Anatoly Zverev, made a political statement fully supporting Tiraspol’s position (Itar-Tass, April 21, 25).