Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 193

EU initiaties assistance program on Ukraine-Moldova border

The success or failure of the European Union’s first-ever Border Assistance Mission,

now being launched on the Ukrainian-Moldovan border (see EDM, October 13) will

depend on three highly uncertain factors: cooperation by the Ukrainian government,

political consistency in Brussels and by EU diplomatic representatives in the field,

and strengthening the BAM’s mandate and resources.

Ukrainian government statements seem outwardly encouraging. Ambassador Volodymyr

Yelchenko told the October 13 session of the OSCE Permanent Council, “Having signed

the Memorandum [with the EU and Moldova on BAM], the Ukrainian government has

confirmed its openness, transparency, and firm determination to prevent and

eradicate smuggling, organized crime, and corruption at the border.” Minister of

Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasyuk declared at the signing ceremony, “It was impossible

to imagine such things before [Viktor] Yushchenko was elected president. The former

leadership of Ukraine had served as a cover for smugglers. Today, legal business

could celebrate and smugglers should despair.” (UNIAN, October 7).

The actual attitudes are far more complicated in Kyiv and along the border. Leonid

Kuchma’s regime had indeed from 2001 through 2004 rejected all Moldovan and EU

proposals for joint border monitoring. From January 2005 on, the new leadership

adopted a more nuanced position, designed to win favor in Brussels, but without

hitting too hard at illicit incomes generated on the Ukrainian side of the border,

and short of anything resembling an economic blockade of the Tiraspol leadership,

with which Kyiv sought a political deal via the “Yushchenko” peace plan for

Transnistria. The foremost question is whether Yushchenko will permit the

implementation of the Ukrainian government’s May 2005 anti-smuggling decrees, the

implementation of which Yushchenko himself has suspended.

The peace plan’s real author, former National Security and Defense Council secretary

Petro Poroshenko, in effect farmed out Ukraine’s customs service to a group of his

long-time associates from the grey-business world in Vynnytsya, an oblast adjacent

to Transnistria and known as a conduit for smuggling. Poroshenko’s close associate

from Vynnytsya, Volodymyr Skomarovsky, top chief of Ukrainian customs until

September 2005, advocated publicly and imposed in practice a policy whereby

Transnistria’s exports via Ukraine are legal, unless the cargos contain drugs,

illicit arms, or trafficked humans. Through this definition, Ukraine legalized the

Tiraspol leadership’s lucrative exports, despite the fact that they do not carry

customs seals, stamps, or certificates from any recognized authorities. This issue

has been discussed at length in the

Ukrainian press this year, corrupt interests were exposed, and the president could

not have been unaware of the adverse implications for Ukraine’s international image.

For their part, Moldova (in the first place) and the EU (less consistently) took the

position that all cargos out of Transnistria that do not carry legal customs seals,

stamps, or certificates and are unregistered in Moldova constitute contraband by

definition. Moldova wanted the producer and exporter firms in Transnistria to

register with Moldova’s authorities and pass through Moldovan customs — or joint

Moldovan-Ukrainian customs — in order to qualify as legal exports.

Responding to Moldovan and EU requests, the government of Yulia Tymoshenko issued

three decisions and ordinances in May 2005 in accordance with the proper legal

definition of contraband. With this, Tymoshenko sided with the Moldovan government

against her rival Poroshenko and his Vynnytsya group interests. However, the

implementation of those decrees was postponed until July, at which point Yushchenko

officially suspended their validity indefinitely. Yushchenko took this decision

during a meeting in Kyiv with Transnistria leader Igor Smirnov, as part of some

reciprocal understandings that remain unclear. The meeting itself was amply covered

by media from Kyiv and Tiraspol, but the decisions reached were not reported, and

official Kyiv left Chisinau largely in the dark. The Tymoshenko decrees remain


During the final negotiations that led to the signing of the EU-Ukraine-Moldova

Memorandum on BAM, the Ukrainian side attempted to restrict BAM’s mandate in four

ways: first, by providing for pre-announced inspections and visits, as distinct for

unannounced ones; second, by authorizing cargo inspections at official checkpoints

only, not at the unofficial crossing points; third, by restricting the area open to

checking to 100 meters on either side of the border; and, fourth, by applying the

restrictive definition of contraband, authorizing passage of almost all goods save

explicitly forbidden ones (arms, drugs, trafficked humans).

According to participants in the end-game negotiations, the EU’s and Moldova’s

positions ultimately prevailed on the first three counts, but not on the fourth. The

operational definition of what constitutes contraband is ultimately decisive to

BAM’s effectiveness, particularly in view of the mission’s small manpower and meager

financing on this 1,200-kilometer long border.

(OSCE Permanent Council documents, October 13)